After four days of deliberations, a jury acquitted 18-year old Kyle Rittenhouse on all charges related to his killing of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 25, 2020. That night, thousands had hit the streets to protest the August 23rd police shooting of Jacob Blake, who was left paralyzed after being shot in the back seven times by Kenosha city police officers. Rittenhouse traveled from his home state of Illinois to join a right-wing militia at the protest.
Rittenhouse was charged with five felonies including first degree intentional homicide. He argued that he acted in self-defense when he fired his semi-automatic rifle, killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and injuring Gaige Grusskreutz.
The court proceedings were riddled with unusual moves on the part of Judge Bruce Schroeder, who had Rittenhouse draw the names of jurors to be designated as alternates in a game show-style raffle tumbler. Schroeder granted the defense’s request to ban the use of the word “victims” in reference to the three men Rittenhouse shot, while allowing the defense to call them “looters,” “rioters,” and “arsonists.”
The judge made his bias in favor of the defense clear, validating it’s claims that the prosecution “distorted” video of the shootings by using a zoomed in version of the high quality video and screaming at the lead prosecutor for it. He called for a 10 minute break so Rittenhouse could “collect himself” after he broke down during his testimony.
Verdict speaks to state-backed right-wing violence
Armed right-wingers showed up at dozens of protests during the anti-racist uprising in the US in 2020, claiming to be there to defend property. These fascistic groups have been emboldened by Trump and his pro-police rhetoric as the nation faced a reckoning with its systemic racism. Right-wing militias have a long history in the US, often galvanized by people’s movements against racism and for workers rights.
Speaking at a press conference following the verdict announcement, Jacob Blake’s uncle exclaimed, “Racism runs from the courtroom to the police station to the mayor’s office. They all have blood on their hands.”
All-in all, the Rittenhouse verdict sets a dangerous precedent on how right-wing vigilantism is handled in the United States. It signals to the right-wing that shooting and killing anti-racist protesters is a crime that can go unpunished. Regardless of the specific arguments and intricacies of the case itself, the verdict exemplifies why the 2020 anti-racist uprising was set off in the first place and why mass resurgance of this movement is inevitable.
In a statement, the Party for Socialism and Liberation wrote, “The verdict is an infuriating reminder of the fundamentally white supremacist nature of the capitalist legal system in the United States … But the movement against racism will not be terrorized into passivity. In Kenosha and throughout the country, protesters are now hitting the streets to show that they will not be silenced by this grave affront to justice.”
Monica Cruz is a reporter with US-based media outlet Breakthrough News.