Tamir Rice and Marissa Alexander deserved the Rittenhouse treatment

Kyle Rittenhouse, a white 17-year-old armed with a semiautomatic rifle, shoots three people, kills two of them, lives to tell of the incident, and is found not guilty.

Tamir Rice, a Black 12-year-old playing with a toy gun, is essentially given the death penalty by being fatally shot by a police officer. 

He wasn’t guilty, either. So, why is he dead? 

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Who gets the benefit of being seen as a tender child, the latitude to use poor judgment, the privilege of not being a perfect parent, or the right to defend oneself?

Why was Rittenhouse’s weeping on the stand seen as a scared and vulnerable youth, while Rice amusing himself with a plaything led to him being misidentified as an adult and treated as a threat? 

Deciding that you, as a teenager, should arm yourself with an AR-15-style gun and attend a volatile protest to protect private property is foolish. So is playing with a toy gun. But for whom is foolishness fatal? And who gets to make dangerous mistakes and mature beyond them?

What were Rice’s parents doing letting him play with a toy gun? Well, what were Rittenhouse’s parents doing letting him arm himself and venture out in search of trouble with a real one?  

And should either boy have paid with their lives or their deaths for it? 

After the shootings, Rittenhouse approached the police with his hands up as bystanders shouted of his deeds. But the police didn’t apprehend him. 

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He literally couldn’t get arrested.

And yet, when 911 was called on Rice by someone who said Rice was probably a minor and the gun was probably fake, the police literally shot him in two seconds upon arriving on the scene.

Rice couldn’t get arrested either. 

The boy who hadn’t killed anyone was put to death. The boy who killed two people was allowed to live. 

The Black preteen who hadn’t killed anyone was so threatening he had to be shot on sight. The white teen who killed two people was so unthreatening he was allowed out on bail. 

Some have said that the Rittenhouse case was white supremacy on trial. That comment, however, is inappropriate. Concepts are never — and should never — be put on trial. Individuals are. People are not proxies for their actual or assumed worldviews, and, however odious one might find a given individual, he or she should be found not guilty if his or her alleged crimes cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Rittenhouse deserved to be tried as an individual, to be treated like an individual. 

And Rice deserved to be treated like Rittenhouse.

So did Marissa Alexander. Alexander, an African American woman, didn’t cross state lines looking for trouble. It found her. Per her testimony, after fleeing her abusive, estranged husband after he broke through a locked door and shoved her to the floor, she fired a warning shot at him. No one was hurt.

She was sentenced to 20 years.

After a court-ordered new trial, Alexander took a plea deal. She is still legally guilty and, though released from prison, had to spend two years on house arrestProsecutors said Alexander’s firing of the gun didn’t count as a warning shot because the bullet went into a wall instead of the ceiling — as opposed to Rittenhouse’s bullets, which went into bodies. 

The jury deliberated over Rittenhouse’s verdict for three-and-a-half days.

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Alexander’s jury sentenced her in 12 minutes.

Why wasn’t her future worthy of the same consideration and care?

Why were her deeds considered worse when his were the ones that were deadly? 

This isn’t just about color. It’s also about gender. Justine van der Leun has written about “how women are criminalized for defending themselves against sexual or physical violence.” Rittenhouse was lionized for surviving, but our prisons are filled with women who have been punished for it. 

The things Rittenhouse got — the presumption of innocence, due process, resources for a robust defense, grace for one’s grave errors, reverence for his life, respect for his dignity, consideration of his youth, recognition of his vulnerability, careful deliberation over his future, empathy — are the things everyone should get. 

Right now, some are asking if Rittenhouse got justice? 

My question is, will people who aren’t white and male get what Rittenhouse got? 

Shannon Prince is a lawyer at Boies Schiller Flexner and a legal commentator. She is the author of "Tactics for Racial Justice: Building an Antiracist Organization and Community." The opinions expressed in this piece are the author's and do not represent the views of Boies Schiller Flexner.