Press: Rittenhouse verdict demands change in gun laws

After last week’s verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha, Wis., can’t we all agree on this: There’s not one system of justice in America. There are two. One for white people; one for Black.

If you’re a white man, you can commit murder and get away with it — as long as you call yourself a vigilante and claim you acted in “self-defense.” But don’t try it if you’re a Black man. Anthony Kennedy, a Kenosha alderman who’s also Black and an Army veteran, told the New York Times after the verdict that if he’d done the same thing, “My ass would’ve been dead on the street. I wouldn’t have been arrested.”

We saw a similar charade play out in 2012 in Sanford, Fla., with the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Walking from a nearby 7-Eleven with a bag of Skittles, Martin was accosted and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. After Zimmerman’s defense attorneys entered a claim of acting in self-defense — his gun against a bag of Skittles? — a jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Rittenhouse case is Trayvon Martin redux — but far worse. Only in America could a man rush into a street protest with a semi-automatic rifle, shoot and kill two people, gravely injure a third, and then paint himself as a victim and get away with it.

Yes, we respect the jury process. But sometimes jurors just get it wrong. They did in the first Rodney King trial and in the O.J. Simpson trial; they did with the Trayvon Martin case. And they did again last week with Kyle Rittenhouse — in a verdict that was at once wrong, inexplicable and indefensible. How could anybody with half a brain buy Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim? It was Rittenhouse who took his gun into the streets of Kenosha, with no law enforcement credentials, as a self-branded vigilante. It was Rittenhouse who brazenly shot and killed two people and wounded a third. If he’s a victim, I’m an astronaut.

Above and beyond our outrage, the Rittenhouse verdict demands a serious public response, on two levels. First, there should be a serious examination of open-carry gun laws and so-called self-defense and “stand your ground” laws, not only in Wisconsin but in many states; they were troublesome to begin with, but they’ve now evolved to the point where, as long as you’re white, you can show up at any demonstration in tactical gear and an assault rifle and be treated like some super-citizen.

Second, a serious come-to-Jesus moment should result from the Republican Party’s embrace of violence. Even worse than the verdict was the way right-wing Republican voices, starting with Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 Trump endorses David Perdue in Georgia's governor race MORE, hailed Rittenhouse as a hero. (For killing two men?) Some TV opinion and talk-radio personalities have lionized him endlessly. Some people have suggested that he be invited to speak at the next CPAC convention. Reps. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzMcCarthy faces headaches from far-right House GOP McCarthy pleads with Republicans to stop infighting: 'Congress is not junior high' GOP infighting just gets uglier MORE (R-Fla.) and Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) even proposed hiring him as a congressional intern.

In 1967, when Black Panthers showed up with loaded guns at the California state Capitol, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan said: “I don’t think that loaded guns is the way to solve a problem … And anyone who would approve of this kind of demonstration must be out of their mind.” How times have changed. The Republican Party’s no longer the party of Ronald Reagan. It’s the party of Genghis Khan.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”