As a Black woman and mother, I do not want to write about Kyle Rittenhouse.
I was at my 6-year-old son’s school just now when I got the news: Rittenhouse found not guilty on all counts. Not guilty on all charges in the killings of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz.
While underage, he took a loaded gun to a Black Lives Matter protest. He took a gun that his friend bought for him and decided to cross state lines and travel to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where police had shot and wounded Jacob Blake and where protesters were taking to the streets in righteous indignation. Rittenhouse’s decision to bring a gun to a protest in defense of Black lives under the pretext of protecting property was an act of white supremacy, even if the people that he killed and harmed were all white.
As I look at the Black kids at my son’s school, still too young to have a care in the world, I think about this country that will tell them again and again that their lives do not matter. A country that tells us all that white kids, white tears, white sympathy, white supremacy will be exonerated every time.
I do not want to expend the emotional and mental energy necessary to write this piece. I want to take a break. I want to compose myself enough to continue living in Black racialized skin in a country that devalues me based on that. Because that’s the reality of so many Black parents and caregivers today. We need to keep living, keep showing up to work and parenting and life, keep pushing through in the face of blatant racism and pain to our community.
Black people across the country have been screaming into the abyss, “What do you think would happen if he was a Black kid?”
Not that we really have to wonder. We only have to think about what happened to Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun and was killed by police within seconds of their arrival on the scene. We only have to think about the fact that Black youth are more than four times as likely to be detained or committed in juvenile facilities, including residential treatment centers, group homes, and youth prisons, as their white peers.
We only have to think about this fact: in the midst of the pandemic, the number of youth in detention centers fell by 24% but, of course, white youth were released at a 17% higher rate than Black youth.
Black youth are never, ever given the benefit of the doubt or the assumption of good intent, by systems in this country, as has been extended to Rittenhouse.
I think about a society that adultifies and criminalizes Black kids from Kindergarten on and it enrages me enough to write, to give voice to the disparities in how Black and white children are treated. It is my hope — which, yes, I somehow still have — that as a society, we will take a deep look at ourselves. It is my hope that our rage — the rage of people like me but also the rage of white parents and caregivers who claim to be co-conspirators in this fight — will propel us to dismantle every system that does not serve our most marginalized kids.
I’m choosing to bring myself some form of healing and reprieve, even as my stomach churns and my hands shake and tears spill on to my keyboard, by writing this piece because it’s not about Rittenhouse. It’s about a system that continues to uphold, mold, and make allowances for white people like him while marginalizing Black children. It’s about the fact that racism sits in the highest seats in our country. We saw this when the judge made thinly veiled racially insensitive comments. We saw Rittenhouse sitting so close to the judge, leaning over his shoulder as a grandchild would with his grandfather. We see Republican leaders vocally championing Rittenhouse on social media.
We know that, if he was Black, he very well may not have lived once the police saw him walking through the streets with a gun. We know that, if he did live to see an arrest, the system would criminalize him at every step of the way, even before the verdict.
As a country, as we reckon with this verdict, it is imperative that we focus on the systems that enabled it. “The intersection of gun violence, lax gun laws, and white supremacy — including at the highest levels of law enforcement and our judicial system — have once again sanctioned deadly violence against a racial justice movement,” wrote Kim Russell, a gun violence survivor, activist, and mom when I reached out to her a few days ago, astonished, to ask about the legalities of the dismissal of the gun possession charge against Rittenhouse. “While we certainly need stronger federal gun laws in place to help prevent a teenager from attending a public protest armed with an AR-15, we must also fight our corrupt system that enables violence at any level and protects those who commit it.”
So I write, even in the midst of my exhausted anger, because of the racial disparities that exist for all those little Black kids running around at my son’s school today who deserve to live with the same freedoms as their white peers.
I write it for other Black parents and caregivers to let you know that you’re not alone in your utter frustration at the unfair and unjust society our children must exist in. If today is hard, if every day is hard, maneuvering a racist country with Black kids, give yourself space to be.
Kyle Rittenhouse is a product of not just a racist criminal justice system but also a racist society that propels us to this level of frustration, pain, and anguish daily. It’s exhausting. This trauma lives in our bodies but we know that we must keep fighting for the lives of Black kids to be safeguarded, held, and protected.