Sunday, November 21, 2021



The complete acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who, in August of last year, shot three people with an AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle—killing two and maiming the third—during racial unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has further deepened the abyss that divides Americans on the left and right of the political spectrum. It has also played into the divisions between white and black Americans, between democratic liberals and far-right authoritarians, and between gun-rights fundamentalists and those clamoring for stricter gun control in an ever more dangerous society. In the middle are political moderates riding the fence between application of the letter rather than the spirit of the rule of law, forcing themselves to embrace the verdict as “how the law works” because not to do so would be to admit that the American justice system is broken.

'Like all 17-year-olds'?
Indeed, following the verdict handed down on Friday, Washington Post columnist Meagan McArdle tried to portray Rittenhouse as being just like “all seventeen-year-olds (who) act like fools sometimes.” She did, however, have to admit that, in his case, the then-seventeen-year-old was acting like a fool with an assault weapon in his hands. And people died.

McArdle went on to posit that “when on Friday afternoon the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all counts, it wasn’t yet another triumph of white supremacy, aided by a biased judge. It was the American justice system working as it should: giving the benefit of the doubt to a defendant who was dangerously unwise but didn’t clearly commit murder.” But I’m not at all sure that’s true. It constitutes, I feel, more wishful thinking than a sound argument.

In point of fact, Rittenhouse was never charged with murder, though he was indeed charged with homicide, so this is an oversimplification on the part of McArdle and several other editorial writers who have referred to the case as “a murder trial.” But her views seem to have been reflective of those of much of the rest of the mainstream press, who were being careful not to fall into the same lawless rhetoric used by the right throughout the presidency of Donald Trump, a president who blithely ignored the rule of law and Constitutional guarantees and often urged citizens to take the law into their own hands. So, in this post-Trump era in which there is an effort to renew the country’s democratic institutions—as well as a continuing effort to permanently destroy them—moderates were almost forced to see this as a fair and impartial trial, so as not to call foul against a system that is meant to protect and serve the rule of law and the rights of citizens. It should be noted that this didn’t stop the judge from railing against “the media”, as if it were some dictatorial monolith that was out to get him, or from threatening to have the press and mass media banned from his court.

To my mind, however, McArdle and many of her other colleagues who make their living offering their opinions, are mixing apples and oranges. It would be one thing to conclude from the Rittenhouse trial that the constitutional principle of trial by a jury of one’s peers is flawed. It isn’t and wasn’t in as far as the job carried out by the jurors in this case goes.

Judge Bruce Schroeder
The jury had an extremely tough job. They not only had to decide guilt or innocence in a very public trial, but also had to eschew the influence of those who see the teen as a hero and a good boy with a gun, and those who consider him a cold-blooded killer who wept crocodile tears in the courtroom for the benefit of the media. They further were faced with having to put aside their feelings about race—a jury of eleven white people and only one African-American—because, in the end, the story behind the killings is of a white boy who attended a pro-black demonstration armed with an assault rifle. This, despite Ms. McArdle’s attempt to dismiss him in her editorial as someone who “dove (sic) into the drama of running around with a gun, putting out fires and providing first aid during unrest following a police shooting in Kenosha,” and adding that Rittenhouse “didn’t act like a hunter, or even a belligerent kid trying to provoke a confrontation. When chased, he retreated, turning around only after something was thrown at him, and then again when one of his pursuers fired off his own gun.”

But the jury’s verdict had to be formed within the extremely narrow context of what they were given to work with after the judge presented them with more than thirty pages of instructions. As such, it would have been almost impossible for jurors to hand down any other verdict. But that doesn’t change the fact that there was gross manipulation of the Rittenhouse case to ensure from the outset, that the teen would be acquitted. And the author of that manipulation appears to have been the judge in the case, Bruce Schroeder. At seventy-five, Schroeder is the longest-serving circuit court judge in Wisconsin. He was a Democratic Party nominee and has consistently won elections unopposed since 1983. He is known for being old-school and no-nonsense.

But even if one gives the judge the benefit of the doubt and figures that he was merely trying to ensure that Kyle Rittenhouse got a fair trial, it could clearly be equally argued that his trial offered no justice whatsoever for the two men whom Rittenhouse gunned down. On the contrary, his court’s handling of the case has put blame for the incident squarely on those killed and wounded and completely exonerated the then-minor who took the two lives and endangered a third—that of the only other person in the fray who had a firearm. Nor does it change the fact that Rittenhouse also discharged his weapon in the direction of a fourth (unknown) man while the man was running away, thus further endangering the lives of others taking part in the protest.

Rittenhouse in Kenosha

Given the evidence brought to light during the trial, there are undeniable facts that the public will surely take into account, even if the court didn’t, in deciding whether they think justice has been served in the absolute acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse. For instance, some solid facts of the case are that Rittenhouse went from his home in Illinois to neighboring Wisconsin specifically to go to Kenosha where the riots were taking place. While it has been widely stated that Rittenhouse’s single-mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, drove him to the riots, this is false, nor did her son leave home armed. Kyle took possession of the AR-15-style assault rifle in Kenosha, where a friend had purchased it for him. But at age seventeen, he was indeed in violation of Wisconsin law that only allows minors to possess arms specifically for hunting, not those considered under the law to be “dangerous firearms”—basically, weapons of war—like the AR-15. They can only use those firearms when accompanied by an adult and only for the purpose of target practice.

