Jones and Rittenhouse: A Tale of Two Very Different Criminal Legal Systems

By: Michael Olsen & Ashley Bender; Edited by: Colleen McCarty

There’s no question the United States justice system is broken.

What does justice mean? Truly, how do we as a nation define justice? The lines are continuously blurred and today does not help us clarify.

This reality impacts every aspect of society, especially when the modifier "social" is attached to the concept of justice whenever disparities between different racial, ethnic, and other minority groups are discussed. 

In a perfect world, the criminal legal system would be impartial and designed for maintaining the laws and guidelines set forth by each state and the nation as a whole. Ideally, justice means fairness, equitability, moral rightness, and accuracy. But that’s not what we’re seeing.

Our criminal legal system should seek to punish those who engage in criminal conduct proportionately to the crime committedmotivate a change in their attitude and behavior, protect the innocent, deter criminal behavior from spreading, provide restitution for victims, and apply grace and mercy without prejudice. Furthermore, it should do so without disproportionately affecting communities of color, poor individuals, or juveniles. 

But it is crystal clear that impartiality and fairness have no home in our legal system when comparing the cases of Kyle Rittenhouse and Julius Jones. 

Across the world millions of people united in agreement there was doubt in Julis Jones’s trial. He didn't have a fair trial due to racial bias, inadequate legal representation, and issues with cross-racial identification. His co-defendent, who took a plea deal to testify against Jones, also later confessed to the murder of Paul Howell and to framing Jones. 

Celebrities including Kim Kardashian and Kerry Washington as well as professional athletes including Baker Mayfield and Russell Westbrook as well as a massive coalition of volunteers and faith leaders successfully lobbied Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to spare Jones's life by granting clemency from his death sentence. hurche congregations of every denomination in Oklahoma wrote letters of support for Julius Jones. Additionally, politicians of both parties, some staunchly conservative, voiced their support in not executing this man. 

Regardless of overwhelming legal evidence in Julius’ defense, 6.9 million people who signed a petition from the Innocence Project, and national celebrities and entities alike such as the European Union and German Ambassadors, voicing their support, Julius and his supporters had to fight tooth and nail and down to the very last minute to merely get him off death row. 

Governor Stitt granted him clemency, commuting his sentence to life without the possibility of parole meaning his journey for justice and freedom is far from over. 

Compare this to Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two men and wounded another amid protests and rioting over police conduct in Kenosha, Wisconsin was found not guilty of homicide and all other charges today. This has been a deeply divisive case in which debates have questioned vigilantism, white supremacy, gun rights and the definition of self-defense. 

Kyle has video evidence of his crimes and admits to the murders, yet will have no consequences and has even been offered jobs as a result of the trial. Rittenhouse who, taking away the politics, was a 17 year old boy who was underage drinking, operating a vehicle after underage drinking which is a violation under "Not a Drop" law, Sec. 346.63(2m), and was under 18 years and armed with a dangerous weapon, creating a serious danger to public safety. Despite all of the beyond-clear evidence pointing towards factual guilt, Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17 year old boy, was found “not guilty” of all counts by a jury.

Our legal system is broken. 

This is abundantly clear to activists and people across the world who have been tirelessly fighting in the #justiceforjulius case. 

In a Washington Post article, Alvin Owens, a Black community leader and business owner, says, “It’s evidence of an unjust, unfair system. This is something Black America sees all the time, but White Kenosha, White Wisconsin and White America don’t get it. They don’t know what Black America experiences.” It is clear there are two justice systems in America - one for wealthy, mostly-white defendants; and one for poor defendants who are disproportionately people of color.

There are legal questions swirling about the conditions placed on Julius Jones’ clemency, including whether a future Governor may be able to further reduce Jones’ sentence, but for now, it appears that one American accused of murder stays in jail for the rest of his life and another walks free, highlighting the difference between Black and White experiences in the criminal legal system. 

Not only is justice absent from Rittenhouse’s acquittal on all charges, justice is not served for the community. Owens goes on to say, “We need a new vision in Kenosha. I love our city, but it can be very Black versus White, haves versus have-nots.”

Owens’ truth articulates the community engagement that people are aching for in the wake of so many tragedies. True hope and collective action are blossoming in so many hearts because Oklahomans showed up for Julius Jones this week. Simultaneously, the Rittenhouse verdict sets a dangerous precedent for justice in America. 

It seems two roads diverge for the American justice paradigm: black and indigenous activists must move mountains for a crumb of justice while a white defendant faces zero consequences for multiple homicides. Could there be a more stark duality than these two momentous examples colliding within days of each other?

Even when faced with such disparity, hope reigns in Oklahoma this week. Echoes of Amazing Grace and His Eye Is On the Sparrow continue to reverberate in the hearts and minds of activists across the state who can rest easy knowing that Julius lives to fight another day instead of leaving Oklahoma State Penitentiary in a box.