Who is Afforded the Right to Self-Defense?

In response to the WI v. Rittenhouse verdict, we at Sakhi want to know: who in the U.S. is afforded the right to self-defense?

As a survivor-centered organization, our team is composed of expert witnesses to instances in which American bureaucracy, judicial systems, and law enforcement redline justice and rupture survivors’ trust in institutions. Overwhelmingly, we see survivors advocate for their safety in front of a judicial system that does not recognize or validate their experiences. The requirements for substantiating abuse “beyond a reasonable doubt” are not built for survivors, immigrants, or people of color––they are built on a foundation of white supremacy, for those who founded the American dream of justice.

Given our experiences with and as survivors, the pain of being illegible to our justice system feels acute in light of Friday’s decision. The same system that protects Rittenhouse’s right to defend himself overwhelmingly criminalizes survivors of intimate partner violence for exerting the same defense.

Survivors who retaliate against those who cause harm are likely to be criminalized by the state. One report by the ACLU found that 90% of women who are in prison today for killing their partners did so as an act of self-defense. Yet a recent New York Times article alleges that the uphill legal battle of disproving self-defense claims is precisely what led to the acquittal on Friday.

A closer look at this analysis of self-defense claims, however, reveals discrepancies in this argument within Kenosha County itself. Many voices in Kenosha have uplifted the story of Chrystul Kizer, who, at age seventeen, killed her trafficker in self-defense and whose case is still pending.

Survivors are constantly negotiating not only their right to self-defense, but the legitimacy of their survivorship in the eyes of the state. We see how the U.S. justice system serves a vision of justice that was constructed atop a white supremacist foundation. That’s why, at Sakhi, we embrace and imagine pathways to safety and healing for survivors that do not reproduce harm for the sake of justice.

As we process this verdict, we know that our systems need to reimagine justice alongside organizations that are in the thick of addressing interpersonal and community violence.


If you are looking for support, please reach out to us.

Monday-Friday, 10am-10pm:
Call: 1 (212) 868-6741
Text: 1 (305) 204-1809