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The idea that Americans should be afraid to protest is a threat to our democracy

Protesters march Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Kyle

Protesters march Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges after pleading self-defense in the deadly Kenosha shootings that became a flashpoint in the nation's debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice. Credit: AP/Paul Sancya

Given the magnitude of the crime he was charged with, it seems senseless to think of Kyle Rittenhouse as a child. However, he is a child who has made fundamental errors in judgment, partly through consumption of right-wing ideology. In many ways, Rittenhouse is a victim of his own circumstances. If he had been taught in school to understand the context and history of Blacks and other minority groups in America and their current social plight, and how the opportunities he enjoys today are based on historical and ongoing injustices, he may have had a little more empathy for protesters in Kenosha Wisconsin. He may have chosen a trajectory different from one of hatred and bigotry. In a counterfactor world, Kyle Rittenhouse would have driven to volunteer to serve in the community, and not volunteered to kill.

Those who claim to support Rittenhouse actually do not care for him nor his family. They are hypocrites who use a child for their own cynical agenda. None of them would want their child to be in his predicament. A flaw in their belief system is their merciless legitimization and glorification of violence. They have no moral qualms. Compared to many nations, we are already an extremely violent society, and we continue to descend to even more savageries. It is morally wrong that so many Americans, and particularly those who advocate for gun rights, do not see the humanity of others. To take advantage of such a tragic occurrence is pathetic in all ways and forms.

Rittenhouse’s claim and those of his supporters that he is not racist has no relevance to the issue. In fact, his actions contradict his claim of being non-racist and delegitimize his claim of support for Black Lives Matter. An objective observer can review the evidence and determine that Rittenhouse’s very act of going to Kenosha was intended to inflict harm and not to protect a particular group of people. The mostly Black protestors in Kenosha rallied against differential applications of police force against minorities. The two white men he killed were also protesting against racial injustices.

White supremacist claims and support of racial hierarchies espouse that those who oppose the status quo may as well be Black. They have a distorted view that considers whites who seek justice for their fellow humans as enemies who have betrayed the white race. White supremacists demand that whites think as a group, unified by their whiteness. They have absolutist interpretations and cannot fathom that some whites would oppose the system of whiteness from which they benefit.

In the 21st century, racists have legitimate reasons not to own their racism. Fox News and its team peddle racist narratives. Their audiences and those victimized by the violence of their rhetoric understand the context and connotation of their discourse. Yet, it is delusional to expect Fox News and similar media to admit that they are racist and that they market racist content.

Thousands of Kyle Rittenhouses could be saved from future catastrophes through education. However, their parents do all they can to prevent discussion of racism and other form of social injustices in classrooms. Right-wing narratives fuel opposition to teaching about the underpinnings of social stratification and their resulting societal ills. Those who oppose teaching American racial history in schools are creating future Kyles. While their racial animus could be deadly, it could also manifest through denial of education, employment and other basic services based on skin color.

The families of those Rittenhouse shot and killed, and their supporters, oppose the not-guilty verdict; not only to bring closure and a sense of justice for the victims, but also to set a precedent so that this carnage is not repeated. Conviction was not intended for retribution, but as closure for the victims’ families and as future deterrence.

In a nation founded through protest, all Americans should have the right to protest against injustice, without fear of being gunned down. Those devoid of power protest against oppressive systems; it was such protest that contributed fundamentally to American democracy, which we continue to hold sacred. The idea that Americans should be afraid to protest is a threat to our democracy.

As the Rittenhouse verdict demonstrates, there are fundamental flaws within the American legal system, including its letters of the law, presiding judges and those who adjudicate. Race has been a serious conceptual flaw since the origin of American society. In the 21st century, race is still an issue and will remain so for a very long time. Many of our societal ills are underpinned by racial animus. Americans will have to take giant steps to make any meaningful racial progress, which not only helps racial minorities, but saves America from internal "carnage."

Racial harmony and racial equity benefit all Americans. A dominant group will not continue to prosper by containing minority groups at the pit of the social hierarchy. There is a spillover effect of structural violence into all of society. Every person’s quality of life suffers, whether directly or indirectly.

Danielle Taana Smith, PhD., of Syracuse, is professor of African American Studies and director of the Renée Crown University Honors Program at Syracuse University.

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