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Self-Defense? After Rittenhouse, Calls to Drop Murder Charges Against Black Teen Chrystul Kizer

StoryNovember 29, 2021
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Since Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted under claims of self-defense for fatally shooting two people and wounding a third during racial justice protests last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, another case in the city is drawing new national attention. Human rights advocates are calling for charges to be dropped in the case of Chrystul Kizer, who faces homicide and other charges for killing her white sex trafficker in 2018 after he drugged her and tried to rape her when she was just 17 years old. Court records show police knew Randall Volar had a history of sexually abusing underage Black girls. Although the court initially ruled Kizer could not use a self-defense argument, an appellate court reversed the decision, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court will now consider the ruling. “It has huge ramifications for her, but it also has a huge potential impact for other victims of trafficking,” says reporter Anne Branigin. “We have a very clear case where we are not receiving the same support, the same outcry from folks who got behind Kyle Rittenhouse to defend this young Black woman,” says Wisconsin state Representative David Bowen. “She was trying to defend herself to get out of the sex trafficking she was being abused with.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

After Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted earlier this month on all five charges he faced from fatally shooting two people and wounding a third during racial justice protests last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, another Kenosha case with a claim of self-defense is drawing renewed attention. Human rights advocates are calling for charges to be dropped against Black teenager Chrystul Kizer, who’s accused of killing her white sex trafficker in 2018. She was 17 at the time. He had abused her since she was 16.

Court records show Kenosha police knew the man, Randall Volar, had a history of sexually abusing underage Black girls and was actually under investigation for sex trafficking, but he remained free for months. Kizer says she shot and killed Volar in self-defense after he drugged her and tried to rape her. A Kenosha County judge ruled in 2019 Kizer could not use a self-defense argument, but an appellate court reversed the decision and ruled Kizer can argue her actions resulted from being trafficked. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is now reviewing the decision. As her case is pending, Chrystul Kizer was released from jail last year after the Chicago Community Bond Fund and other supporters raised money to post her $400,000 bond.

For more, we go to two guests. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we’re joined by David Bowen, Wisconsin state representative running for lieutenant governor, has called for justice in this case. And Anne Branigin, reporter for The Lily at The Washington Post, whose latest piece she co-wrote, headlined, “After Rittenhouse, protesters are asking: What about sex-trafficking victim Chrystul Kizer?”

So, why don’t we begin with Anne Branigin? Just lay out the facts of this case.

ANNE BRANIGAN: [inaudible] at the time that she killed her abuser, Randy Volar. And you’re exactly right: This was somebody who was already under investigation for being a child abuser at the time that she killed him. So, she is now arguing that her crime was a direct result of her status as a victim of trafficking, and what she’s trying to invoke is a very specific defense. It’s called the affirmative defense, and it was made specifically for trafficking victims. And the thinking is that their crime is a direct result of that status of being abused or coerced or forced into doing a crime. What’s unique about her case is that this is the first time that we’re seeing this argument being applied to a homicide charge. So, she’s somebody who has been waiting for trial now for more than two years because this argument has to be decided before the case goes to trial. So, this is a — you know, she killed Volar in 2018, and we’re now in 2021 still seeing where the case will go.

AMY GOODMAN: The role of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in her trial?

ANNE BRANIGAN: Oh, I’m sorry. Can you repeat the question?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Can you talk about the role of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Chrystul’s trial?

ANNE BRANIGAN: Yes, absolutely. So, they really play a pivotal role. Right now they’re deciding whether or not she has access to the affirmative defense as an argument, as a legal remedy. And it’s never been applied to a case — to a violent crime before, so it has huge ramifications for her, but it also has a huge potential impact for other victims of trafficking, because this can really dictate, in the state of Wisconsin and possibly outside, whether or not — if you kill your abuser, whether you can claim affirmative defense, whether you can say that this is a direct result of the abuse that I experienced.

AMY GOODMAN: David Bowen, I want to bring you into this conversation, Wisconsin state representative, why you’re spearheading attention on this case. She in fact has been convicted already. But given the Kyle Rittenhouse case, we see a lot of new attention on this case. The police released him even as they knew that he had been sex trafficking and preying on young Black girls. Can you describe further what happened?

REP. DAVID BOWEN: And it shows further exacerbation of the situation and the lack of the outcry that you’ve seen many folks get behind Kyle Rittenhouse and his use of self-defense. He’s saying, because of his case, it shows that self-defense is not illegal, yet what we are crying for out in the streets, out in the community, all over the state, with those of us who stand for justice, is to say we have a very clear case, but we are not receiving the same support, the same outcry from folks who got behind Kyle Rittenhouse, to defend this young Black woman, in a very clear situation where there was ongoing abuse and where she was trying to defend herself to get out of the sex trafficking she was being abused with. Yet she is being treated as if it was just premeditated murder and she should not have the right to be able to escape.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain where it stands in the courts, how many — explain her trial and how this has changed over time.