It is also questionable whether, as Ms. McArdle and other commentators suggest, Rittenhouse was merely carrying the assault rifle “just in case” while selflessly performing humanitarian tasks, like helping “put out fires” or “administering first aid.” This contrived narrative was clearly embraced as well by Judge Schroeder, who, from the outset, refused to allow the prosecution to refer to those whom Rittenhouse slayed and maimed with an illegally-possessed firearm as “victims”. But the judge granted permission to the defense to refer to the three (not) victims as “looters and arsonists”—when there seems to be no specific evidence that they were either. It is hard to see this conduct by the judge as anything but prejudicial to the prosecution, but that will now be for an appellate court to decide, if at all.

(Not) victim Rosenbaum, four slugs
The defense also got away with claiming that the feet and hands of those pursuing him, and a skateboard with which Kyle was swatted, were just as threatening as the assault rifle that the youth was carrying. And there was little stress placed on the fact that the one (not) victim who was also armed only pointed his pistol at Rittenhouse after the boy had already slain one of his two other fatal (not) victims. Nor was the jury pressed to consider that one of Rittenhouse’s two unarmed (not) victims’ bodies bore not one, but four slugs from the assault rifle. In other words, there can be little doubt that Rittenhouse’s aim was not merely to deter but to ensure that he killed that man, Joseph Rosenbaum. According to his girlfriend’s statements, she and Rosenbaum had been homeless and living in a motel. He was taking anti-depressants and had literally just been released from the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, and was carrying a plastic bag filled with personal items.

Rosenbaum was one of perhaps a dozen people pursuing Rittenhouse, who had appointed himself as a sort of vigilante security guard at a car dealership after another dealership had been torched. The defense clarified that Rosenbaum, an ex-convict who had done hard time on a sex charge, only began to pursue Rittenhouse after the teen pointed his weapon at him. At some point in a security video, Rosenbaum is apparently seen to heave the plastic bag with his personal items in it at Kyle and continues to pursue him. It was when Rosenbaum caught up to Rittenhouse that the boy turned and pumped four slugs into him—two in the front, one in the back and another one that grazed Rosenbaum’s head—killing him.

(Not) victim Huber - deceased - took a
skateboard to a gunfight
Rittenhouse’s other fatal (not) victim was twenty-six-year-old Anthony Huber who, seeing Rittenhouse armed with an assault rifle in the crowded street, considered the boy an active shooter. According to Huber’s girlfriend, Anthony pushed her out of the way and ran into harm’s way to try and disarm Rittenhouse. Huber was carrying a skateboard and used it in an attempt to bludgeon the teen, whom he saw as an armed and imminent threat to public safety. He managed to strike Rittenhouse twice before Kyle shot him once. Huber staggered away but then fell dead on the ground. Rittenhouse claims that Huber had grabbed the barrel of his weapon. Forensics experts said they found no evidence of Huber’s DNA on the assault weapon, but added that he might have touched it anyway.

Finally, the other non-fatal (not) victim was Gaige Grosskreutz. Grosskreutz, a paramedic, was at the protest to provide medical care. He had packed his medical supplies as well as his legally-owned handgun. He said that he routinely carried a gun when performing emergency services during violent demonstrations.

(Not) victim Grosskreutz, medic, wounded
Like Huber, Grosskreutz saw Rittenhouse as an active shooter. He heard those chasing Kyle say that he’d shot someone and was getting away. After witnessing how Rittenhouse dropped Huber, Grosskreutz engaged, pointing his weapon at Rittenhouse to try and prevent him from killing anyone else, but Kyle fired as soon as he saw the other man’s pistol and blew away a large portion of Grosskreutz’s bicep.

In all three cases, the (not) victims saw Rittenhouse, with his illegally carried assault weapon, as the aggressor, and yet, the specificity of the judge’s instructions to the jury only permitted them to rule on whether they believed Rittenhouse felt threatened enough to use deadly force—again, with a weapon he had no business carrying, and in a place where he had no business being, since his presence there was in defiance of a government-imposed curfew.

The charges against Rittenhouse were seven:

·      One count of first-degree reckless homicide in the slaying of Rosenbaum. An eyewitness video shows Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse through a parking lot and, at one point, throwing a plastic bag at him. Rittenhouse flees behind a car and Rosenbaum follows. Rittenhouse wheels around and, according to eyewitness testimony, Rosenbaum lunged at him. Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum dead. To my point about this not being a “murder trial”, as McArdle and other editorial writers have alleged, reckless homicide is not the same as intentional homicide. The meaning of that is that Rittenhouse didn’t set out with the intention of murdering Rosenbaum. But, in the end, the result was the same and, according to the charge, showed utter disregard for human life. Reckless homicide carries a maximum sixty-year prison sentence.

