On Nov. 22, 2014 Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy played with a toy gun. He was immediately shot and killed at the scene by police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback. His killers never faced jail time. They never even saw a trial.
18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse crossed state borders with a semi automatic rifle, and police did not shoot him. He killed two people, and was faced with five felony charges. On Friday, Nov. 19, he walked away free.
This is the duality of America. This is the systemic racism inherent in the United States’ justice system. It’s the reality Black Americans face, and Kyle Rittenhouse’s sentence is just one of countless social injustices that highlight this inequality.
In the summer of 2020, American protesters gathered in Kenosha, Wisconsin to practice their right to freedom of speech. They expressed outrage over the wrongful shooting of Jacob Blake by police officer Rusten Shesky. The seven shots fired at Blake left him paralyzed from the waist down, but the Department of Justice ultimately refused to prosecute Shesky.
During this protest, then 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two and injuring a third. He pleaded his innocence, posed as the victim, and spoke between tears during his trial. He was found not guilty and will never see prison time for his atrocious crimes.
He carried an AR-style semi automatic rifle. Tamir Rice carried an Airsoft gun. Rittenhouse is allowed relief in the court’s ruling while Rice’s family forever mourns the loss of their innocent child.
Black people in the United States do not experience the same justice system as white people.
Crystal Mason received a five year sentence for casting a provisional ballot. She was unaware voting restrictions made her ineligible to vote.
Alvin Kennard served 36 years in prison for stealing $50 worth of food from a bakery. He was 22 years-old at the time of his conviction.
Kalief Browder served three years on Rikers Island without ever being convicted of a crime. He spent two years in solitary confinement and endured devastating trauma. He took his own life in 2015. He was only 22 years-old.
Black people are not safe in this country, and our criminal justice system actively discriminates against them. “We use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind … We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it,” author Michelle Alexander wrote in her book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
This country was built around institutional racism. It’s easy for white people to dismiss it because they’re not the ones experiencing it. “Racism and white supremacy is at the ROOT of the system. It’s in policing. It’s in the courts. It’s EVERYWHERE. We must keep fighting to dismantle this entire system and build a new one that centers justice and accountability,” the nonprofit organization Grassroots Law Project reported.
Kyle Rittenhouse getting away with killing two people is deplorable, but it’s unfortunately just one instance in a 400 year-long history of social injustice and racial bias in this country. It’s upsetting and rightfully incites outrage, but merely expressing how we feel will no longer suffice.
Action is needed. If you don’t know where to start, follow these accounts. NoWhiteSaviors, TheLastPrisonerProject, GrassrootsLaw, BlackandEmbodied—there’s no shortage of educational pages and organizations. Listen to Black voices but also compensate them. Yes, pay them. Venmo or CashApp contributors for their work. No one is entitled to the time and educational resources provided by Black people. Volunteer for grassroots movements. Contact politicians, attend protests, demand reparations and advocate in every way possible for social change.
This is only the start. These prevailing issues are ones that require deep systemic change. They require the complete restructuring of institutions rooted in white supremacy.
The tears shed by Kyle Rittenhouse will one day symbolize the death of an archaic, racist, discriminatory and oppressive justice system. The lives of Kalief Browder and Tamir Rice will be avenged when we restructure this country on the basis of true equality and justice and make the United States a safe place for all.