On Friday November 19, a jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse (18) of murdering Joseph Rosenbaum (36) and Anthony Huber (26) and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz (27) during protests and civil unrest in Kenosha, WI last summer, following the death of Jacob Blake.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the Rittenhouse case served as another flashpoint that split the nation, mainly down political and ideological lines. Conservatives that rushed to his defense - many before the trial even took place - were jubilant that he walked free. They argued his case served as a poignant example of why the constitutional right to bear arms, and when appropriate, use them to defend themselves, must be maintained. Liberals that wanted him convicted – many before the facts were even hashed out in a court of law - decried the jury’s decision. They rejected Rittenhouse’s claims of self-defense, argued that his case was a textbook example of vigilante justice and would inspire more of it, and why gun laws must be tightened.
At TQC, after intently following the case and educating ourselves about the law in Wisconsin, we believe the jury made the correct decision. That said, any conservative who yelled “innocent!” and any liberal who screamed, “guilty!” before the case was even heard, and who did not bother to learn the facts of the case and about Wisconsin law, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
The only thing that a jury (or anybody) should consider when deciding a defendant’s fate are the facts of the case and state laws where the case is being adjudicated.
In court, witnesses testified that Joseph Rosenbaum – the first individual Rittenhouse killed – acted belligerently and appeared to lunge for Rittenhouse’s gun before being shot. These accounts were seconded by Rittenhouse himself, who testified in his own defense. Rittenhouse said Rosenbaum ran toward him and had his hand on the barrel of Rittenhouse’s rifle as Rittenhouse began firing.
Richard Huber – the second person Rittenhouse killed – struck him on the neck with a skateboard before paying with his life.
Perhaps the most damming evidence came from the man Mr. Rittenhouse failed to kill, Gaige Grosskreutz, a paramedic who helped numerous wounded individuals that evening. Mr. Grosskreutz admitted in sworn testimony that he pointed a handgun at Rittenhouse the moment before Rittenhouse shot him. Grosskreutz testified that he drew his weapon because he believed Rittenhouse was an active shooter. Said one source, “the guy he didn't manage to kill admitted that he pointed his gun at him (Kyle). What more do I need to know?”
Perhaps this: what business did Kyle Rittenhouse - then just a 17-year-old teenager have being in Kenosha during violent protests, armed with a high powered-semi-automatic weapon? Does it not set a bad precedent when an uninformed kid can show up with a AR-15, which in and of itself is a provocative action? What was Kyle Rittenhouse doing outside a bar posing for a photograph with members of a far-right political group linked to violence? Why did Rittenhouse lie about being an emergency medical technician? ("I told him I was an EMT, but I wasn't," he testified.) At TQC, we believe no business at all.
However - and this is imperative - whether Kyle Rittenhouse’s presence in Kenosha was appropriate, was not what the jury was tasked with deciding. Whether Rittenhouse posed with white supremacists and/ or even if he is one himself, was not what the jury was tasked with deciding. Whether bringing a loaded gun into a volatile situation was provocative, or whether Rittenhouse was “asking for it,” was not what the jury was tasked with deciding. Whether Rittenhouse lied about having medical credentials, was not what the jury was tasked with deciding.
The jury’s sole duty was to decide if the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Kyle Rittenhouse did not act in self-defense. In the state of Wisconsin, that is high bar to clear.
In Wisconsin, the way the law is written favors a defendant when claiming self-defense, as was the foundation of Mr. Rittenhouse’s argument. While the granularities of the law in the Badger State go well beyond the scope of this post; put simply, the burden of proof rests disproportionately on the prosecution. Below are some excerpts from legal scholars who opined on this case:
“The self-defense provisions in Wisconsin clearly favor the defense.” - Joshua Dressler, professor emeritus at Ohio State University Law School and expert in criminal law.
"The law in Wisconsin is very favorable to a defendant claiming self-defense. The prosecution has to affirmatively disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury went back there and had some reasonable doubt, then they were to return a not guilty verdict” - Elie Honig, CNN legal analyst, former prosecutor.
“What is really terribly difficult for the state is that under Wisconsin law the prosecutor will have the burden of negating self-defense, beyond a reasonable doubt. And to negate anything is difficult, to negate it beyond a reasonable doubt is extraordinary.” Daniel Blinka, Professor at Marquette University Law School, former prosecutor.
Undoubtedly, many people will argue – perhaps convincingly – those laws governing self-defense in Wisconsin must be amended. However, we must keep front of mind, again, that a jury’s duty is to weigh the facts of a case and follow the law, not base their decision on how they feel about the law.
