Written by: Jacqueline Lisbona-News Editor
On Friday November 19th, eighteen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all counts at his trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In August 2020, Rittenhouse fatally shot two men, Joseph Rosenbaum (36) and Anthony Huber (26), and injured another, Gaige Grosskreutz (28), during a Black Lives protest in Kenosha. Drone video and bystander footage captured Rittenhouse holding an AR-style semi-automatic rifle while ordering people to leave the protest.
Rittenhouse was charged with five felonies: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety.
After more than 25 hours of deliberations, a 12-person jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse on all five charges he faced. Had Rittenhouse been found guilty on his most serious charge, first-degree murder, also known as first-degree intentional homicide, he could have received life in prison. When asked why he shot Joseph Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse professed that he acted in self-defense. He testified: "If I would have let Mr. Rosenbaum take my firearm from me, he would have used it and killed me with it and probably killed more people.” Rittenhouse also claimed that as a former police youth cadet, he went to Kenosha to protect property from rioters.
A crucial part of the Rittenhouse case is the fact that the Wisconsin law allows the use of deadly force only if “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm”. Since Rittenhouse’s attorneys claimed self-defense, the prosecutors had to decide whether Rittenhouse truly did trigger his gun to defend himself.
Many noticed the tension between Thomas Binger, a Kenosha country assistant district attorney, and the judge on Rittenhouse’s case, Bruce Schroeder. Even before the trial started, Judge Schroeder was accused of creating a double standard when he ruled that prosecutors could not refer to the men shot by Rittenhouse as “victims”. He demanded that the defense attorneys call them “arsonists” or “looters”. Binger portrayed Rittenhouse as an antagonist who contributed to the chaos of the night by “exacerbating tensions”. When Binger asked Rittenhouse whether it was necessary to use a firearm to protect property, Schroeder erupted and accused the D.A. of pursuing “improper line of questioning”. This case highlighted an extreme divide amongst Americans. Some condemned Rittenhouse as a vigilante, while others celebrated him as a hero who exercised his Second Amendment gun rights and tried to put a stop to lawlessness.
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Black Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, saw a racial double standard at work in the case: "The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is what we should expect from our judicial system, but that standard is not always applied equally. We have seen so many Black and brown youth killed, only to be put on trial posthumously, while the innocence of Kyle Rittenhouse was virtually demanded by the judge."
Comparisons to Tamir Rice immediately popped up on all social media platforms. Rice, a 12-year-old black boy was killed by police for having a fake toy gun whereas Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white teen who walked right by police after killing two people, had the privilege of going home to sleep.
Josh Kramer, a second-year commerce student at Dawson college reacted: “I think that the whole trial was heavily biased. The judge and the jury were both Republican and in favor of gun rights which is the main reason why he was acquitted. I also find it ridiculous how they’re bringing their political views into a case of right or wrong. You shouldn’t be mixing the two”.
The parents of Anthony Huber who was shot and killed by Kyle Rittenhouse said that Friday’s verdict sends an “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”.
One tweet under the hashtag “RittenhouseVerdict” by Gregory Jackson Jr. states: “To be Black and illegally armed in America means you will be executed by the police or incarcerated if you’re lucky. To be White and illegally armed in America means you can murder two people on camera and go home as a hero.”
Rittenhouse’s defence attorney Mark Richards said that his client “wants to get on with his life” and he has a “huge sense of relief for what the jury did to him today”. He revealed that Rittenhouse, who wants to be a nurse, is in counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder and wishes to move away due to the potential dangers of living in his town.
The verdict has left many Americans wondering whether the constitutional right to bear arms supersedes the safety of others.