Why People Are Angry Over the Rittenhouse Verdict by C. Ellen Connally

Ever since the name of 17-year-old  Kyle Rittenhouse rocketed its way to infamy last August, I was curious about his attendance at school. Most people his age are still engaged in formal education. With the media’s silent on this issue, after the verdict, I googled his background. Here’s what I found out.

According to The New York Times, Rittenhouse is a  high school dropout who claims he quit school because he was bullied. He now works part time as a lifeguard and lives with his mother.

At the time of the incident, he told police that he was a trained EMT. He later admitted that was a lie. During the trial he testified that he was studying at Arizona State University. That was not exactly accurate. A spokesman for the university told the Times that the program Rittenhouse was enrolled in was an online program for students seeking admission, but not affiliated with the university’s nursing school or any other degree program. NBC News described Rittenhouse as an online college student. That’s how the media can spin a person’s image.

Delving further, I found that Rittenhouse’s parents are divorced and that he was raised by his mother. His father, who has had issues with substance abuse and domestic violence against Rittenhouse’s mother, has not been a significant part of his life.

I was also curious as to how a 17-year-old came into possession of an automatic weapon. The gun was bought by an adult friend, who purchased it legally with money provided by the teenager.

But what if Rittenhouse were black? What if it were 17-year-old high school dropout Kyrie Richardson was involved in the same situation? Here is what likely would have happened and here’s how the media would have spun the events:

Kyrie Richardson, a 17-year-old high school dropout was fatally wounded during an encounter with Kenosha police. He was carrying an assault weapon at the time.

Richardson, who was raised by his single mother and a father who was absent from the home,  worked seasonal jobs. He illegally obtained the weapon from a friend, who is under investigation for possible connections to local gangs. The weapon was transported across state lines.

Richardson was pronounced dead on the scene after he approached police in a threatening manner during racial unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake. A police spokesman said that Richardson was instructed to drop his weapon. When he failed to comply and fearing for their own safety, police fired several rounds as Richardson approached. Officers involved in the shooting were placed on paid administrative leave, pending further investigation.

Unlike the black man in my scenario, Rittenhouse always seemed to have gotten the benefit of the doubt with the media. His youthful appearance was touted. He was always shown in a positive light. No one mentioned that he was a high school dropout. On the night of the riots, when he approached police carrying his weapon, rather than seeing him as a threat, they high-fived him and gave him a bottle of water. When he went to police and admitted the shooting, he was sent  home. Police didn’t even hold him for questioning. Do you really think that a black man wearing a hoodie would have gotten the same  treatment with two white men dead and another seriously injured?

Friday’s verdict garnered cheers on the right and boos on the left. It’s axiomatic of the society in which we live, where Colin Kaepernick, a college graduate, is a terrorist who can’t get a job and Kyle Rittenhouse, a high school dropout, is a hero with Republican members of Congress jockeying to determine who will give him a position as a page or intern in the Congress.

There is just something wrong with this picture. Who should we blame?

If you want to place some blame, here are some likely candidates:  First, we need to blame the sense of entitlement and vigilantism that is rampant in many segments of the white community — a la George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case and the three white men currently on trial for the death of Ahmaud Arbery.

Blame can be shared with state legislatures that pass lax gun laws which allow a 17-year-old to lawfully walk around with an assault weapon. And speaking of state legislatures, the Ohio Legislature wants to abolish the requirement that those seeking concealed carry permits take a training class.

Blame should also go to Wisconsin’s draconian law of self-defense that posed an almost  insurmountable burden of proof on a lackluster crew of prosecutors and a judge who bent over backwards to favor Rittenhouse. His first ruling when he refused to allow the deceased person to be referred to as victims signaled loud and clear whose side the judge was on.

Being stupid is not a crime. If it were Rittenhouse, his mother and the friend who bought the gun are all clearly guilty — Rittenhouse for going to the scene in the first place; his mother for letting him have the gun; and his friend for buying it.

Considering the Rittenhouse verdict, the George Floyd case and a congressman who is proud of the fact that he created a cartoon image of himself killing a fellow Congressperson, it is easy to understand the current national divide that equals the divisions that gave rise to the Civil War.

Some people don’t understand why Americans black and white are angry. Maybe those who don’t understand should follow the Native American Indian proverb and walk a mile in another man’s shoes before we lower the flag and fire on Fort Sumpter.

C. Ellen Connally is a retired judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court. From 2010 to 2014 she served as the President of the Cuyahoga County Council. An avid reader and student of American history, she serves on the Board of the Ohio History Connection, is currently vice president of the Cuyahoga County Soldiers and Sailors Monument Commission and president of the Cleveland Civil War Round Table. She holds degrees from BGSU, CSU and is all but dissertation for a PhD from the University of Akron.

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4 Responses to “Why People Are Angry Over the Rittenhouse Verdict by C. Ellen Connally”

  1. Vivian Goodman Duvall

    Thank you for your excellent essay. In the bleak winter in which we find our country your call to take a walk in others’ moccasins is a breath of spring.

  2. Jay Westbrook

    This is an excellent piece. Thank you Judge Connally! And we could do the same “re-colorization” in the case of the January 6 “bunch of tourist” visiting the capitol. No doubt the federal troops would have parachuted in with guns blazing.

  3. Great commentary, as usual, Judge Connally. Thank you for making sense of the obviously senseless world we are living in today.

  4. Zion

    America’s love/hate relationship with Murder by Adolescents with easy access to Assault “Weapons of Mass Death/Destruction, is a matter of “Parental and Adult Responsibility.” In a “Just World” Rittenhouse , his Parents, and every Adult surrounding Him should be charged with “Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor.”

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