Why Are Republicans Painting Kyle Rittenhouse As An Innocent Teenager? White Supremacy.

Photo: Julie Jacobson/AP/Shutterstock.
On Tuesday night, Fox News made it their goal to fiercely defend Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who killed two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In a segment on Sean Hannity’s show, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi launched an impassioned defense of the teen who crossed state lines armed with an assault rifle, calling him a “little boy out there trying to protect his community” (Rittenhouse is from Illinois, not Kenosha).
"I believe in the presumption of innocence," Hannity said at the start of the conversation. Bondi then jumped in to explain the "war zone"-like conditions of the Kenosha protests before saying of Rittenhouse: "You've got a 17-year-old who is out there trying to protect his state. He's helping people who have been injured...he's trying to mitigate the chaos out there, and they rushed to judgement." Bondi then went on to berate the men that Rittenhouse shot and killed, describing one as an alleged sex offender. "Were people killed? Absolutely," she said. "What's it coming to in these liberal cities when teenagers have to go out there and try to provide aid?"
Though Bondi and Hannity evaded the fact that Rittenhouse willingly went out with AR-15 rifle strapped to his back when he could have stayed home, or just not shot anyone, this type of victimization is not uncommon. It comes just weeks after Donald Trump, Jr. similarly said of Rittenhouse: “we all do stupid things at 17." The president has defended him, too, claiming that Rittenhouse was "violently" attacked.
We shouldn't be surprised, though, that Republicans are painting Rittenhouse — who is a literal far-right vigilante that has killed anti-racism protestors — as some type of victim. What is most concerning is the stark contrast to the way Republicans have spoken about other teens like Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and the Central Park Five.
But there is at least one obvious difference between those teenagers and Rittenhouse, of course: they are Black, while Rittenhouse is white. And this directly plays into a larger issue of Republicans prioritizing and even defending the practices of white supremacy, painting movements like Black Lives Matter as "dangerous" or even "criminal."
While Rittenhouse is allowed to be young and dumb in this narrative, Black children and teens are not granted the same leeway. Tamir Rice who really was a little boy, at 12 years old, was estimated to be a “20-year-old male” by the 9-1-1 caller and responding officers to the park where Rice was playing with a toy gun. Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman for wearing a hoodie and was portrayed as a threatening man.
The Central Park Five, who ranged in age from 14 to 16, were convicted of a crime they did not commit after a massive campaign against them, including Donald Trump taking out a full-page ad calling for them to be put to death. Their case fit into a much larger pattern of groups of Black or brown teens and youth being convicted of crimes against white victims for which they were later acquitted, including the 1931 case of the Scottsboro Boys, the Trenton Six in 1948, and the late 1960s case involving the Harlem Six. And all of this was condemned by Republican party leaders and right-wing media, who painted these kids as "thugs," only to later call Rittenhouse a victim of circumstance.
But research shows that this is not a coincidence: there is bias against Black children in which they are perceived as “less innocent” and older than their white counterparts. "Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection," Phillip Atiba Goff, a UCLA researcher and author of a 2014 study, said in a statement. "Our research found that Black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent."
This is due to racism and the upheld practices of white supremacy, but also the media narratives that portrays Black youth as dangerous criminals who deserved what they get while white teens are innocent and naive. And that rhetoric does more than just perpetuate those racist ideas—it actively reinforces white supremacist systems as a whole. It is less about the individual people and more about what they represent on a societal level. In supporting Rittenhouse, Republicans are supporting everything he stands for: whiteness, yes, but also pro-police and pro-gun. Rittenhouse represents the far-right’s agenda, which is rooted in white supremacist ideals. In defending him, they defend those ideals, too.

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