The 18-year-old who shot three men at a protest took the stand and resorted to a tried-and-true strategy for white men in trouble.
What Kyle Rittenhouse displayed in a Kenosha, Wisconsin, courtroom this week as he testified in his homicide trial was what folks like to call an “ugly cry.”
“His voice choked up and his face went red. The young man squinted and panted, his mouth pulled up plaintively towards his nose, his answers to the questions coming out in gasping little bursts. Kyle Rittenhouse, on the stand testifying at his trial for killing two people and wounding a third last summer at a racial justice protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was not crying for the men he killed, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber. He was crying for himself, describing what he said was his mortal fear that night in August 2020, when he opened fire on the protesters using an AR-15. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” Rittenhouse gasped, describing how he had confronted and ultimately killed the two men while he was guarding the lot of a car dealership. “I defended myself.”Guardian
Charged in the killings of two men and injury of another amid days of racial justice protests last summer, the defendant started to falter on the stand as he described that fateful night last August, when the then-17-year-old was armed with a rifle, patrolling the streets of a town that was not his own. Rittenhouse’s eyes shut almost completely, save for an occasional glance to his left in the direction of the jury. Then came the sobbing, which kept the rest of his response to his attorney’s questioning about that evening from escaping his quivering lips.
Rittenhouse’s blubbering was the headline of the day after the defendant offered his much-awaited testimony in the case Wednesday, recalling the night he shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber to death and “vaporized” much of the bicep of medic Gaige Grosskreutz, according to Grosskreutz’s testimony. Rittenhouse wasn’t weeping with regret; he was claiming self-defense, and recounting how he felt his life was in danger.
The debate this week has centered on whether the defendant’s spectacle was authentic. Whether or not the crying was real, it was a performance, and it had an audience. Like many white men accused of violent crimes and misconduct before him, Rittenhouse appealed with his tears not merely to the 12 fellow citizens who will decide his fate
Our legal system tends to treat young white men like him as sob stories rather than cautionary tales, especially if they exhibit anything approximating fear or remorse. The resentment and accusation of melodramatics is due in part to the reasonable presumption that another 17-year-old who isn’t white, committing the same act, wouldn’t receive the same sympathy. They wouldn’t be able to be caught in false statements — such as Rittenhouse’s claim on the night of the killing that Rosenbaum was armed when he allegedly threatened Rittenhouse prior to the shooting (Rosenbaum wasn’t) — and have any expectation that tears could secure their acquittal.