Rittenhouse shot his victims, but can’t we call them that?
We talk a lot about the principles of the American justice system: due process rights and the presumption of innocence for all in criminal proceedings. We maintain the Constitution as the main law of the land.
Until we don’t.
Excuse my cynicism as I attempt to process last week’s decision with a Judge of Wisconsin in the High-profile Kyle Rittenhouse homicide case. The 18-year-old will stand trial next week for shooting three people, including two to death, during a protest against police brutality last year in Kenosha, about 40 miles southeast of Milwaukee.
Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder has ruled that those shot by Rittenhouse cannot be called “victims” until he is convicted of a felony.
Yet two of Rittenhouse’s victims (yes, I call them that) died. Shot with an AR-15 style rifle. But Schroeder will allow Joseph Rosenbaum, 36; Anthony Huber, 26; and Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, injured, described as looters, rioters and arsonists in open court.
Never mind that these victims – again that word – were never convicted (or even accused) of actual looting the night they were shot.
So tell me, what did they loot? Is there any evidence to suggest that they set things on fire with criminal intent? Are there videos showing them rioting?
How is it that they are not “victims” but that they are “looters”?
Taking the most generous view of the judge’s decision – he called the victim a “loaded, loaded word” – he was trying to ensure a fair trial. Where I stumble with this point of view is when I remember that fairness and justice aren’t meant to be one-sided.
In my opinion, banning the ‘victim’ but allowing the use of loaded terms such as ‘looter’ and ‘rioter’ could influence a jury to feel sympathy for Rittenhouse – his victims weren’t up to anything good, they were threatening criminals. , they deserved this.
What a disappointing and infuriating start to an ordeal that in many ways defines who we are, what we stand for and who we are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to.
Regular procedure. The presumption of innocence.
It is our criminal justice system. This is why people kneel during the national anthem. This is why thousands of people took to the streets after the murder of George Floyd. This is why many Americans are demanding systemic reforms.
It’s a travesty, and we are all victims of it.National Columnist / Deputy Opinion Writer
Hackney is a National Columnist / Associate Opinion Editor for USA Today.