Kyle Rittenhouse Acquitted on all Charges of Murder and Reckless Endangerment
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 boun