On August 25, 2020, then 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse made his way up from Antioch Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was the third night of protests against police brutality, following an altercation where white police officer Rustin Sheshky shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, several times in the back paralyzing him from the waist down.
On that night, Rittenhouse was seen by several protestors holding a military style assault rifle roaming the streets with other armed men in a self described “militia.” He would later fatally shoot: Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, Anthony Huber, 26, and injured Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, as protestors clashed with the armed group and police.
Rittenhouse was arrested the next morning and charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide charges, attempted homicide,reckless endangerment, and a misdemeanor for the possession of a weapon as a minor.
Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty to his homicide charges, claiming it was a matter of self-defense and testifying to the court, “I did what I had to do.” Wisconsin’s defense law allows someone to use deadly force if they reasonably believe they are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. As standard, the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt falls upon the prosecution as they aim to contest this claim.
The defense’s case constantly restated that Rittenhouse’s intentions at the protest were to help as a medic and protect private property. Rittenhouse’s testimony alongside other accounts painted Rosenbaum, Huber, and Grosskreutz as confrontational and threatening. A quote from his attorney, Mark Richards, states, “When my client shot Joseph Rosenbaum, he feared for his life. He feared because of his prior threats, prior statements and the violent acts that had been witnessed by my client.”
The prosecution attempted to disprove the self-defense claim, stating that Rittenhouse’s reckless behaviour placed him in the volatile situation he found himself in that night. He came to Kenosha during a period of protest, armed himself with an AR-15-style rifle, and stayed there past curfew after being separated from his group. They emphasized that he was the only person there to shoot someone. Thomas Binger, the prosecutor, emphasized that “You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create.”
The jury, after 27 hours of deliberation over four days, acquitted Rittenhouse on all charges.
Rittenhouse’s trial highlights the fundamental flaws of the U.S. justice system. The judge presiding over the case, Bruce Shroeder, made clearly biased decisions that drew criticism during the trial. In particular, he ruled that the prosecutors in the case could not refer to those shot by Rittenhouse as “victims”, but allowed the defense to describe them as “looters'' and “arsonist.” This is a racist double standard - rhetoric shapes prejudice in this matter. In addition, equating the damage or loss of property with taking someone’s life is unjust.
We see other similar cases reflect this sense of fundamental injustice. In the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, for example, where white offenders claim “self defense” as a justifiable excuse for murder and without public pressure bringing the story to light, almost get away with it. The Arbery trial declared all three offenders as guilty. However, the verdict of the Rittenhouse case upholds the dangerous status quo of the American justice system: that a white man is allowed to shoot into a crowded protest and walk free.
The verdict has been met with protests across the nation and sparked massive conversation surrounding racial injustice, gun rights, and the boundaries of self-defense. President Biden wrote in a statement that “while the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken.” It is difficult, however, to feel that the law has succeeded in its purpose of upholding justice.
Moments after the verdict was announced in the courtroom, Karen Bloom and John Huber, the parents of Anthony Huber, stated: "There was no justice today for Anthony, or for Mr. Rittenhouse's other victims, Joseph Rosenbaum and Gaige Grosskreutz...Today's verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son...It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street."
The verdict left many of the families heartbroken and angry. Huber’s parents said they would continue to fight on in the case: "Neither Mr. Rittenhouse nor the Kenosha police who authorized his bloody campaign will escape justice… Anthony will have his day in court."
Justin Blake, the uncle of Jacob Blake, was quoted stating, “I don’t know how they came to the final conclusion that [Rittenhouse is] innocent, but this is why African Americans say the whole damn system is guilty.” He followed up stating, “This must end. We are here to support Anthony and Jojo and Gaige, and that’s what we’re doing to continue to do.”
Rittenhouse’s case ultimately embodies more than just a miscarriage of justice. Two people died, and a third seriously injured with no apparent consequences for the killer. It’s occurrence against a backdrop of civil unrest and racial injustice means that it cannot be isolated from the ongoing cultural reckoning needed in the U.S. The verdict shows a gross double standard in the justice system, where many would argue that a Black man would not have received the same verdict. It also exposes how deeply white supremacy and systemic racism exist as Rittenhouse is not only acquitted, but embraced as a hero by right-wing groups and individuals. It speaks to a deep-rooted part of U.S. culture and society that needs to be urgently addressed.
Editors: Lillian H., Rachel C., Roshni C.