Rittenhouse's Defense is Trying to Connect to a Long History of State Support for White VigilantismRoundup
tags: guns, violence, vigilantes, Kyle Rittenhouse
Dr. Mia Brett is a legal historian.
The summer of 2020 saw civil unrest and protests break out all over the country in response to the racist violence of police departments. It was sparked specifically by the murder of George Floyd. With little recourse against the systemic violence of police forces, many communities turned to marches and riots.
However, despite some property damage, only one killing during protests last summer, out of 25, has been confirmed to be committed by someone motivated by leftwing ideology.
Even though the data shows that 93 percent of Black Lives Matter marches are peaceful, the defense in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial this week is hoping to capitalize on the white panic that is scared of civil unrest to pretend that shooting three people, killing two who were unarmed, was self-defense.
On August 23, 2020, Jacob Blake, a Black man previously tasered, was shot multiple times in the back and paralyzed by a police officer responding to a 911 call in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Protests broke out almost immediately and a state of emergency was declared that night.
Police responded to the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets. Peaceful protests continued during the following days with more property damage and police confrontations at night with a curfew imposed at 8 pm on August 24.
On August 25, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse chose to travel across state lines from Illinois, break the state imposed curfew and illegally carry an AR-15 style rifle to supposedly protect a car dealership and join a loosely organized local militia group formed in response to the unrest, though the Kenosha Guard militia group has denied any connection.
In the span of a few hours on the night of August 25, Rittenhouse shot three people after police expressed their appreciation for him and for other militia members “protecting” property. While the details of the shootings can be confusing in the midst of the chaos, it’s indisputable that the two people Rittenhouse killed were unarmed and that the third person shot armed with a handgun thought Rittenhouse was an active shooter who needed to be disarmed.
Whatever Rittenhouse felt in the moment, if he felt scared or justified, or if just wanted to shoot people, he chose to break the law to go into a dangerous situation and was the only person that night to kill anyone.
Rittenhouse’s actions actually fit into a long history of state supported vigilantism in the United States. Rittenhouse saw himself as justified to be in Kenosha with a rifle in part because police supported those actions. They had ample chances to impose the curfew on all the militia members or at least check to make sure the rifle Rittenhouse was toting was legal.
Instead they offered him water and encouraged militia participation in the evening. Police were harsher against people committing minor property damage or crowds refusing to go home than they were towards Rittenhouse carrying an illegal military style weapon.
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