Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white boy with a semi-automatic rifle, shoots three people, kills two, lives to recount the incident and is found not guilty.
Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black man playing with a toy gun, is essentially sentenced to death by being shot by a police officer.
He wasn’t guilty either. So why did he die?
Who benefits from being seen as a tender child, the latitude to exercise poor judgment, the privilege of not being a perfect parent, or the right to stand up for yourself?
Why was Rittenhouse cry on the stand considered a scared and vulnerable youngster, while Rice having fun with a toy caused him to be wrongly identified as an adult and treated as a threat?
Deciding that as a teenager you should arm yourself with an AR-15 style weapon and witness a volatile protest to protect private property is foolish. Play with a toy gun too. But for whom is madness fatal? And who can make dangerous mistakes and mature beyond them?
What were Rice’s parents doing when they let him play with a toy gun? Well, what were Rittenhouse’s parents doing, letting him arm himself and go looking for trouble with a real one?
And would either of the boys have had to pay with his life or death for it?
After the shootings, Rittenhouse approached the police with his hands raised as passers-by shouted out his actions. But the police did not apprehend him.
He literally couldn’t get arrested.
And yet, when 911 was called on Rice by someone who said Rice was probably underage and the gun was probably fake, the police literally went shot him in two seconds when arriving at the scene.
Rice couldn’t be stopped either.
The boy who hadn’t killed anyone was put to death. The boy who killed two people was allowed to live.
The black preteen who hadn’t killed anyone was so threatening he had to be shot on sight. The white teenager who killed two people was so low-threat he was released on bail.
Some have said the Rittenhouse case was white supremacist on trial. This comment, however, is inappropriate. Concepts are never – and never should – be tested. Individuals are. People are not agents of their real or supposed worldviews, and no matter how odious any given individual can be found, he or she should be found not guilty if his or her alleged crimes cannot be proven beyond any reasonable doubt.
Rittenhouse deserved to be judged as an individual, to be treated as an individual.
And Rice deserved to be treated like Rittenhouse.
Marissa Alexander too. Alexander, an African-American woman, did not cross state borders in search of trouble. He found her. According to his testimony, after running away from her abusive and estranged husband after he forced open a locked door and pushed her to the ground, she fired a warning shot at him. No one was hurt.
She was sentenced to 20 years.
After a court-ordered new trial, Alexander reached a plea deal. She is still legally guilty and, although released from prison, had to spend two years on house arrest. Prosecutors said Alexander’s shot did not count as a warning shot as the bullet entered a wall instead of the ceiling, unlike Rittenhouse’s bullets, which entered the bodies.
The jury deliberated on Rittenhouse’s verdict for three and a half days.
Alexander’s jury sentenced her in 12 minutes.
Why was his future not worthy of the same consideration and the same care?
Why were his actions considered the worst when his were the fatal ones?
It’s not just a question of color. It is also a question of gender. Justine van der Leun a writing on “how women are criminalized to defend themselves against sexual or physical violence”. Rittenhouse was famous for surviving, but our prisons are full of women who have been punished for it.
The things Rittenhouse got – the presumption of innocence, due process, the resources for a strong defense, grace for his serious mistakes, respect for his life, respect for his dignity, consideration for his youth, recognition of their vulnerability, careful deliberation about their future, empathy – these are the things everyone should have.
Right now, some are asking if Rittenhouse got justice?
My question is, will people who are not white and male get what Rittenhouse got?
Shannon Prince is a lawyer at Boies Schiller Flexner and a legal commentator. She is the author of “Tactics for Racial Justice: Building an Antiracist Organization and Community”. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of Boies Schiller Flexner.