On Friday, Nov. 19, 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges in his trial over the shootings of three men during a protest against police brutality in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Protests on the night of the incident were in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake — a 29-year-old Black man — by police officer Rusten Shesky. Shesky left Blake partly paralyzed after shooting him in the back seven times on Aug. 23, 2020.
As protests escalated, Kenosha experienced extensive property damage due to looting and arson. This prompted locals to take it upon themselves to protect the city. A group of gun-owning men organized on Facebook, deciding to help authorities in protecting the city’s businesses and property. Then 17-year-old Rittenhouse was one of these men, joining the group on the third night of protests armed with an AR-15 style rifle. It was on this night that Rittenhouse shot three men, killing two — Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber — and injuring one — Gaige Grosskreuz, in what he maintains was self-defense.
Video footage from the night shows Rittenhouse being chased into a nearby parking lot by Rosenbaum before firing at him four times, killing him with a shot to the head. Rittenhouse then ran as he was pursued by a small crowd attempting to disarm him when he tripped and fell. It was at this point that he shot two more men — Huber and Grosskreutz — who were part of the pursuit.
Rittenhouse faced five charges, including first-degree recklessly endangering safety, first-degree reckless homicide and first-degree intentional homicide. With these charges, Rittenhouse potentially faced a sentencing of life in prison.
Originally, Rittenhouse was also charged with the illegal possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor; however, the judge dropped this charge during trial. Wisconsin is an open-carry state — people are permitted to carry legal firearms in public without permit — but aside from hunting, minors are prohibited from doing the same.
At trial, the defense adamantly pushed that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense, while the prosecution was faced with the task of proving that the shootings were unjustified.
Over 30 witnesses testified, including Grosskreutz, who admitted that he pointed a gun at Rittenhouse before being shot — a turning point in the course of the trial. Rittenhouse himself also testified, telling the jury that he fired his weapon because he was fearful for his life.
After three and a half days of deliberation the jury reached the unanimous verdict that Rittenhouse was not guilty on all counts.
While many Americans have voiced their approval of Rittenhouse’s acquittal, many have also voiced their shock and disappointment. Huber’s parents told ABC News that the verdict “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.”
President Biden released a statement urging the public to trust in the judicial system and express their views peacefully, saying, “While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken.”
While Rittenhouse and his victims are all white men, this case highlighted questions of racial inequality in the United States and the validity of the justice system.