By Ella Lloyd | Political Editor
Kyle Rittenhouse has been cleared of all charges by a jury after a high profile and politically significant case.
He had been charged with two counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide, and two counts of recklessly endangering safety.
The then 17-year-old shot dead Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injured Gaige Grosskreutz during violent racial unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year. People had been protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, by a white police officer. Rittenhouse and the men he shot are all white.
Rittenhouse travelled from his home in Illinois to Kenosha with a semi-automatic rifle, saying he intended to protect private property from protesters. Rittenhouse’s lawyers argued that the teenager had shot the three men in self-defense, as he attempted to help the community of Kenosha.
Claims of self-defense were supported by testimonies that Grosskreutz had pointed a gun at Rittenhouse, Huber had struck Rittenhouse in the head or neck, and Rosenbaum had attempted to take Rittenhouse’s gun.
The prosecution argued that Rittenhouse had acted as a reckless vigilante, and the men he shot were attempting to disarm someone they believed to be an active shooter.
The case has received significant attention over issues of race and gun control.
There have been accusations of bias against the trial’s Judge Bruce Schroeder, who ruled that the prosecution could not refer to the men Rittenhouse shot as ‘victims’, but the defense could use the terms ‘arsonists’ and ‘looters’. When Judge Schroeder’s phone rang during trial proceedings last week with the ringtone God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood, often played as former President Trump’s entrance during rallies, these criticisms were re-voiced online.
BBC correspondent Nomia Iqbal reported both ‘Free Kyle’ calls from cars and protesters with signs reading ‘Killer Kyle’ outside court.
The not guilty verdict has received praise from many Republicans who support the right to bear arms, including the former President Donald Trump who wrote in a statement “If that’s not self-defense, nothing is!”.
A number of Republicans, including North Carolina’s representative Madison Cawthorn, have offered congressional internships to Rittenhouse. Cawthorn wrote in an Instagram story “You have a right to defend yourself, be armed, be dangerous and be moral”, although, at the time of the shooting, Rittenhouse was 17 years old, making it illegal for him to own the assault rifle.
The NAACP tweeted that the verdict was “a travesty and fails to deliver justice on behalf of those who lost their lives as they peacefully assembled to protest against police brutality and violence”.
President Joe Biden said he, like many Americans, was angry and concerned about the verdict, but expressed support for the jury’s decision.
There are also concerns over the legal precedent the case may set. The parents of Anthony Huber said “it 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”.
Rittenhouse’s lawyer said his client “wished none of this had ever happened” and that he just wanted to get on with his life.
There was brief unrest in Portland, Oregon in response to the decision, as well as marches in protest in New York and Chicago.Ella Lloyd Politics twitter Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.