In August 2020, a 29-year-old African-American man named Jacob Blake was shot in the back multiple times by police, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This incident resulted in Jacob being paralyzed from the waist down. On August 25, 2020, during the protests that followed, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse left his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, and went to Kenosha, Wisconsin. Armed with an AR-15 rifle, he fatally shot two men and wounded a third. Mr. Rittenhouse and the three people he shot were all Caucasian.
During the subsequent trial, Mr. Rittenhouse and his legal team argued that he had been acting in self-defense. Now 18 years old, he has been acquitted of all charges.
I must be honest and share that I was not surprised by the “not guilty” verdict handed down to Kyle Rittenhouse. I have learned through observing numerous courts cases that Caucasian males are seen to be innocent even when they are guilty.
When the judge threw out the gun charges against Mr. Rittenhouse, I knew that he was extending to him the judicial courtesy that so many Caucasian males in his position get. The Judge wouldn’t even allow the three men to be labeled as “victims” although the terms “protester” and “rioter” were permitted.
How can you charge a person with a crime when the weapon involved in the crime basically doesn’t exist and there are no “victims”? This judicial bias that was shown to Kyle Rittenhouse rarely gets shown to non-white males. This directly reflects the fact that even though non-white males represent approximately 29% of America’s population, they represent over 57% of the incarcerated population (Morgan, Smith, 2005).
Though I wasn’t surprised by the verdict, I was still enraged by it. The interpretation of law always seems to lean in the favor of Caucasian Americans, and that same law or rule is enforced fully in the cases of any male that is non-white. According to the United State Sentencing Commission (USSC), non-white males receive, on average, prison sentences that are 20% longer than those of their Caucasian counterparts.
I am enraged that a 17-year-old could walk around with an AR-15 rifle and not be stopped or apprehended by one of the many police officers present. This demonstrates the ongoing systemic racism that continues to plague our country. How are we ever going to correct a problem when the system that governs the problem is the problem?
Morgan, K., & Smith, B.L. (2005). Victims, Punishment, and Parole: The Effect of Victim Participation on Parole Hearings. Criminology and Public Policy, 4(2), p. 355.
Uggen, C., Larson, R, & Shannon, S. (2016). 6 Million Lost Voters: State-Level Estimates of Felony Disenfranchisement, 2016. Washington, D.C.: The Sentencing Project. Available at:
United States Sentencing Commission. (2016). The federal sentencing guidelines : a report on the operation of the guidelines system and short-term impacts on disparity in sentencing, use of incarceration, and prosecutorial discretion and plea bargaining. [Washington, D.C.?]: https://www.ussc.gov/guidelines/2018-guidelines-manual-annotated
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Dr. Denetria Brooks-James.