On Aug. 23, Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, walked over to his car, where his children were waiting for him to drive them home. The police shot him in the back seven times, and until recently, he was handcuffed to his hospital bed. As protests against his unjust shooting raged on, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shot at several protesters, killing two, only to later be hailed as a hero by conservative media sources. The discrepancy in their treatment by law enforcement and public figures is utterly despicable. This is white privilege.
Following protests in Kenosha on Aug. 23, right-wing commentators and politicians have tried to excuse Rittenhouse’s actions and elevate him as a hero. His portrayal as a misunderstood martyr is deeply unsettling, especially given modern media’s despicable treatment of Black men involved in cases of shootings or violence. In truth, this is who Rittenhouse is: a white man who, after proclaiming himself an armed militiaman there to protect businesses, shot dead two innocent protesters. We are actively normalizing the white supremacy rooted in our society when we amplify and defend white killers.
In fact, Rittenhouse broke the law before he even fired a shot: under Wisconsin law, it is a Class A misdemeanor for anyone under the age of 18 to openly carry a deadly weapon. Additionally, while Rittenhouse claimed he considered himself a militia member trying to protect life and property, destruction of property is never a sufficient excuse for taking a life.
Even at the protests, the Kenosha police’s inaction enabled Rittenhouse’s atrocities, largely underscoring the reality of white privilege. Despite the fact that armed militia members, of which Rittenhouse was a part, had no legitimate reason to be at the protest that night, the police thanked them for coming and offered them water. Protesters are dehumanized and vilified by police and the media when they are mainly Black, but Rittenhouse was able to openly carry a weapon and receive outright praise. After the shooting, police even allowed Rittenhouse to walk calmly toward them while protesters cried out that he had shot people. While this choice may have been made to ensure Rittenhouse did not hurt more people, it is still very indicative of the white privilege that a Black man would not have been granted.The police paved the way for this appalling shooting, leading to the tragic deaths of two protesters and the severe injury of another. The white privilege afforded to Rittenhouse during the protests is extremely telling of racial injustice in the U.S., especially considering the public’s reaction to his actions.
Although conservative speakers’ claim that he acted in self-defense, a New York Times analysis of the shooting reveals that the events that occurred are much more complex. Before the shooting, Rittenhouse was being pursued by a group for unknown reasons. Huber, one of the victims, launched himself at Rittenhouse to protect his girlfriend and the people around them, as Rittenhouse was armed and perceived as dangerous, according to Huber’s girlfriend. As protesters chased him, Rittenhouse fired his weapon four times. Even if the first shooting was an act of self-defense against a man who dived towards him with nothing more than a skateboard, it was still a massive overreaction and utterly illogical to shoot someone who did not possess a weapon. As for the later shootings, it is clear that they were not a form of self-defense, as he was being pursued for then having shot someone.
Despite Rittenhouse’s clear wrongdoing, conservative commentators have repeatedly justified his actions as self-defense. Fox News host Tucker Carlson commented, “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?” This version of events is false at best and permissive of murder at worst. The media’s portrayal of Rittenhouse as a hero instead of a killer indicates the deep-rooted white supremacy in our nation and further facilitates police brutality against Black individuals. Rittenhouse wasn’t the hero in this story. Huber was.
Carlson was not alone in his vile rhetoric; President Donald Trump misconstrued the narrative, claiming protesters “very violently attacked” Rittenhouse. Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) called Rittenhouse’s actions “100% justified self defense. Do not try to take a weapon away from a man or bear the consequences.” Other conservative speakers have followed suit, with far-right commentator Ann Coulter proclaiming she wanted him as president. Rhetoric by important public figures influences the public and unfortunately depicts larger American norms. By dismissing the severity of Rittenhouse’s actions, these public figures promote unlawful and unwarranted shootings, exacerbating racial injustice.
Despite Facebook’s designation of the shooting as a “mass murder,” which company policy forbids users from openly praising or supporting, people have rallied behind Rittenhouse on Facebook and Instagram, sharing fundraisers and supportive messages on social media. In fact, one fundraiser in his support was shared more than 17,700 times, and posts with phrases such as “Free Kyle” have received more than 70,000 interactions. Even some college students have rallied behind Rittenhouse, with Arizona State University’s College Republicans United actively raising money to support his legal defense. These social media posts prioritize the comfort of a white killer over the lives of Black folk.
When Black people are murdered by the police, Republicans’ silence is deafening. But for Kyle Rittenhouse, a white man who killed protesters, they have moved heaven and earth to defend him. This blatant disconnect reveals much about the future of the Republican party and indicates how deeply embedded white supremacy is in this country. Elevating white shooters like Rittenhouse paves the way for more monsters like him, placing more Black individuals at harm.
If you see nothing wrong with the unjust excuses and blatant justification of murder, all I have left to say is this: check your white privilege.
Brammhi Balarajan (23C) is from Las Vegas.