Each week, newspaper headlines are filled with sensationalized trials of unjust killings in America. Last week was no different.
On Nov. 19, Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges. These charges included first-degree intentional homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety.
The verdict was met with both heavy support and criticism from those arguing over gun rights, vigilantism and the escalation of violence at racial justice protests. Those who supported Rittenhouse viewed him as a representative of gun rights and self-defense. Those who criticized the trial not only criticized Rittenhouse’s actions, but the legal system as being favorable to certain individuals over others.
While it was expected the already heavily divided nation would disagree on Rittenhouse’s trial, the surprise came when the two heads of state made starkly contrasting statements about the verdict.
President Joe Biden addressed the verdict in an official statement released by The White House: “While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken… I know that we’re not going to heal our country’s wounds overnight, but I remain steadfast in my commitment to do everything in my power to ensure that every American is treated equally, with fairness and dignity, under the law.”
However, when asked about her opinion on the verdict, Vice President Kamala Harris commented, “I'm disappointed in the verdict, I have to tell you. I think it speaks for itself. But I also have spent the majority of my career focused on what we need to do to ensure that the criminal justice system is more fair and just, and we still have a lot of work to do.”
Biden had the perfect opportunity to speak out against the system, to address where change needs to be made. He holds one of the largest platforms in the world, which could have been used to address racism and the socioeconomic divide within the legal system. But he neglected to use this platform and failed to uphold his promise to ensure equality, fairness and dignity in the courts. The lone voice in the White House offering any comments of hope for those who have felt the wrongfulness of the system came from Harris.
Harris’ extensive background through the criminal justice system, as well as the fact she is a Person of Color, demonstrates that only those who understand the intricacies and harms of the legal system are the ones who will fight for its reform.
So no, Joe, the system doesn’t work. If it really worked, there wouldn’t be over a hundred wrongful convictions overturned each year, nearly zero accountability for police and prosecutors or overcriminalization for minor crimes. The list only continues to increase, as does the lack of initiative by leaders. The effects of this system are not felt by people in power; they are felt and experienced by the marginalized and politically disenfranchised. Therefore, until those in power experience legal injustice, citizens will be left to fight for their rights and true justice without the support of their so-called representatives.