·      One count of reckless endangerment in the use of a dangerous weapon. This had to do with testimony from a news reporter who followed Rosenbaum on foot when he was chasing Rittenhouse. The reporter testified that he was right in the line of fire when Rittenhouse opened up on Rosenbaum with the assault rifle and killed the other man. This charge carries a maximum sentence of twelve years and six months in prison. The jury was given the option of convicting Rittenhouse of second-degree reckless endangerment, meaning he hadn’t acted with utter disregard for human life. That would have reduced the jail sentence to ten years.  

·      A second count of reckless endangerment in the use of a dangerous weapon. This was the result of video showing how a fourth, unknown man leaps at Rittenhouse, trying to kick him, as Huber, with his skateboard, approaches the teen. Rittenhouse squeezed off two rounds at the man and missed. The man fled before Huber took Kyle on and was killed. Once again, this charge carries a sentence of ten to twelve-and-a-half years.

·      One count of intentional homicide in the use of a dangerous weapon. This stems from when Rittenhouse was being pursued by Huber and fell. When he turned over and saw Huber approaching, he aimed his assault rifle at the other man. This charge appeared to somewhat establish that Huber only tried to hit Rittenhouse with his skateboard after Kyle took aim at him and just before Rittenhouse gunned Huber down. This too is documented on video. “Intentional homicide” is self-explanatory. It means that one person intentionally kills a homicide victim—in this case, (not) victim Huber. The charge carries a mandatory life sentence. Here too, the jury was given the option of deciding for lesser charges— second-degree intentional homicide or first-degree reckless homicide which carries a maximum sixty-year sentence.

·      One count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide in the use of a dangerous weapon, connected to Rittenhouse’s wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz right after he shot and killed Huber. This charge carries a sixty-year prison term. Again, the jury was also given the option of considering lesser charges—second-degree attempted intentional homicide and first-degree reckless endangerment. The first is punishable by thirty years in prison and the second by twelve years and six months

·      One count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under eighteen years of age. Rittenhouse was still only seventeen on the night that he shot the three men with an AR-15-type, .223-caliber semi-automatic assault rifle, a weapon similar in every way to the M-16 carried by US combat personnel starting in the Vietnam War, the only major difference being that the M-16 could be used as a semi-automatic or fully automatic weapon. Under Wisconsin law, as mentioned earlier, minors can only possess guns specifically made for hunting, or when supervised by an adult in target practice or instruction in the proper use of a dangerous weapon. The judge threw this charge out immediately on a technicality raised by the defense. In all of the homicide cases above, the fact that Rittenhouse was in illegal possession of a dangerous firearm could have added five years to any eventual sentence.

·      And finally, one count of failure to comply with an emergency order from state or local government. This had to do with the fact that there was an 8pm curfew in place when Rittenhouse took it upon himself to dispense vigilante street justice that night at a violent demonstration in Kenosha. A misdemeanor, the charge carries a two-hundred-dollar fine. The judge threw the charge out directly.


Considering the charges leveled and Kyle Rittenhouse’s incredibly reckless actions, whatever the legal criteria might be that judge and jury applied in letting the boy off scot-free is bound to stick in the craw of everyone who is increasingly alarmed at the level of rampant violence and division existing in American society today. The fact that Rittenhouse did not even have to face sentencing for the lesser charges involved in his possessing an assault rifle illegally—not even a misdemeanor charge for breaking curfew—lets him walk away feeling that his behavior has been vindicated and even condoned.

Rittenhouse - like the t-shirt reads: Free as Fuck

Worse still, the decision can’t help but encourage other white vigilantes—because, let’s not kid ourselves, this would have been a very different trial if the shooter had been black—to take the law into their own hands, a trend that we are seeing more and more frequently (as in the shooting death of African-American jogger Amaud Arbery at the hands of three white Georgia men who tracked him down and killed him, perhaps thinking that if a black guy was running, it must be from something.

The US is fast returning to the Wild West where lawmen dispense “justice” from the barrel of a gun, and any gunslinger with a score to settle does so, not through the judicial system, but taking the law into his own hands. And here I say through the judicial system rather than through the law, because clearly, as this case shows, American law all too often turns the shooter into the “victim” and the deceased into the (not) victim. This to me would appear to suggest that legislators should be looking at authentically justice-based changes in the law.

The simple facts of this case are that Kyle Rittenhouse was not exercising his right to self-defense because arsonists and looters were burning and ransacking his home, or because one of them broke into his house and smacked him with a potentially lethal skateboard. Nor was he quietly sitting on his own front porch minding his own business when another of his (not) victims pointed a gun at him. No. Kyle Rittenhouse left his home, crossed into another state, armed himself with and assault rifle that he had no business possessing and marched recklessly into angry throngs of rioters, playing out some Rambo fantasy that ended up almost getting him killed, but instead, cost the lives of three other people. Three men who, thanks to the decision of a Wisconsin court, have gone from being (not) victims, to being portrayed as victimizers.

In the end, Kyle Rittenhouse simply went to Kenosha looking for trouble. He found it and made it. And he has been handsomely rewarded for his efforts.  


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