The trial for Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teenager who is accused of shooting and killing two protestors and wounding another in Kenosha, Wis., last summer, begins next week and there’s already a feeling that a miscarriage of justice may take place.
On Monday, Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder sided with Rittenhouse’s defense lawyers and told prosecutors that they cannot use the word “victim” to describe the two people—Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, two white men who were at a rally to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was left partially paralyzed after being shot seven times by police—Rittenhouse is accused of killing. (A third victim, Gaige Grosskreutz, survived the shooting.)
Even more concerning, the judge will still allow the defense to call the victims “rioters,” “arsonists” or “looters.”
Here’s more about the hearing that took place Monday to establish ground rules and evidence for the trial, from NPR:
“The word ‘victim’ is a loaded, loaded word. And I think ‘alleged victim’ is a cousin to it,” Judge Bruce Schroeder said on Monday, asking prosecutors to instead use the terms “complaining witness” or “decedent” to refer to those shot by Rittenhouse. (Though not universal, it is not unheard of for judges to feel that the word “victim” presupposes the defendant’s guilt.)
Meanwhile, the defense will be allowed to refer to the three people Rittenhouse shot as “arsonists,” “looters” or “rioters” so long as they took part in those activities, Schroeder ruled — a decision prosecutor Thomas Binger called “a double standard.”
“Let the evidence show what the evidence shows,” Schroeder said. “And if the evidence shows that any or more than one of these people were engaged in arson, rioting, or looting — then I’m not going to tell the defense they can’t call them that.”
The judge’s decision highlights what Black people have always known: America has two justice systems—one that gives white teens like Rittenhouse a chance at redemption, another that tries Black teens as adults with the most severe of punishments.
If the judge is worried about language that can affect Rittenhouse’s ability to get a fair trial, then the same case can be made for the people he actually killed and how they are portrayed in court.
ABC affiliate WISN 12 reports that this isn’t Judge Schroeder’s first high profile case. He presided over the trial of Mark Jensen, who was sentenced to life for poisoning his wife with anti-freeze. That case is now going back to court for a retrial and Schroeder brought it up during the Rittenhouse case’s final evidence hearing on Tuesday.
“I had a murder case about 20 years ago. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: state against Mark Jensen. I made evidentiary ruling here and DA appealed it, and it went to the Supreme Court, and it’s going to trial again next April 20, years later, because the Supreme Court reversed my evidentiary decision,” Schroeder said.
WISN 12 notes that the evidence in this case will be just as important because Rittenhouse, who pleaded not guilty, is facing life for multiple felony charges of homicide, reckless endangerment of the safety of others and a misdemeanor count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor.
Jury selection begins on Monday, according to NPR, and we’ve already gotten a preview of what the jury will hear from both sides.
More from NPR:
Rittenhouse was being “chased,” “attacked by the mob,” “kicked in the face” and beaten with a skateboard, defense attorney Corey Chirafisi said.
Chirafisi argued the teenager acted in self-defense when he did fire his weapon, while showing restraint and “firearm discipline” in deciding at other times not to shoot.
Prosecutors, for their part, focused on shrinking the jurors’ view of the night to a narrow view of Rittenhouse’s actions and whether they were reasonable.
Binger asked the judge to disallow a video that was shared widely on social media showing police encountering Rittenhouse roughly 15 minutes before the shootings, tossing him a bottle of water and saying, “We appreciate you guys.”
But Chirafisi persuaded the judge of the video’s relevance to understanding Rittenhouse’s state of mind, which is relevant to several of the charges he faces.
We have no other choice but to wait and see which justice system will show up in Rittenhouse’s trial next week.