Call for calm as Kyle Rittenhouse is cleared of all charges

Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges yesterday after pleading self-defence in the deadly Kenosha shootings that became a flashpoint in the debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice in the US.

r Rittenhouse (18) began to choke up, fell forward toward the defence table and then hugged one of his attorneys as he heard a court clerk recite “not guilty” five times. His mother, seated nearby on a courtroom bench, gasped in delight, cried and hugged others around her. A sheriff’s deputy immediately whisked him out a back door.

“He wants to get on with his life,” defence attorney Mark Richards said. “He has a huge sense of relief for what the jury did to him today. He wishes none of this ever happened. But as he said when he testified, he did not start this.”

He said Mr Rittenhouse, who wants to be a nurse, is in counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder and will probably move away because “it’s too dangerous” for him to continue to live in the area.

Mr Rittenhouse was charged with homicide, attempted homicide and reckless endangering for killing two men and wounding a third with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle in the summer of 2020 during a tumultuous night of protests over the shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake, by a white Kenosha police officer.

Mr Rittenhouse, a former police youth cadet, said he went to Kenosha to protect property from rioters. He is white, as were those he shot.

The anonymous jury, whose racial make-up was not disclosed by the court but appeared to be overwhelmingly white, deliberated for close to three and a half days.

Mr Rittenhouse could have gotten life in prison if found guilty on the most serious charge, first-degree intentional homicide, or what some other states call first-degree murder. Two other charges each carried over 60 years behind bars.

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley said his office respects the jury’s decision, and he asked the public to “accept the verdicts peacefully and not resort to violence”.

Democratic Governor Tony Evers, who announced last week that 500 National Guard members stood ready in case of trouble after the verdict, likewise pleaded for calm.

As he dismissed the jurors who sat in judgment in the politically combustible case, Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder assured them the court would take “every measure” to keep them safe.

The shootings exposed a deep divide in the US, with some Americans condemning Mr Rittenhouse as a vigilante, while others on the right hailed him as a hero who exercised his Second Amendment gun rights and tried to put a stop to lawlessness. The reaction to the verdict reflected the same divide.

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who is black and a Democratic candidate for US Senate, denounced the outcome. He, like many civil rights activists, saw a racial double standard at work in the case.

“Over the last few weeks, many dreaded the outcome we just witnessed,” Mr Barnes said.

“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.”

Political figures on the right, meanwhile, welcomed the verdict and condemned the case brought against Mr Rittenhouse.

“All of us who knew what actually happened in Kenosha last year assumed this would be the verdict,” tweeted Republican former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. “Thankfully, the jury thought the same.”

Mr Rittenhouse was 17 when he went to Kenosha from his home in nearby Antioch, Illinois, after businesses were ransacked and burned in the nights that followed Mr Blake’s shooting.

Mr Rittenhouse carried a weapon authorities said was illegally purchased for the underage young man.

Bystander and drone video captured most of the frenzied chain of events that followed: Mr Rittenhouse killed Joseph Rosenbaum (36), then shot to death protester Anthony Huber (26), and wounded demonstrator Gaige Grosskreutz, now 28.

Then-president Donald Trump said it appeared Mr Rittenhouse had been “very violently attacked.” Supporters donated more than $2m toward his legal defence.

At trial, prosecutors portrayed Mr Rittenhouse as a “wannabe soldier” who had gone looking for trouble that night and was responsible for creating a dangerous situation in the first place by pointing his rifle at demonstrators.

But Mr Rittenhouse testified: “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself.”

Breaking into sobs at one point, he told the jury he opened fire after Mr Rosenbaum chased him and made a grab for his gun.

Mr Huber was then killed after hitting Mr Rittenhouse in the head or neck with a skateboard, and Mr Grosskreutz was shot after pointing a gun of his own at Mr Rittenhouse.

After the verdict, Mr Huber’s parents said the outcome “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.”

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Written by bourbiza

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