Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder trial was never directly about race. Everyone involved in the shooting — the victims and the killer — were young white men.
Nor was it entirely about whether Rittenhouse killed 26-year-old Anthony Huber and 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum in self-defense, as the jury decided on Friday. It is easy to make this case all about vigilante justice, but it is much more complex.
Nothing in America is that simple anymore.
From the moment Rittenhouse was charged with killing two men and injuring another with his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle during a protest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, this case has been about sending a message.
This time, it was from the far-right wing to young white people who support the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Don’t get involved with social justice reform. Don’t protest senseless police killings. Just sit back and enjoy your white privilege. If you take to the streets with the Black Lives Matter crowd, you might end up dead. And we’re going to do everything possible to make sure your killer walks free.”
In other words, young white people, if you believe that Black lives matter, your life means nothing.
There is no evidence the jury knowingly became accomplices in making sure this message came through loud and clear. Though overwhelmingly white, the jurors appeared to do their due diligence by listening to testimony and deliberating about 26 hours before reaching a not guilty verdict.
No one is blaming them. But the verdict will have a long-lasting negative impact.
We don’t know why Rosenbaum was there that night. He suffered from mental illness. But Huber was among those who took to the streets of Kenosha because they believed a white police officer had wrongly shot Blake, 29, seven times in the back in front of his children. Blake was left partially paralyzed.
Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, whom Rittenhouse shot and injured, testified he was a trained EMT and paramedic and was on the scene to offer medical assistance.
It is likely these young men, like many of us, had heard so many stories of unjust police shootings that they were no longer shocked by them. It is possible they felt they had to get off the sidelines and take a stand.
The right’s disdain for the Black Lives Matter movement is no secret. No one needs to be reminded of its campaign to paint the social justice group as a terrorist organization and label everyone who attends a protest as a looter or rioter. We’re used to that.
But when Rittenhouse, a young white man, shot three other young white men during the protest, the right wing saw a unique opportunity to turn the shooter into a hero, without the baggage that would normally come if the victims were Black.
This was a rare opportunity to send a warning to white sons and daughters all over the country — that associating with Black Lives Matter is dangerous and deadly.
While Black Lives Matter’s leadership and the majority of the protest organizers are African American, the movement has gained a diverse following. The protests increasingly have attracted white youth, many of them college students, who are intolerant of ruthless police killings and other injustices against African Americans.
This is what those on the far right fear most. The last thing they want is to have young white people standing side-by-side with young African Americans carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs.
They are terrified future generations of white people will have no tolerance for social injustices. That’s why they adamantly oppose teaching the truthful racial history of this country to schoolchildren.
They want white kids of the future to grow up as ignorant as they are about the systemic racism that has fed social injustice in America for centuries. They are content to raise generations of young people who flirt with white supremacy, show up at Black Lives Matter protests carrying semi-automatic rifles and kill when they see fit.
The Rittenhouse verdict has given them a pass to do that. Let’s hope that most young white people will refuse to accept it.
Dahleen Glanton is a veteran Chicago journalist and columnist.