Something I Can’t Explain

I was going to write about something else today. But instead, I’m completely consumed by the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old who shot and killed two people amidst a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Every morning, my 12-year-old son listens to a snippet of news from NPR through our Amazon Echo device in the kitchen. I know for certain this will be the leading story tomorrow. He likely won’t know the full context and will ask for an explanation. This is one of the harder moments as a parent, when I have to explain the injustices of the world.

I’m going to have to tell my son that a protest happened following the shooting of a black man named Jacob Blake at the hands of police officers last summer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I have taught my children that protests are a good way to make your voice heard. I’ve even taken my oldest son to an anti-gun protest, several years ago, as part of the Moms Demand Action network.

Yet Rittenhouse armed himself with a semi-automatic weapon, drove several hours across state lines, and shot two people at the protest. He claimed self-defense, a claim bolstered by a judge whose bias could not have been more clear.

The jury’s acquittal means that we live in a world where “right-wing vigilantism against legitimate protest just became legally permissible” (to quote a friend). It means that attending any protest now comes with an element of fear for my safety or the safety of my loved ones. People like Rittenhouse, much like the people who stormed the Capitol at the insurrection on January 6th, have become emboldened. They know that “the system” will protect them.

If Rittenhouse had been a person of color yielding a weapon at the protest, he would have been shot dead. If he had been a person of color put on trial for shooting two people, he would have been convicted.

And somehow, I’m going to have to explain to my son how this all happened.

My son is well aware of the George Floyd murder. Our household cheered at the verdict of the police officer who shot him. But it often feels like one step forward, two steps back these days.

My children are half-Asian. I don’t pretend that they face the same racism as Black people. But when something like this happens, I’m reminded that racism runs deep. There are people in the world who will hate my kids because they are not white. That my kids have an increased risk, in a variety of scenarios, because they are not white. And now… I have to contend with encouraging them to protest against the risks that may be involved.

I used to be so involved in politics. I knocked on doors, I volunteered, I was a paid staffer for a rep to Congress in college.

And now? I’m so tired.

I have to hang all of my hopes on the people with more energy than me. I believe that there are enough people in the world who want to fight and will continue to fight. Whereas, I want to create this protective bubble for myself and my family.

Yet news like the Rittenhouse verdict pierces that bubble. It’s a reminder and a gut punch at the same time.