'Lots of blame to go around': Writer argues the Rittenhouse judge may not be at fault if there's an acquittal

'Lots of blame to go around': Writer argues the Rittenhouse judge may not be at fault if there's an acquittal
A screengrab of Judge Bruce E. Schroeder during Kyle Rittenhouse's trial in November 2021
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As Kyle Rittenhouse's trial winds down, many of the teenagers critics have also been highly skeptical of the 75-year-old judge in the case: Bruce E. Schroeder, who has been a frequent source of frustration to the prosecutors. Much of the criticism of Schroeder has come from liberals and progressives, although MSNBC's Joe Scarborough — a Never Trump conservative and former GOP congressman — slammed Schroeder as "absolutely disgusting" and an "absolute joke" earlier this week. But journalist Jeremy Stahl, in an article published by Slate this week, has a very different take on Schroeder.

As Stahl sees it, the anger being directed at Schroeder from Rittenhouse's critics is misplaced. And Stahl argues that if Rittenhouse is found "not guilty" on homicide and attempted homicide charges, Schroeder won't be to blame.

That isn't to say that Stahl defends Rittenhouse in his piece; he doesn't. The Slate editor, in fact, criticizes "the radical right" for treating a "right-wing vigilante" like a "folk hero." But while Stahl's tone is critical of Rittenhouse, he strongly takes issue with those who are painting Schroeder as a villain during the trial.

"So far, Schroeder has not done anything to suggest he overtly favors one side over the other, and his past record doesn't suggest partiality either," Stahl writes. "If Kyle Rittenhouse goes free, there will be lots of blame to go around: the prosecution for antagonizing the judge when their case appeared to be going poorly, an almost entirely White jury that may empathize more with a killer than the men he killed, a political machinery that turns right-wing vigilantes into conservative folk heroes, and a criminal justice system that gives white defendants a benefit of the doubt it never offers to Black defendants. In this case, Judge Schroeder is the least of the problems."

There are so many factors at work in the case, Stahl emphasizes, that it's silly to demonize Schroeder as a bad guy.

Rittenhouse is on trial for shooting three people, two of them fatally, at a racial justice protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August 2020 during a summer that was incredibly intense — from the COVID-19 pandemic to a divisive presidential election to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police office Derek Chauvin on May 25. Floyd's death set off huge protests not only in the United States, but all over the world. And in Kenosha, the tension only grew after Jacob S. Blake, a young African-American man, was shot by a White police officer, Rusten Sheskey on August 23. Blake, unlike Floyd, wasn't killed, but he was left paralyzed from the waste down.

When Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets of Kenosha to demonstrate in August 2020, the far-right Rittenhouse — who was 17 at the time and is now 18 — showed up with an AR-15-style weapon and got into a confrontation with three BLM supporters: Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz. Rittenhouse, described by many of his critics as a Proud Boys supporter, doesn't deny that he fatally shot Rosenbaum and Huber and wounded Grosskreutz, but he has maintained that he acted in self-defense and that he wanted to protect Kenosha businesses from being attacked or looted.

Schroeder, according to reporters, has a reputation for tending to favor defendants over prosecutors — which, Stahl points out, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"Part of the rush to judgment about Schroeder stems from the politics of the case itself," Stahl writes. "Rittenhouse has become an icon on the right, a symbol of their Second Amendment freedoms and belief in a right to act as an extension of the police. Against the backdrop of rising White supremacist violence, Rittenhouse's trial becomes a bellwether for how this kind of violence might be treated in a courtroom. That may help to explain why so many rushed to judgment, taking Schroeder's 'God Bless the USA' ringtone as a sign of his supposed right-leaning politics and bias."

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