Last summer, during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, James Blake, a Black man was shot seven times in the back by Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer Rusten Shekey. Blake is now paralyzed. The shooting occurred in front of Blake’s three children. The officer who caused Blake’s horrific injuries will not press charges. Protests erupted in Kenosha and there was outrage nationwide.
Along with the protests came looting and discretion and property. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, traveled to Kenosha brandishing an AR-15. He claimed he was present at the protests to protect people and property. Rittenhouse was pursued by a group of protestors. Joseph Rosenbaum, who was unarmed, launched at Rittenhouse in an attempt to grab his rifle. Rittenhouse shot him four times. After shooting, he was then chased by a crowd of at least a dozen people, he tripped and fell after being hit in the head. Maurice Freeland then attempted to jump-kick Rittenhouse and missed both shots Rittenhouse fired. While Rittenhouse was still on the ground, Anthony Huber struck him on the shoulder with a skateboard and attempted to take his rifle. Rittenhouse shot him in the chest, killing him. Finally, Gaige Grosskretuz approached Rittenhouse while pointing a handgun at him, Rittenhouse shot him again in the right arm.
Rittenhouse was charged with two counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide, two counts of reckless endangerment, one count of unlawful possession of a firearm, and one count of curfew violation.
From the beginning, the trial was incredibly polarizing, and having a fair and impartial jury is was close to impossible.
Throughout the trial, many things went wrong. One of the most striking moments of the trial is when Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger attempted to question Rittenhouse on the stand about how he did not speak publicly since his arrest. Under the Fifth Amendment, a criminal defendant’s right to silence is heavily protected, and a defendant cannot be punished or questioned on this right. Judge Schroeder reprimanded the attorney, as it is a grave constitutional violation to speak about the defendant’s silence.
Additionally, defense attorneys argued that they received an inferior copy of drone footage that captured the first shooting. The prosecution claimed it was a technical glitch.
The law of self-defense in Wisconsin allows someone to use deadly force if they reasonably believe they are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. Prosecutors have the burden of disproving a self-defense claim beyond a reasonable doubt. To prove that Rittenhouse did NOT reasonably believe he was in danger of death or bodily harm at the time of the shooting is a very high bar.
Additionally, some of the prosecution’s witnesses seemed to bolster Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim. There was testimony that some of the victims reached for the gun. In a devesting blow to the prosecution, the surviving victim testified that he was armed and pointed the gun at Rittenhouse at the time he was shot.
A unanimous jury found Rittenhouse not guilty on all four counts.
While Rittenhouse did have a solid claim to self-defense, there are many hearsay statements and out-of-court photos and videos that the jury did not get to see.
There is a video that depicts Rittenhouse punching a girl. A second video hooded people clutching items while rushing out of a CVS pharmacy during a robbery, Rittenhouse’s voice could be heard saying, “Bro, I wish I had my fucking AR. I’d start shooting rounds at them.”
Additionally, Prosecutors wanted to present photos of Rittenhouse hanging out with members of the Proud Boys, an extremist group with members that also participated in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Rittenhouse wore a shirt that said “Free as Fuck” and flashed a hand gesture commonly used to signify “white power.” Rittenhouse’s defense attorneys said Rittenhouse hadn’t known the men or what the hand symbol meant, and the judge barred prosecutors from using the photos at trial.
This case was unfortunate in many ways, and the polarizing nature of the case made a truly fair outcome difficult. However, it is important to not forget the injustice that caused this conflict; the police shooting of James Blake.
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