By Natalia Hernandez
Senior Copy Editor
Kyle Rittenhouse believed it was his duty to protect the private property of local businesses and impose law and order during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests that were in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The 17-year-old actively crossed state lines from his home in Illinois to Wisconsin where the protests took place with an AR-15 semiautomatic-style rifle — a Class A misdemeanor under Wisconsin state law. Not only was he initially charged for carrying an assault weapon underage (a charge dropped during the trial itself), Rittenhouse was also charged for shooting three men, two of which were killed. Last week, Rittenhouse was found not-guilty on all charges by a Wisconsin jury from the events that occurred in Kenosha.
Rittenhouse’s actions represent a self-proclaimed duty among white nationalists. This characteristic is most notably rampant in right-wing extremist groups like those who participated in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection or the killers of Ahmaud Arbery. They believe it is their job to deputize themselves in the name of law and order, and are often supported by the police themselves. This uptick in white vigilante violence parallel to the uproar in the BLM resistance is not a coincidence, but a result of the privileged dynasty of white supremacy and fears of white extinction. Although the recent Rittenhouse acquittal came at no surprise, it served as a reminder of why the abolition of the police as both an institution and a form of governance is necessary in eradicating this country’s protection of white supremacy.
The trial itself was the protection of white-privilege in action. Right from the beginning, Judge Bruce Schroeder displayed a major bias in favor of Rittenhouse’s acquittal. Judge Schroeder refused to allow the prosecution to refer to the three men that Rittenhouse shot as “victims,” but found that referring to them as “rioters” or “arsonists” was acceptable throughout the remainder of the trial — legitimizing the portrayal of white terrorists as heroes and People of Color (POC) as the destructors of property who threaten police governance. This rhetoric stems from a country obsessed with the police as a way to govern Black and Brown bodies and protect the institution of whiteness. From Schroeder’s display of inappropriate rage towards the prosecution and his Proud Boy ringtone going off in the middle of the trial, the trial proved how the United States justice system works to protect whiteness and actively criminalizes POC.
The outcome of this trial demonstrates exactly why police abolition is the only sensible option. Whites knowingly occupy a position of privilege in the judicial system. This simultaneously reinforces an acceptable social standard for whites to deputize themselves as cops to maintain law and order wherever they see fit — just as Rittenhouse did. There is no reform to this type of system because it is clear that it isn’t broken; it’s working the way it is supposed to. What we are witnessing is the ability for whites to claim justice in the name of self-defense and property protection when they self-deputize and inflict terror upon Black communities because they know they’ll walk free, all while 48 percent of the Black population are imprisoned with life sentences.
White vigilante violence is legitimized on cultural and institutional levels. These white militias are products of a system that has historically inflicted systemic injustice towards racialized communities. Culturally, the media plays a predominant role in legitimizing their behavior and feeding into the narrative that whiteness is becoming extinct and that “America [is] over.” In fact, crime is used as a priming word in our political landscape to instill unnecessary fear into the white majority, actively criminalizing anyone who isn’t white.
In fact, a recent New York Times article highlights how these white supremacists call themselves citizens or patriots, “[a]nd the demonstrators and media often called them militias, but it would have been most accurate to call them paramilitaries: young-to-middle-aged white men, mostly, armed with assault-style rifles and often clad in tactical gear.”
Similarly, on an institutional level, white fear and victimhood is weaponized by the work of the police because their purpose is to actively displace Black and Brown bodies from white neighborhoods and criminalize their resistance to this social control. Simultaneously, it explains why police themselves openly support and go as far as being a part of these anti-Black and sedition activities. The Rittenhouse case also demonstrated how police officers and government officials are complicit in reinforcing this behavior, as they made sizable donations to Rittenhouse’s legal defense fund. It becomes apparent that policing and whiteness are intrinsically inseparable and the only solution moving forward is the abolition of both.
President Biden’s comments regarding the outcome of the trial are also a reminder that despite a so-called commitment to racial equality, he is still complicit to a system entrenched in white supremacy. “Look, I stand by what the jury has concluded […] [t]he jury system works, and we have to abide by it.” These comments come from a position of power and privilege. It is easy for advocates of police reform to take this stance because they are not subject to a system that actively works against them.
During the campaign trail, Biden never committed to defunding the police as the nation was calling for justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. He is a supporter of police reform and promised to “reinvigorate policing [with] a $300-million investment, contingent on officers mirroring the diversity of their communities.” Biden’s comments and empty policy promises speak to the performative aspect of calls to eradicate police violence in our country and make it clear that performative identity politics are inherently counterproductive to the path towards abolition.
Racial justice can only be effectively achieved by dismantling the white-power structure that is the police all together. Local governments investing in police budgets divert the opportunity to solve real public health crises like expanding medicare services, houselessness, and poverty in communities. Imagining a world without police requires investing money and resources back to communities to productively deal with mental health, education, and socioeconomic disparities, in order to eradicate a system of white supremacy that upholds the racial and gendered violence the police have proven to reinforce. Until this happens, racialized minorities will never be free from oppression, social death, and state-sanctioned violence that police and white vigilantes like Rittenhouse administer and are able to get away with.