The headline was jarring: “Black Man Who Spent 25 Years Incarcerated for a Murder He Didn’t Commit Has Been Exonerated,” The Root’s homepage shouted at me. The story of 62-year-old Jaythan Kendrick, who was arrested for a crime he did not commit on Thanksgiving Day 1994—when he was just 36—is a familiar one to anyone who’s paid attention to the chronic miscarriage of justice Black people face: Had law enforcement and or prosecutors actually done their job, Kendrick could have been home in time for Christmas, or maybe never arrested at all. The evidence was thin—at best. It also was manipulated.
But this story is not about Jaythan Kendrick.
With a quick click of the Back button, and I was back to The Root’s homepage; just below the Kendrick story I’d just read was the face of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old high schooler who definitely murdered two—almost three—Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisc. with an illegally obtained AR-15 rifle back in August. Rittenhouse was released Friday on a cash bail of $2 million, paid in part by Mike Lindell—the Trump fanatic usually referred to as the My Pillow Guy—and Rick Schroder, an ex-child actor best known for the vapid 1980s sitcom Silver Spoons.
While both Kendrick and Rittenhouse will be home just in time for Thanksgiving, the justice system journeys for these two men—one guilty, and one innocent, one white, and one Black—couldn’t be more different. And so I rage.
Lin Wood, attorney for the newly-freed yet wholly unrepentant Rittenhouse, posted a photo of the grinning (and maskless) homicidal teenager to Twitter Friday evening.
Rabid militia enthusiasts, endorsers of white supremacy, and lovers of Donald Trump have all latched on to the murderous teen, elevating him to hero status in their hateful white power fantasies; over half a million dollars has been raised for Rittenhouse beyond the bail money, according to the local CBS affiliate.
Most of the money came from small donations, and Rittenhouse’s attorney took to Twitter thanking donors and saying, “We the people did not let him down.”
Rittenhouse, who again, absolutely killed two people, has a fucking fan base. A rabid one, with deep pockets. The murderer, who has admitted to two murders and one attempted murder, told police “No, I don’t regret it” at the time of his arrest, and is currently enjoying some surreal hero’s life, admired by the sort of folks who vicariously watched cell phone footage of his cold killings and opened their wallets in support. These folks know exactly what Rittenhouse did and respect it. They consider his actions right and just, even as they smear his victims—all white men—to help justify their cold-blooded murders.
As Rittenhouse—an admitted killer whose injurious and life-ending acts were caught on video—settles in to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday as a real life Natural Born Killer, his jail time is currently a brief blip in his life’s history, despite his night-of fears of being incarcerated for “the rest of (his) life.” Army veteran Kendrick, on the other hand, would hardly be considered anybody’s hero.
The former mail carrier was in prison for longer than Rittenhouse has breathed air, yet no six-figure fundraisers have been held in Kendrick’s name to help him reclaim some semblance of a life; instead of the My Pillow Guy and a washed up actor, it was only a determined family member and the good folks at the Innocence Project who fought for his freedom.
“Mr. Kendrick has endured an unimaginable injustice for over 25 years. He has spent decades trying to right this wrong, but the system failed him at every step,” said Susan Friedman, Mr. Kendrick’s Innocence Project attorney. “This is a textbook case of wrongful conviction exposing the worst flaws in our system – racial profiling, unduly suggestive identification procedures and a lack of police accountability at very least. Thankfully, the new evidence in this case, including DNA, has provided overwhelming proof of Mr. Kendrick’s innocence.”
“I never thought this day would materialize. Tomorrow I am going to wake up and go home,” said Mr. Kendrick. “I saw so many other people get to leave and I was still here. Finally the truth is out that I didn’t commit this crime.”
Rittenhouse’s trial—assuming he gets one and doesn’t plea out—will be one that both his fervent fans and justice seekers alike will follow in earnest. Whether he walks free for taking the lives of two white men—and shooting another in the arm—remains to be seen. It certainly seems impossible and wrong that a human being who crossed state lines with a illegally-procured device designed to kill as many people as possible might walk free after absolutely using that weapon to create two dead bodies and an injured one. But it also seems impossible and wrong that innocent people like Kendrick whither in prisons all day, every day, waiting for justice, while an admitted and lionized killer walks free.
And so I rage.