Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, broke down in tears last Friday as the Wisconsin jury found the teenager not guilty for the murder of two men during protests in Kenosha last year. Jury of seven women and five men deliberated for 25 hours over a span of 3 days.
On August 23, 2020, Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man, gets shot 4 times by a police officer, leaving him partially paralyzed. Outrage spread quickly and ignited protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin where many stores were unfortunately being looted. Rittenhouse was one of many that traveled to Wisconsin to protect local store owners from said looters -- he had a personal connection to the city as his uncle operated a business there.
During the chaotic night Rittenhouse ended up at a car lot to put out a fire, where Joseph Rosenbaun, 36, started chasing him. The teenager heard handguns fired in the background and shot Rosenbaum 4 times who lunged towards Rittenhouse for the gun. Rosenbaum died shortly thereafter. As more protestors started chasing Rittenhouse, a 26 year old man called Anthony Huber struck Rittenhouse with a skateboard. Rittenhouse fired at Huber once, killing him on the spot.
Rittenhouse stood up and walked towards the police in an apparent attempt to surrender but the police drove right by him without stopping. Rittenhouse later surrendered in Illinois, who was charged with one first-degree reckless homicide, two first-degree recklessly endangering safety, one first-degree intentional homicide and one attempted first-degree intentional homicide. He was also charged with the illegal possession of firearms by someone who was less than 18, but that charge was dismissed.
Prosecution claimed that Rittenhouse provoked the 3 men, thereby forfeiting the right to self defense. The trial weirdly became a referendum on gun rights and defining self defense and was characterized as a highly politicized trial.
Why is Rittenhouse’s trial/verdict so significant?
It is because the case encapsulates so many of the issues pertaining to present day America: Blue Lives Matter, White Privilege, and Gun Control.
The jury’s decision to let Rittenhouse walk demonstrates its ability to see through the political nonsense that was apparent in the media coverage and make an objective decision solely through the facts and evidence presented to them during the trial. It’s crucial to understand that the jury is not there to decide whether the defendant’s actions are right or wrong. Rather, their purpose is to assess whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt depending on various factors.
To many, the verdict is viewed as a victory to the right as it upholds conservative values such as the right to self defense, even in the case when the person inserted himself into conflict. However, the case seems to be an obvious case of self defense and the polarization of the Rittenhouse trial really shows the reality of the current political landscape in the United States. Both sides were latching onto anything that can disprove the others’ arguments. A huge controversy during the trials was whether Rittenhouse could have reasonably believed Anthony Huber was an active threat and vice versa. The way I see it, there was enough ground for Rittenhouse to reasonably believe Huber was a threat -- Huber has striked Rittenhouse in the head with a skateboard afterall and Rittenhouse merely responded with a more effective weapon. On the other hand, could Huber have reasonably believed Rittenhouse to be an active threat? With the risk of sounding biased, it is quite challenging to give Huber the benefit of the doubt. Huber has had a history of impulsivity: heroin and psychedelic use as well as a couple criminal charges. Huber has attacked someone influenced by people yelling at someone, which happened to be young Rittenhouse with a rifle.
It’s important to note that in all three instances where Rittenhouse has used his firearm, it has been confirmed through video or eye-witness testimony that he was being attacked. Rosenbaum’s behavior that day was described as erratic, which may be associated with the fact that he was discharged from the hospital earlier that day from trying to end his own life. Rittenhouse’s third victim Gaige Grosskreutz has admitted in the trial that he had his glock pointed at Rittenhouse (with no intention to fire) and that Rittenhouse has only fired at him when Grosskreutz aimed his gun at the teenager. This last bit of Grosskerutz’s story was a crucial moment in defining the outlook of the case. Why was Grosskerutz pointing a gun at someone without the intention to fire? This was a turning point of how Rittenhouse was portrayed from a naive teenager to someone who had no other option to save his own life.
Not guilty of murder does not mean that the teenager’s action is morally or criminally clean. At the end of the day he killed 2 men in a situation that he could have avoided altogether. However, this unfortunate series of events was a clear cut self defense case that was misconstrued by political agendas and the jury was able to see through this extremely politicized case and serve justice to Rittenhouse. When politics interjects in a trial, logic often leaves the courtroom. Especially in the current climate where the media prints out articles and headlines that are heavily biased and are meant to increase viewership, it is particularly important to restore logic and evaluate what we really believe is right and wrong without relying on the media.