How Kyle Rittenhouse’s treatment and trial defied norms

After 27 hours of deliberations over the course of four days, a jury declared Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on the five charges he faced after fatally shooting two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin during social justice protests and violence in August, 2020. For more on the potential implications of the verdict, Insha Rahman, a former public defender and now the Vice President of Advocacy and Partnerships at the Vera Institute of Justice, a non-profit advocacy organization that focuses on criminal justice reform, joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on the potential implications of the verdict in the Rittenhouse trial, I spoke with Insha Rahman, a former public defender and now the Vice President of Advocacy and Partnerships at the the Vera Institute of Justice—a non-profit advocacy organization that focuses on criminal justice reform.

    Is there data out there that says if Kyle Rittenhouse was Black, that the sentence would have been different?

  • Insha Rahman:

    There's data that shows us that at each and every turn, if Kyle Rittenhouse was an 18-year-old Black man, the system would have treated him differently. So remember that there are 15 million criminal cases filed in this country each year, so already, the fact that in Kyle Rittenhouse case, he was free to come back to court. He was released on bail. That is unusual. The vast majority of people who can't afford their bail are Black and Brown in this country. So already that's something that's set Kyle Rittenhouse apart from the vast majority of other people facing the criminal legal system in this country.

    Second, he went to trial, less than five percent of cases go to trial. Most cases in this country end in a plea bargain or a dismissal. So the fact that Kyle Rittenhouse had a trial and an incredibly public one at that is a rarity as well. And the vast majority, again, of people who are facing the criminal legal process are Black and brown and do not have the benefit of telling their story of appearing as a full human, as a kid who sobs in the courtroom.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How specific is this to the law in Wisconsin versus other states?

  • Insha Rahman:

    So as a matter of specifics and the law, Kyle Rittenhouse's case was a difficult one for the jury because the law of self-defense in Wisconsin basically says it's an open-carry state. We were legally allowed to have a gun in the way that Kyle Rittenhouse did, even though he was underage at the time. And the way that the self-defense law is written, which is basically if you feel reasonably threatened for your safety or fear of your life, that you can act, you know, in the ways that Kyle Rittenhouse did. So it's a hard case to legally.

    And if I were looking at it sort of from a very narrow public defender lawyer lens, I would say I understand why the jury grappled for three days and maybe, maybe I understand why they came back with the verdict that they did. But if I'm thinking about this case from a structural perspective about the specter of race and white nationalism and racism that is permeating this case from start to finish, that's where I'm really troubled by the outcome. Because as we talked about, if Kyle Rittenhouse was a young Black man, you can be sure that the verdict yesterday would have been different. It would have been guilty. And in fact, you can be sure that Kyle Rittenhouse, if he was a young Black man, probably wouldn't have made it out of Kenosha alive on August 25th, 2020 if he was brandishing a gun and had shot and killed two people and seriously maimed another.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Do you think there's the possibility here that it empowers other folks to say, this kind of gives me permission, a license to go looking for whoever I feel threatened by.

  • Insha Rahman:

    It most certainly does. You can be sure that some of the country yesterday celebrated and said, well, this actually shows us that we as white people are justified in our fear, frankly, of Black power, of protest in support of Black Lives. There's absolutely a larger message that yesterday's acquittal sends, and you have to believe that despite the specific legal, you know, questions in this case that the jury knew that this wouldn't send a message to this country. And yet they still came back with an acquittal.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Insha Rahman, from the Vera Institute. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Insha Rahman:

    Thank you. Great to be on here.

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