Kyle Rittenhouse Acquitted of All Charges

Sana Khan, Staff Writer

On November 19, 2021, Kyle Rittenhouse, a white 18-year old who fatally shot two men and wounded another amid protests and rioting over police conduct in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was found not guilty and acquitted of homicide and other charges. This case has ignited national debate concerning vigilantism, gun rights and the definition of self-defense.

After more than three days of deliberation, the jury accepted Rittenhouse’s defense that he had acted reasonably to defend himself in an unruly and violent scene in August 2020. This occurred only a few days after a white policeman shot and killed a black resident Jacob Blake, during summer of unrest following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. 

Rittenhouse had faced five felonies, including first-degree intentional homicide, known as murder in most states, first-degree reckless homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide. A sixth charge, for illegal possession of the rifle, was dismissed by Judge Schroeder after defense lawyers successfully argued that Mr. Rittenhouse did not violate the state statute in question because of his age and the length of the weapon’s barrel. 

Over the course of the trial, prosecutors argued that Rittenhouse was an instigator who had shown behaviors of criminal recklessness by inserting himself into a volatile scene of demonstrators and promptly firing his gun with little provocation.

However, the prosecution struggled to disprove Rittenhouse’s central argument: that he had feared for his life and reacted in self-defense by fatally shooting Joseph Rosenbaum when he was chased by Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum had been captured on video throughout the evening shouting threats and racial epithets. According to Rittenhouse and a witness provided by the prosecution, Rosenbaum had promised to kill Rittenhouse if he found him alone. However, testimony showed that Rosenbaum had been released that day from a hospital where he had received psychiatric care and was treated for bipolar disorder and depression.

Jurors heard the testimonies of dozens of witnesses, including women close to the men who had been shot dead, other armed people who had joined Rittenhouse in Kenosha that night and witnesses who had live-streamed the shootings. Rittenhouse testified in his own defense saying he had brought a gun to downtown Kenosha only for protection, not planning to fire it and only did so when he feared for his life.

Ultimately the jury felt that Rittenhouse successfully argued his notion of self-defense,  acquitting him on all accounts. 

Following the shooting, Rittenhouse has become a national symbol. Some Americans were alarmed by the idea of a teenager parading a semi-automatic rifle around on a city street during racial justice demonstrations, a reminder of the extent of open carry laws in the US. Others saw Rittenhouse as a well-meaning young man who had gone to keep the peace and provide medical aid, a response to the sometimes destructive protests that had erupted throughout American cities in the summer of 2020. This case also furthered the political divide throughout the nation as conservatives deemed it a win for the notion of self-defense and liberals labeled it a failure of the criminal justice system.