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rittenhouse

Kyle Rittenhouse, left, sits with his attorney Mark Richard as the day is about to begin at the Kenosha County Courthouse on November 12, 2021 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse is accused of shooting three demonstrators, killing two of them, during a night of unrest that erupted in Kenosha after a police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back while being arrested in August 2020. Rittenhouse, from Antioch, Illinois, was 17 at the time of the shooting and armed with an assault rifle. He faces counts of felony homicide and felony attempted homicide. (Photo: Sean Krajacic-Pool/Getty Images)

White Tears Over Kenosha

Kyle Rittenhouse's masterclass in victimology deserves an Emmy, but not exoneration.

Tony Norman

Earlier this week, a friend texted me this prediction about the outcome of Kyle Rittenhouse's murder trial: "Kyle Rittenhouse walks or only [gets convicted] of minor charges and gets probation."

Though my response was glib, I thought it was realistic at the time: "He'll be convicted. He won't walk. He may not get as much time as he deserves, but he's going to jail."

My logic was based on the fact that all of Rittenhouse's victims were white and that you can't kill white men in America, even if you're white yourself, and not face severe consequences.

That was before Wednesday, when Kyle Rittenhouse put on a masterclass of performative white innocence. The show featured tears, soulful hyperventilating and strategic scrunchy faces to endear himself to a judge and jury desperate to pinch his cheeks and reassure him that everything will be all right.

The American criminal justice system was designed to operate like a room full of clowns juggling plates and bowling pins with the lights dimmed half the time.

This left me no choice but to amend my original answer to my friend: "Yesterday's courtroom shenanigans dashed any hope of a conviction. When the judge screams at the prosecutor twice and his ringtone playing [Lee Greenwood's 'God Bless the USA'] goes off when the defense is asking for a mistrial, the fix is in! Rittenhouse is going to walk."

Kyle Rittenhouse will not only be declared innocent, but he will then be carried out of that courtroom on the shoulders of the judge, the jury and his very relieved but exceptionally cynical lawyers.

In post-trial interviews, members of the jury will admit that they were offended by the prosecution's attempts to portray a poor, screwed-up kid as some kind of killer. Sure, he shot two people to death and gravely wounded a third with an AR-15 he wasn't old enough to legally own or wield—but standing one's ground and shooting your way out of a jam is as American as apple pie.

That makes him a patriot—not a killer, right?

I'm betting that Kyle Rittenhouse will remind just enough jurors that they all know someone just like him. They'll think of a mischievous nephew forbidden from befriending stray cats or a troubled neighbor boy who prowls social media and the darknet. Even the heavily tattooed kid at the supermarket who prefers hanging out at gun shows to going to school gets a pass because they've known him since he was a baby.

All of these misfits are on the spectrum of what constitutes a "well-adjusted American" when it comes to anti-sociability. There's no reason for a jury to think there's anything strange about a 17-year-old arranging the straw purchase of an AR-15 through a friend "because it looks cool" and taking it across state lines to heated protests in Kenosha.

What's so odd about claiming to be an emergency medical technician when the extent of your EMT training begins and ends at handing out bottled water?

Who hasn't defied curfew laws in another state while brandishing guns you're not old enough to own?

Who says you can't shoot three excessively woke white men whom even the judge refuses to allow to be called "victims" in his courtroom?

If you're Kyle Rittenhouse and you're feeling threatened carrying a weapon you shouldn't have been carrying in the first place and you happen to kill a suspected antifa or Black Lives Matter knucklehead or two, well, that's how frontier justice has always been done in America.

Don't call Rittenhouse a vigilante just because he values his Second Amendment rights as a minor more than the right of other people to live if they scare him.

Watching the highlights of the Rittenhouse trial testimony Wednesday, I was struck by how much it reminded me of an episode of "All in the Family" from the 1970s.

Judge Bruce Schroeder's loud and borderline hysterical rebuke of the prosecution team reminded me of Archie Bunker. The prosecutors reminded me of his hapless son-in-law "Meathead." The jury is an empathetic-to-a-fault Edith Bunker. Black folks, as usual, have a stand-in in the bemused, slightly world-weary Lionel Jefferson taking it all in and wondering what's the point of trying to get a conviction against a white kid killing protesters in America.

One very obvious benefit of being befriended by and having his bail paid by conservative actor Ricky Schroder is that Rittenhouse has turned into a pretty convincing actor in his own right. He's picked up Schroder's tendency to look perpetually sad while emoting white tears.

It was a stroke of genius for his lawyers to put him on the stand, even at the risk of harsh cross-examination by the prosecution. The defense team correctly anticipated the fact that Judge Schroeder would be as determined as they were to wall their client off from the world of cause-and-effect. Neither the defense nor Judge Schroeder want the logic of real life to contaminate the jury's deliberations.

Honestly, there's no point in being angry about this. The American criminal justice system was designed to operate like a room full of clowns juggling plates and bowling pins with the lights dimmed half the time.

During O.J. Simpson's first trial, I warned all the Black folks who were irrationally cheering for his exoneration and blindly supporting a guilty-as-hell murderer just because he was a beloved Black celebrity that it would result in blatant jury nullification by white juries after that. 

I consider the not-guilty verdict in George Zimmerman's 2014 trial for killing Trayvon Martin direct payback for the O.J. verdict. White folks desperately wanted Zimmerman to get a pass because he was scared and vulnerable, too. The fact that he was beating up women and getting into trouble with the law shortly after his exoneration doesn't embarrass his supporters even to this day. The right to kill Black people—and their allies—is enshrined in the Second Amendment and always will be if they have any say in the matter.

This is the way American juries think, unfortunately: "Look, we gave you the cop who killed George Floyd last year, didn't we? We're probably going to give you a guilty verdict on the men who killed that jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, too. Do you really think we're going to give you this poor, sweet kid from Antioch, Illinois? He was scared. Besides, he didn't kill any Black people, did he? He killed a couple of woke radicals. Where's the harm?

"Yes, he's immature, and he's a certified idiot for getting involved in events that weren't his business 20 miles from home in another state, but he's basically a good kid. When he hangs out with the Proud Boys flashing white power hand signs, he's just trying to fit in with a group that fully accepts and celebrates him. He's too dumb to know anything about the optics of the situation, so we're gonna cut him some slack—not guilty!"

This is how it is in America. There's no consistent standard for justice. If Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager that Twitter has taken to branding "Baby Kavanaugh," wasn't a good actor, his exoneration wouldn't feel like such a foregone conclusion. This kid is walking, and there's no point in pretending otherwise. If I'm wrong, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

The words to Judge Bruce Schroeder's ringtone should leave no doubt where he and most of America are coming from these days: "And I'm proud to be an American / where at least I know I'm free / And I won't forget the men who died / who gave that right to me."

The irony of those lyrics will not be lost on the loved ones of the men who died at Kyle Rittenhouse's hands last summer. It is their blood that helped make him the poster child of Second Amendment irresponsibility and vigilante justice. It's their blood that will free him.


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Tony Norman

Tony Norman

Tony Norman is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist. He was once the Post-Gazette’s pop music/pop culture critic and appeared as an expert on cultural issues on local radio talk shows and television programs. In 1996, he began writing an award-winning general interest column, which, he says, rejuvenated his enthusiasm for the kind of journalism that makes a difference.

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