Community reflects on Rittenhouse acquittal

Verdict prompts rethinking of gun law morality


Dylan Higgins, Media Editor

During a protest on August 25, 2020, for the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was left paralyzed after being shot seven times in the back by a police officer, 17-year- old Kyle Rittenhouse fatally shot two white, male protestors and injured one other with an AR-15. Fifteen months later, Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges, including first-degree reckless homicide, use of a dangerous weapon, and failure to comply with an emergency order from state or local government. Following the case decision, many hold varying opinions.

Cole Gaynor ’22 said he followed the decision and was disappointed in the verdict.

“I wanted to be surprised, but I was kind of expecting the worst, and then it was the worst.”

Jack McNealy ’22 also said he had wished for a different verdict and that, following the verdict, the level of knowledge and participation on social media surprised him.

“Some of the people I saw posting on Instagram thought he shot Black people, which was fascinating to see the level of engagement with this case,” Jack said. “They’re more just on the social media wave of what I would call ‘slacktivism’—really just posting about it, and so they are not particularly educated.”

Jack said the case demonstrates “holes” in our judicial system, which many Americans are beginning to see.

“It’s a very small but vocal group that is resisting change,” Jack said. “Conservatives have embraced him as sort of a martyr.”

Jackson Lahmeyer, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate, called Rittenhouse “an American hero” who defended himself against protesters.

The bigger issue at play in the Rittenhouse case is overall gun laws and access in the United States, Jack said.

“Are we really okay with people walking through protests and gatherings with guns?” Alex Avram ’23 said being allowed to attend a protest heavily armed is a problem in and of itself.

“Going to a riot with an assault rifle seems like you’re trying to instigate something.”

He said the Rittenhouse case was similar to the Ahmaud Arbery case, in which Mr. Arbery was chased down and eventually murdered by three white men while on a jog, in that both shooters thought they were doing something to help their communities.

“There’s too much of a culture around ‘I’m gonna be the savior. I’m gonna save the day’ because that’s what both Kyle Rittenhouse and the people who killed Arbery thought—they want[ed] to be vigilantes and save the day, but no, they’re not heroes; they’re murderers.”

Ava Wade-Currie ’23 is dismayed with gun laws and the ease at which Americans can arm themselves, she said.

“As a community, we have to step up because a bunch of people are OK with this verdict and are thinking this is great, and a lot of people have this warped sense of nationalism, but it’s time for us to step away from this old tradition of being gun-holding, military-based people.”

Upper School (US) History Teacher Steele Sternberg said current gun laws should be questioned.

“The case brings up this idea of how reasonable are our self-defense laws when private citizens can be that heavily and efficiently armed.”

Mr. Sternberg said these and all laws are not infallible.

“Laws are written by human beings,” he said. “Human beings have biases and tendencies, and human beings are going to write laws that reflect that. The self-defense laws that allowed Rittenhouse to be exonerated reflect the biases of people who expect there to be violent conflict and who want to empower people to defend themselves.”

Community Outreach and Engagement Specialist Candie Sanderson said Rittenhouse’s acquittal shows how scary self-defense and gun laws are.

“Saying you can use self-defense to argue shooting at people at protests is a scary legal precedent to set.”

Born and raised in France, Ms. Sanderson said U.S. gun laws are shocking to her.

“Not coming from this country, I always think it’s completely wild and baffling that any private citizen can heavily arm themselves,” she said. “Having so many guns out means that there is bound to be this kind of violence—guns are designed to shoot things.”

Ms. Sanderson believes the circumstances of the case demonstrate racial inequities in American society, she said.

“When people who have marginalized identities are protesting, they are seen as a threat because their very bodies have been seen as threats in the U.S. since pretty much the beginning of this country.”

Ms. Sanderson said the violent and riotous nature of the protest that Rittenhouse was at was problematic and said there must be another solution.

“How do you make space for people who have a marginalized identity or identify as allies of that cause? How do you make space for them to protest peacefully, safely, but still in a way that’s really impactful?” In terms of discussions about the case in the school, Ms. Sanderson said, she hopes everybody feels safe to discuss their true feelings.

“I would love for the school to be able to model what it looks like to engage in civil discourse and protest and strongly disagree, even when it makes us feel uncomfortable.”