Darling of The Right
Unsurprisingly, many right-wing politicians hailed the verdict. Though most likely, few if any bothered to learn the facts of the case before voicing their opinions. Congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona admitted as much in his tweet claiming “self-defense” last year, before the trial was even heard:
“Justice was served for #KyleRittenhouse and he is fully exonerated…As I said last year, obviously self-defense. I will arm wrestle @mattgaetz to get dibs for Kyle as an intern.” - Paul Gosar (R-AZ).
Rep. Madison Cawthorn "KYLE: IF YOU WANT AN INTERNSHIP, REACH OUT TO ME…You have a right to defend yourself. Be armed, be dangerous, and be moral." Madison Cawthorn, (R-NC).
“May Kyle and his family now live in peace…Those who help, protect, and defend are the good guys. Kyle is one of good ones.” - Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Then, in a shameful act of self-promotion, Congresswoman Greene followed up her tweet by introducing a bill to award Kyle Rittenhouse a Congressional Gold Medal.
According to the Congressional Research Service, Congressional Gold Medals are given “to express public gratitude for distinguished contributions, dramatize the virtues of patriotism, and perpetuate the remembrance of great events.” Prior recipients include Neil Armstrong, the Tuskegee Airmen, Pope John Paul II, and Jackie Robinson. Greene’s bill will not pass – it needs the approval of two-thirds of both chambers of congress – but the fact she even introduced it is self-serving and disingenuous.
Even Kyle Rittenhouse’s defense attorney, Mark Richard, criticized GOP overtures to his client. Richard argued they were “disgusting” and accused certain GOP lawmakers of using Rittenhouse to advance their own agenda. “There’s a lot of people trying to profit on this, and I don’t think people should…They’re raising money on it…you have all these Republican congressmen saying, ‘Come work for me.'”
In our view, Kyle Rittenhouse is innocent of murder; the prosecution could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not act in self-defense. But he is not a hero of the right, as some irresponsible people are espousing.
Unsurprisingly, many left-wing politicians decried the verdict. And like their conservative foes, many who voiced their opinions, did not bother to hear one minute of testimony:
[The verdict makes me] “angry and concerned.” – President Joe Biden
“These continue to be dark days for black people killed at the hands of people that believe our lives do not matter…This verdict was not only outrageous and dangerous, it was also an obvious signal that encourages and notifies ‘vigilantes’ that they can continue to use violence to assert their power, and more importantly that they are above the criminal justice system when they do.” – Al Sharpton
“Kyle Rittenhouse used an assault weapon to kill two people…This is not justice…If there was any question about why we need strong gun safety laws, this is your answer.” - NY State Governor Kathy Hochul
“If [Rittenhouse] was black, he would have been f–king executed on the street…If he was black, he would have been dead or in jail.” -Protester who identified himself as Brandon.
“F--k America!” – Protestor outside the courthouse in WI.
Regarding President Biden’s comments, in our view it is highly inappropriate for a sitting president to opine on the legal case of a private citizen.
Governor Hochul made the case that gun laws should be changed, and that justice was not served because the law made it too easy for Rittenhouse to access a firearm and claim self-defense. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But whether or not justice was served in a particular case has nothing to do with laws that should (or should not) be amended. Justice is served when a jury correctly applies facts of a case to the law as it is written, not how some people would like the law to be.
As usual, notorious race-baiter (and tax dodger), Al Sharpton, was quick to make the case a racial issue, though both the shooter and his victims were white. This is not surprising. Sharpton has always been more interested in using soundbites devoid of substance to promote himself to the detriment of the people he claims to be advocating for. He is shameful.
Occasionally, we agree with shameful people. Sharpton’s point about vigilante justice might very well be true. However, it would be highly improper for a jury to rule on a case because it might (or might not) encourage more acts of vigilante justice. To reiterate, a jury must base their decision on the facts of the case and the law, not what their ruling might promote in the future.
Brandon the protestor brought up some important points. At TQC, we also wonder what would have happened if a black teen brought a rifle to Kenosha? Would he have gone to jail for life? Would he have been treated differently by law enforcement officers? Would he have been killed?
These are legitimate questions that are extremely important to consider in the context of a historically non-colorblind justice system. They certainly require introspection and further examination. However, they are hypotheticals and mutually exclusive from what the jury was tasked with deciding in Rittenhouse’s case.
At the conclusion of his trial, prosecutors called Rittenhouse a "fraud" and a "quack doctor," and reminded the jury that he lied about his medical qualifications.
Kyle Rittenhouse might very well be those things. And one can debate every way to Sunday if gun laws in Wisconsin should be changed, his acquittal will encourage vigilante justice, if the bar should be higher to claim self-defense, and if Rittenhouse is an ignorant, morally bankrupt teenager who associates with bigots. However, our argument remains consistent: those things are not what the jury was tasked to decide.
The prosecution did not, and could not, prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Kyle Rittenhouse did not act in self-defense. Hence, the jury was correct in acquitting him.