Kenosha County, Wis., Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder has a fanciful idea: That the trial he’s overseeing that includes murder charges against 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse can be removed from politics.
He said so on Monday during jury selection. “We don’t want to fall into the trap,” he said, “that many in the media have, a large percentage of the media, and discuss this as a political trial or that there are bigger factors at stake in this trial.”
How naive. Of course this is a trial of political consequence and of course there are bigger factors at stake. The potential jurors know it, and that’s why during selection several of them expressed concern that their city or they personally might be the targets of rioting or harassment, regardless of the verdict the jury renders.
All of the potential jurors are kept anonymous until after the trial is over but here’s a sample of what some of them said during selection:
—One said that no matter the verdict, “half the country will be up in arms about it.”
— Another said, “I’m more afraid of our community and the outsiders of our community that are coming in… It just brings us back to August (2020).” She also said she was “potentially” afraid of reliving riots depending on the verdict.
— A third said it was “scary” to be on a case like this one, specifically citing “riots” and wondering aloud, “Am I gonna get home safe?”
Those are legitimate concerns. We saw what happened earlier this year in Minneapolis, when businesses and restaurants boarded up their storefronts in anticipation of a possible acquittal of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who ultimately was convicted of killing George Floyd.
If things don’t go a certain way in politically charged trials like that, despite evidence leading a deliberate jury to the opposite conclusion, well, that might very well mean more rioting, looting, arson, and violence.
Potential jurors in the Rittenhouse trial received the message loud and clear that this isn’t just a murder trial. This is about the broader question of whether some types of political violence are acceptable, even necessary.
Rittenhouse is charged with the murder of two men and the attempted murder of a third. All relevant parties are white (sadly robbing the media of a beloved racially charged narrative) and it isn’t disputed that each of them had been chasing the teen and attempting to apprehend his weapon. All of it was in the context of several nights of destructive rioting in Kenosha, which resulted in a total of $50 million in damages to the city.
The mayhem was sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man who was wanted for violating a restraining order stemming from claims he had sexually assaulted a woman. Blake is on video resisting his arrest and defying police orders by moving to enter his vehicle as they tried to apprehend him.
The city went up in flames and the national media to this day characterize the chaos as a “Black Lives Matter march” because they, along with leaders in the Democratic Party, believe all of it was justified.
Rittenhouse may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that’s not a crime and it’s not what he’s on trial for. He’s on trial for shooting men who pursued him and made moves to grave his gun, something that is seen on video, testified by at least one witness, and written out in the state’s own complaint against Rittenhouse.
A jury will inevitably render its verdict, but contrary to what the judge says, there’s no way around it— this is a political trial and that should scare the jurors.