REP. DAVID BOWEN: Well, this is coming at a very polarizing time in our state. This case, as you’ve seen, Wisconsin, many communities in Wisconsin become hubs of sex trafficking and training for very young sex trafficking victims. You’ve seen this case become one of the primary reasons why we need to ensure that victims are treated as victims throughout our justice system. So we’ve called for that. We even have tried to clarify state statute under my leadership in the Legislature, where I’ve gone to conservative colleagues to build bridges and to make sure that we could clarify in state statute the defenses that should be there more clearly for victims. And I did not get the same amount of cooperation. We did get some folks on the conservative side to join us in that, but not nearly enough to get that bill passed.

And that was even used and highlighted in her case, where the prosecution was trying to deny the defense, Chrystul Kizer’s defense, of using state statute to protect her and that the clarification that we were advocating for at the time would not be passed. But this essentially still is an issue where we have a few folks on the conservative side to join us, and we need a lot more. We need the same outpouring of support that clearly was given for Kyle Rittenhouse.

AMY GOODMAN: And to be clear, there hasn’t been a trial yet. She’s awaiting trial as they clarify what the charges would be.

REP. DAVID BOWEN: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: She has not contested that she killed this man, but said she did it in self-defense. I was wondering if you can comment, state Representative David Bowen, on the statistics in Kenosha. You have, in this city of Kyle Rittenhouse, the same — you have the sentences and — a city that sentences and incarcerates Black residents, who make up 42% of the state prison population but only make up 6% of the state population, according to The Sentencing Project, the highest rate in the country. How does Chrystul Kizer represent this disparity in the legal system?

REP. DAVID BOWEN: Absolutely. And you’re seeing this injustice across the state as you have the overincarceration, overcriminalization of communities of color, especially, and our most diverse areas of the state. Kenosha is no different. And you clearly see how much you can have a disparity in the system when a judge in the Kyle Rittenhouse case can act so favorably and lighthearted on a very serious topic to defend a young white man, but when it comes to the system trying to provide grace, trying to provide certainty for a young Black woman, how the difference in treatment happens. And that’s what justice advocates are calling for. We are calling for that to change and that we can’t have this double standard.

And obviously, you have a number of individuals that claim to support Kyle Rittenhouse, yet they are refusing to acknowledge the fact that if a young Black person, a young person of color, period, is facing the same fate and situation, you have an over-effort to try to keep that person incarcerated, to take that person away from their community and to not give them the same grace, the same insight of them acting in their own self-interest. And it is so clear that Chrystul was a victim in this case, yet she is being continually treated as a murderer. And she is not.

AMY GOODMAN: Has there been an investigation into the Kenosha Police Department for how they treated this sex trafficker, who they themselves had identified because girls, young teenagers, had come forward and talked about what he had done? They took him into custody and released him on the same day and said they were investigating him at the time when Chrystul admits that she killed him.

REP. DAVID BOWEN: Exactly, exactly. And you also had the prosecution in this case try to keep those facts out of the case. It is so important that we recognize that in this situation we are talking about a proven history of abuse, a proven history of trafficking, and that this situation with Chrystul, where she was a minor in this situation, not being given the same level of outcry to say that her life matters enough that as a victim, as she’s going through the system, that she is treated in a way where she is a victim and not a premeditated murderer. I cannot stress that enough.

And to focus here on the fact that in Wisconsin we are seeing cases like this on different levels is also why we are calling for the best practices to be used with our police departments. We want to make sure everybody gets home at the end of the day and that no officer can be judge, jury, and allow the system to be accountable. But it’s very clear, in the interactions that Chrystul and so many other likely young Black girls are experiencing, they’re being treated as less. They are being treated as less than, as they are advocating for help, as they are trying to hold individuals accountable who, at that time, they are holding a grown man accountable. And our police departments right there in Kenosha did not live up to their duty to protect and serve.

AMY GOODMAN: And court documents show that there are at least 20 videos that he took of his victims, young Black teenagers. Well, that does it for our show. I want to thank David Bowen, Wisconsin state representative in Milwaukee, and Anne Branigin, reporter for The Lily at Washington Post. We’ll link to your piece, “After Rittenhouse, protesters are asking: What about sex-trafficking victim Chrystul Kizer?”

Happy birthday to Deena Guzder! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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