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Politics & Government

Rittenhouse case viewed as symptom of uneven democracy

People raising fist with unfocused background in a pacifist prot
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Wisconsin News Connection

As the Kyle Rittenhouse trial enters its final phase this week, a Wisconsin group focused on improving the lives of Black residents said the case speaks to issues of democracy not working for everybody.

The 18-year-old Rittenhouse is charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha last year and wounding another with a semi-automatic rifle. Prosecutors say the Illinois resident was a vigilante in a situation where he didn't belong. But the teen's lawyers say he acted in self-defense after crossing state lines to protect property amid protests over police brutality.

Kyle Johnson, Kenosha-based community organizer with the group Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC), feels the legal system paved the way for someone to take the law into their own hands.

"The legal system in this country operates with a tint -- more than a tint -- with a shade, with a shadow of racism," Johnson contended.

Legal experts have said the case hinged on self-defense laws. Reform advocates say Wisconsin's statute for such situations is too murky and needs an overhaul.

Racial-justice groups add Rittenhouse is being portrayed as a martyr by those who strongly back police. But his backers say he had no other choice but to shoot amid the surrounding chaos, while also noting all those Rittenhouse shot were white.

As it relates to democracy, researchers have noted criminal justice issues help to further alienate BIPOC voters, making them reluctant to demand fairness through civic engagement.

The Kenosha incidents happened in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man left paralyzed by his injuries.

Angela Lang, executive director of BLOC, said not taking steps to implement meaningful police reforms or change self-defense laws will only create more situations with complex legal questions.

"This continues to happen because there is a space that we are giving; that it's allowing for this to happen," Lang asserted.

She feels white supremacy has too much influence within the legal system, arguing people like Rittenhouse are given ample opportunity to act recklessly, while people like Breonna Taylor don't even have a chance to defend themselves. Taylor was the Black medical worker shot and killed by Louisville police officers in March 2020 during a botched raid on her apartment.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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