Today the US is grappling with staggering deviations in the backbone of its society. These deviations manifest themselves in a photograph that has been circulating on social media of 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse. In it, Rittenhouse has a childlike demeanour and an innocent smile; however, he is wearing a blue law enforcement uniform and has a semi-automatic long gun strapped over his shoulder, negating any positivity emanating from the image he projects. When a 17-year-old is totally at ease while holding a firearm, the photograph strikes one as wrong from many standpoints.
Let’s give some background to this surreal photograph. On August 23, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA, a white police officer shot a black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back—his three children were in the back seat of his parked car. Chances are Blake will never walk again as he is paralyzed from the waist down. Kenosha responded with protests for several nights; vandalism and damage to city-property occurred, and protests and riots erupted in many other US cities, too.
Four days later, a white 17-year-old vigilante, Kyle Rittenhouse, whose photo we just highlighted, shot and killed two people and injured a third. In between shootings, he called a friend, told him he shot someone, and then went back to shoot two others amidst a scuffle of some sort. He also walked unnoticed passed a group of officers but was arrested later, 30 miles away.
Before the shootings, Rittenhouse encountered police officers, but they didn’t detain the underage youth with the firearm. Quite the contrary, they tossed him a bottle of water and thanked him for his support. “We appreciate you being here,” an officer is heard saying to the group of bystanders, Rittenhouse amongst them, over a loudspeaker.
Even earlier, on Facebook, a local militia group posted the following message: “Any patriots willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight from evil thugs?” Not that we know that Rittenhouse’s act was in response to the call, it is clearly a sentiment amongst many in Wisconsin indicating not only upcoming dangerous confrontations but also the potential of further divisiveness.
In a brief interview shown on social media, Rittenhouse, himself, says, “So people are getting injured, and our job is to protect this business… And part of my job is to also help people.” Around the world, a minor taking matters into his own hands while bearing arms would be considered a treacherous and threatening phenomenon.
Now had it been a young black man instead of a white one, the police force would have prohibited him from roaming around carrying a long gun in the first place, criminalized him on the spot, had his weapon confiscated, and then had him detained and charged. And yet, Rittenhouse passed between the officers unnoticed, or even if noticed, the image did not construe much worry; it is permissible in the eyes of the police force. The heart wrenching deaths and injuries of the young black men killed at the hands of police officers exemplify the state of the US today.
Kenosha’s Police Chief told reporters, ““There was nothing to suggest [Rittenhouse] was involved in any criminal behavior”; he continues, “My officers did nothing wrong in allowing the teen gunman to walk away after allegedly killing two protestors.” And when those in charge are on the defensive and don’t see eye to eye with the harsh reality, something is very wrong. In case the Police Chief has forgotten, it is illegal for minors to carry a gun in Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse’s lawyers are citing the killings as a self defence act. One of his many attorneys, Lin Wood, said, "Kyle is an innocent boy who justifiably exercised his fundamental right of self-defense. In doing so, he likely saved his own life and possibly the lives of others." Even President Trump sided with Rittenhouse. He told reporters that Rittenhouse was “trying to get away from them, I guess”; also, “I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been, he probably would have been killed.”
Kyle Rittenhouse’s episode epitomizes the tension and strain that the US society is facing. He juxtaposes youth and innocence with hatred and lawlessness. How does an underage youth access a deadly weapon and take pride in showing it off? Why was he allowed to go to a protest carrying a gun and pass unnoticed amongst the police force in the first place? Could a black man access a gun that easily? But most importantly, why has the American society become so fractured?
To onlookers these events are indicative of a society imploding upon itself, a society that resorts to vigilantes and militias to uphold the rule of the law, where the regular police force radicalizes some and empowers others.
The US is in bad shape. Looting and rioting is not peaceful protesting, but bringing a gun to a protest is not peaceful protesting either. Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is Black, said in an interview with the news program “Democracy Now!” that “the shootings were not surprising and white militias have been ignored for too long,” Barnes said. “People treat that like it’s some kind of normal activity that people are walking around with assault rifles,” which is the essence of disunity and dissent.
The US is at an all time low and and has a long way to go to return to what was considered the “good old American way.” Maybe President Trump, if re-elected, should work on this aspect of things so as to “make America great again.”