Is Kyle Rittenhouse judge right to prohibit the use of 'victim' by prosecution?

Mark Hertzberg / AP

Fact Box

  • On October 25, 2021, Wisconsin Judge Bruce Schroeder stated he would not allow prosecutors to use the term “victim,” but will allow “rioters” or “looters”in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial that is set to start November 1, 2021. Schroeder has a standard rule not to allow certain terms until someone is convicted of a crime. 
  • Kyle Rittenhouse, 17 years old, opened fire on a group during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing two adults on August 25, 2020. He was charged with “intentional, reckless, and attempted homicide, and reckless endangerment, and curfew violation, as well as a misdemeanor for possessing a firearm. Footage shows Rittenhouse said he was there to protect businesses and “help people.” 
  • On August 26, 2020, he turned himself in at the Antioch police headquarters.
  • According to Wisconsin law, “if a person is not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm, it is legal to carry any legal firearm openly, “but the teen was not old enough to legally carry the assault-style rifle in his possession.”
  • Protests in Wisconsin were spurred on by the shooting and hospitalization of Jacob Blake, 29, who was involved in an altercation with police on August 23, 2020.

Andrew (No)

Judge Bruce Schroeder’s decision to bar the use of the term “victim” to describe those shot by Kyle Rittenhouse illustrates everything wrong with the legal grey area of killing someone in the name of self-defense. While some people may make compelling arguments for taking a life when one is in immediate danger, such as in a violent home invasion, situations like the Rittenhouse case are more dubious. Someone who puts himself into a potentially dangerous situation by attending a protest with weapons is not acting in self-defense. Only Rittenhouse knows whether he planned to kill; however, the fact that he brought a gun into a volatile situation proves he was open to the idea, putting him well outside of reasonable self-defense. Without a logical self-defense claim, the word “victims” clearly describes those slain by Rittenhouse.

Judge Schroeder’s focus on words ironically highlights the importance of language in the courtroom. Unfortunately, his banning of the word “victim” is tantamount to censorship, which could hamper the prosecution, making the trial less impartial. It’s especially ironic that Rittenhouse will get such easy treatment when his victims never saw their day in court for their alleged crimes.

By taking away the term victim, judge Schroeder implies that whatever activities the men murdered by Rittenhouse were taking part in somehow justify their killing. This is not how our justice system works. We do not have extrajudicial killings performed by teenage civilians, and the punishment for alleged rioting or arson is not to be shot in the street without a trial. Anyone killed in this way is a victim and to deny that language is to weigh the scales of justice.

Noah (Yes)

Kyle Rittenhouse should never have been in the situation that led to his subsequent arrest. There should not have been rioting and looting, and Rittenhouse, who is from Antioch, Illinois, should not have traveled to Kenosha, WI, with a firearm. Regardless, this trial isn't about the others who rioted, looted, and set fire to private and public property--it's about Kyle Rittenhouse. 

Judge Schroeder was right in his decision to prohibit the prosecution from using 'victim(s)' when referring to the individuals Kyle Rittenhouse shot. After watching footage of the incident, declaring the individuals ‘victims' is not only incorrect, it establishes grounds that seem to violate due process, something fundamental to our justice system. Further, this particular judge has had a long-standing policy about this. 

The series of events unfolded with Rittenhouse offering medical assistance to protesters before being chased into the parking lot by one. A gun was fired into the air. And as the protester lunged at him, Rittenhouse fired his weapon, killing the individual.

When two individuals are engaged in an altercation, and one turns around, runs away, and disengages, the person who proceeds to give chase while throwing items is not a 'victim.' 

Later on, Rittenhouse is chased by a group of people when he trips and falls. Several people seem to be trying to either attack or restrain him, and one individual lunging at him had a gun. He fired on them, wounding one and killing another. 

This is about the interaction between an individual and those attacking him. Rittenhouse's actions were unwise. But were they criminal? That is up to the jury, and the term 'victim' gets in the way.

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