by Ruth Coniff, Nevada Current
November 19, 2021
Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teenager who shot three people, killing two of them, during Black Lives Matter protests in downtown Kenosha, was found not guilty of all the charges against him on Friday.
The Kenosha County jury in the Rittenhouse murder trial found that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injured Gaige Grosskreutz after travelling to Kenosha from Illinois and posting himself at a used car lot, which he said he was defending from vandalism, with an AR-15-style rifle on Aug. 25, 2020.
Rosenbaum, Huber and Grosskreutz were in Kenosha along with hundreds of demonstrators during days of protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer.
The jury deliberated for four days, after hearing eight days of testimony, before reaching its decision Friday morning. Jurors were instructed by the judge to set aside the social and political upheaval surrounding the case and consider only whether Rittenhouse believed his life was in danger when he shot the three men.
In a statement Friday, Laura Martin, the executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, called the verdict indefensible and warned it could embolden other vigilantes.
“Kyle Rittenhouse crossed state lines, as a minor, to incite violence and cause chaos in the midst of public outcry to stop police brutality and systemic racism,” she said. “And we’re seeing these same violent outbursts locally at commission hearings, and school board meetings across Nevada. And now these people are being empowered to arm themselves. Rittenhouse’s victims should be alive and he should be held accountable. And our local authorities must insure all Nevadans they will not side with armed vigilantes during peaceful protests.”
Martin also called presiding Judge Bruce Schroeder’s action during the trial “gross displays of partisan and biased behavior.”
The judge prohibited “the prosecution from using the word ‘victims’ to describe the people Rittenhouse shot,” but indicated the defense could say “rioters,” “looters” and “arsonists” to describe those same people.
He also frequently reprimanded the prosecution.
His actions during the trial, Martin noted, showed that “voters must participate in every election at all levels of government.”
“We witnessed Judge Schroeder force the court to applaud a defense witness, and shop for cookies in the middle of the trial,” she added. “We cannot continue to let judges like this run unopposed, we must challenge and vote out judges that continue to uphold systemic racism.”
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers activated the National Guard to be ready to help Kenosha city in the event of unrest after the jury announced its verdict.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin, issued a statement from his campaign account immediately after the verdict, saying, “Over the last few weeks, many dreaded the outcome we just witnessed. 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.”
“Despite Kyle Rittenhouse’s conscious decision to take the lives of two people protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake by police, he was not held responsible for his actions, something that is not surprising,” Shaadie Ali, interim executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “But Kyle Rittenhouse isn’t the only one responsible for the deaths that night. The events in Kenosha stem from the deep roots of white supremacy in our society’s institutions. They underscore that the police do not protect communities of color in the same way they do white people.”
Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s Movement Politics Director JoAnna Bautch called the verdict a “travesty.”
“Kyle Rittenhouse crossed state lines to come to Wisconsin with the intent to infiltrate a peaceful protest organized by leaders and residents in Kenosha calling for racial justice. He did not come to help the community,” Bautch said in a statement released by Citizen Action. “He waved a gun in the face of people exercising their First Amendment rights. He came with support from white nationalist groups to incite violence and intimidate Wisconsinites — Black, white, and Brown — to keep us from speaking out. In his attempts to stop people from exercising their rights, he shot and killed two innocent men, and harmed another.”
Rittenhouse, now 18, was charged with five felonies:
- First-degree intentional homicide
- First-degree reckless homicide
- Attempted first-degree intentional homicide
- Two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety
A misdemeanor weapons possession charge was dismissed by Schroeder before the jury began its deliberations, after the defense successfully argued that Wisconsin law allowed Rittenhouse to possess the AR-15 he carried in Kenosha since it was not short-barreled.
In a statement Evers issued Friday afternoon, he said “No verdict will be able to bring back the lives of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, or heal Gaige Grosskreutz’s injuries, just as no verdict can heal the wounds or trauma experienced by Jacob Blake and his family. No ruling today changes our reality in Wisconsin that we have work to do toward equity, accountability, and justice that communities across our state are demanding and deserve.”
Evers also called for calm: “I echo the calls of local Kenosha community leaders and join them in asking everyone who might choose to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights in any community to please only do so safely and peacefully. We must have peace in Kenosha and our communities, and any efforts or actions aimed at sowing division are unwelcome in our state as they will only hinder that healing.”
This story was originally published in the Wisconsin Examiner, an affiliate of the States Newsroom nonprofit network of news outlets which includes the Nevada Current. The Current’s Michael Lyle contributed to this report.
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