Polarized does not begin to describe the animus exhibited on a multitude of platforms throughout the highly publicized trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. On August 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, fatally shot two men and wounded another in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during the protests that followed the shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer. Though Rittenhouse and the three men he shot were white, race somehow still took center stage in the public discourse concerning acquittal and conviction. The subsequent "What if he was black" hypotheticals proved once again that racism in the criminal legal system is still a pain point in the nation's psyche. Opinions on gun rights and self-defense law created a combustible trio, making the verdict announcement a celebratory affirmation for some and a complete abhorrence for others. Under the law, I believe the jury made the correct decision in finding Kyle Not Guilty of charges ranging from first-degree intentional homicide to recklessly endangering safety. And most legal experts would agree. Once a defendant has made a self-defense claim in Wisconsin, prosecutors must then disprove it "beyond a reasonable doubt." The prosecution failed to do so, mainly because the evidence wasn't there.
Demonstrators protest outside of the Kenosha County Courthouse
While watching this trial, I found myself pondering an important question. How did we get here? Why am I watching a trial of a now 18-year-old man who killed two people? Like dominoes falling, specific actions give birth to consequences seen and unseen. To my knowledge, Jacob Blake and Kyle Rittenhouse had never met, yet their names will be inextricably joined for years to come. On August 23, 2020, with a warrant previously issued for his arrest on sexual assault charges, Jacob Blake repeatedly resisted arrest following a 9-1-1 call about a domestic incident and was subsequently shot seven times by officer Ruston Sheskey. That late summer evening in a year that had witnessed overwhelming pain and unrest, protests ensued. On August 24, 2020, protests continued around the country, some of them characterized by arson, vandalism, and violent altercations. On August 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse arrived in Kenosha, armed with an AR-15, and shot three men, killing two in self-defense.
A string of precisely placed dominoes will start to fall with a gentle touch. The kinetic energy produced will continue and multiply until one is removed from the chain. But what is a fun indoor activity on a rainy day can have deadly real-life consequences when violence bumps the first tile. Violence begets violence. Whether immediate, delayed, or in someplace far away, violence produces a familiar fruit. Observing the courtroom proceedings, I was reminded that while each of us has agency and responsibility for our own actions, the dominoes before us influence our decisions. The dominoes behind us depend on our responses.
It can be challenging for individuals to break sequences of violence in their homes and communities, especially if they have personally experienced violence in various forms. As the drama unfolded, I was reminded that we are all tied together in a domino effect of sorts. Violence never occurs in a silo; its repercussions extend beyond our immediate control. In retrospect, it is difficult to determine where the first domino was pushed in the string of events that led to Blake's shooting, protests, and the Rittenhouse trial. It probably fell long before many of us had ever heard of Kenosha. Violence will persist, and families will continue to suffer until someone decides to break the chain and remove a domino. Peace is a worthy pursuit.