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Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who fatally shot two people and injured another last year during protests for racial justice in Kenosha, WI, has been found not guilty of all charges. The court’s tacit endorsement of vigilantism is dangerous, especially in a nation that struggles with white supremacy while making it easy for ordinary people to get their hands on assault rifles.

We seek a world in which every person’s potential can be fulfilled. Yet the reality of racism in our minds and institutions keeps us from this goal.

With this verdict—in all its devastating familiarity—a terrible truth is affirmed: Justice is not applied equally in the United States. The legacy of white supremacy continues to poison the very core of our justice system; protecting white people even as it inflicts continual harm on people of color.

We seek a world in which every person’s potential can be fulfilled. Yet the reality of racism in our minds and institutions keeps us from this goal.

Kyle Rittenhouse secured an assault rifle. He joined a group of vigilantes in openly flaunting military-grade weaponry, in a city rocked by unrest when a white police officer shot and left paralyzed a Black man in 2020. Rittenhouse then killed two men, claiming that it was in “self-defense.” For these actions, he will suffer no legal consequences. The jury’s decision under current laws might have been correct. But the laws are wrong when they condone the carrying of assault rifles and vigilante justice.

There is no way these laws and the application of these laws can be viewed except through the lens of whiteness.  Countless Black people have been killed for far less. Trayvon Martin was shot to death in Florida for carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot when out on a jog. Philando Castile was killed for simply possessing a firearm as a Black man while on a drive with his family.

The court’s tacit endorsement of vigilantism is dangerous, especially in a nation that struggles with white supremacy while making it easy for ordinary people to get their hands on assault rifles.

The system is riddled with these instances, where whiteness is protected, and blackness is treated with derision and violence. These outcomes are not aberrations—in a nation where simply proclaiming that “Black Lives Matter” is seen as divisive, they are manifestations of the racism inherent to our institutions and society.

Beyond the sheer heartbreak, this court decision is sets a worrisome precedent for vigilante action. Our country continues to be plagued by racism, division, and gun violence. The Rittenhouse case is prime evidence that deadly violence is nearly inevitable when these combustible elements combine.

As Quakers, we place peace and unity at the very center of our faith. White supremacy and structural racism keep us from this goal. Dismantling it will take a concerted effort by all those who value the dignity of Black and brown people.

The Rittenhouse verdict once again reminds us that white supremacy and true justice can never coexist. We are deeply disappointed by the laws that allow this type of vigilante justice. We  remain fervently committed to prioritizing racial justice as we work to reshape public policy.

Diane Randall

Diane Randall

General Secretary
Diane Randall is the General Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Diane leads FCNL’s staff to effectively educate and lobby for the policies and legislative priorities established by FCNL’s General Committee.