THERE is need to look at the problems of guns and justice being brought to the fore following the decision by US Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder to acquit the now 18-year-old former police youth cadet from Antioch, Illinois, Kyle Rittenhouse, on Friday, November 19 2021.
Rittenhouse was facing charges for shooting and killing 26-year-old Anthony Huber and 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum as well as severely injuring a 28-year-old paramedic Gaige Grosskreutz on August 25 2020 with an assault AR-15 rifle he brought to a crowd that was demonstrating over the shooting of a black Kenosha resident Jacob Blake by officer Rusten Sheskey.
This was during a summer of unrest following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Rittenhouse confessed to have acted in self-defence when he shot the three men, killing two of them:
“So people are getting injured, and our job is to protect this business… And part of my job is also to help people. If there is somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have a riffle-because I can protect myself, obviously. But I also have med kit.”
Rittenhouse’s testimony was sufficient to have him acquitted but such closure to a case of bringing a gun to a demonstrating crowd is normally theorised as pausing a threat to human security and trampling on people’s rights elsewhere.
The US has tendency to regard this law of moving with guns as liberty in their spaces and George Tucker, in 1803, in Blackstone’s Commentaries called it ‘true palladium of liberty’: ‘With Notes of Reference to the constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia’.
Second Amendment to the Constitution of the US, adopted in 1971, as part of the Bill of Rights that provided a constitutional check on congressional power under Article 1, Section 8 partly reads:“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
The horrifying image of a teenager using a riffle on a city street during a racial justice demonstration was translated into an image of a well-meaning young man who had gone to keep peace and provide medical aid response to protesters and self-protecting in the judgment.
While it is not all about just being found not guilty of homicide and four charges, even the disregard of the victims in court shows more about how the use of a gun on a demonstrating crowd is treated in the US.
The victims were not accorded the name ‘victim’ by the jury who said prosecutors could not refer to the three men Rittenhouse shot as victims but the defence attorneys could refer to them as ‘looters, rioters and arsonists’.
One of Rittenhouse’s defence attorneys, Mark Richards, also worked to persuade the jury that Rosenbaum was a ‘menace’.
Another police detective called him ‘hyper-aggressive’.
A former veteran who was armed on the streets, Jason Lackowski, described him as a ‘babbling idiot’.
President Joe Biden himself said the acquittal “…leaves many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included.”
Biden urged demonstrators:
“I stand by what the jury has concluded.
“The jury system works and we have to abide by it.”
The whole acquittal situation brings to memory the Harvard Law Professor Bruce Hay, who, in 2018, in his presentation on the silence of lawyers in the face of the US’ two tier criminal justice system argued:“The fact is we operate two criminal justice systems in the US.
One is for affluent white people, who, when accused of crime, are treated as citizens, as people with rights.
They get the benefit of the constitutional protections we boast (about) in text books and television shows, protections like due process and trial by jury and proof beyond reasonable doubt.
And they are often shown great leniency for very serious crimes, including homicide.
The other system is for poor people and racial minorities, who are treated more like trash to be removed from the streets.
?They are policed as if they are enemy combatants, churned through overcrowded, underfunded courts that traffic in guilty pleas and long prison sentences for minor offenses; and harassed or killed by cops whose brutality would never be tolerated against those whose wealth and skin colour entitles them to the privileges and protections of the first system.”
The Human Rights and Criminal Justice Watch, however, says:
“The criminal justice system in the US raises serious constitutional and human rights concerns.
The human rights violations inherent in the system play out on a number of fronts; racial disparities in arrests, convictions, and sentencing, draconian sentences mandating that non-violent offenders serve the rest of their lives behind prison walls; the heightened impact of incarceration on vulnerable populations, such as children and the mentally ill; and more.
With only five percent of the world’s population, the US has 25 percent of the world’s prison population, making it the world’s largest jailer.
The US criminal justice system today deprives more Americans of their liberty than ever before – and more than any other nation on earth – unfairly, unnecessarily and in stark violation of international human rights law.
In order to bring its prison system in line with international human rights standards, the US should do the following:
λEliminate incarceration as a penalty for certain classes of low level, non-violent offenses, especially when these offenses are the result of mental illness or drug addiction or the first time offenses.
λStrengthen cost-effective alternatives to incarceration and drug treatment programmes.
λDistinguish between the people currently in prison who continue to pose threats to safety and those who are ready to re-enter society.
λRequire regularly systemic evaluations of the US criminal justice system.”
The US’ so called democracy remains a fallacy as far as justice is concerned, especially in that country.