Kyle Rittenhouse, who was on trial for killing two men and wounding another during police brutality protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin last summer, has been found not guilty of all counts.
Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted immediately after the verdict was announced that the verdict was "disgusting and it sends a horrible message to this country."
At least one group is planning a protest at Barclays Center starting at 7 p.m. tonight.
Rittenhouse, 18, had been charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety. The jury deliberated for over 26 hours over the last four days before reaching their verdict on Friday afternoon.
The incident happened in the wake of the police shooting Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in Kenosha last summer. Protests started after video showing a police officer shooting Blake repeatedly in the back went viral. On August 25th 2020, Rittenhouse, an Illinois resident who was 17 at the time, went to Kenosha with with medical kit and an AR-15-style rifle to join other armed people in the area as protests raged, according to the Guardian.
He said during the trial that he went there to serve as a medic and help protect private property. By the end of the night, he had fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz.
During the trial, Rittenhouse testified that he feared for his life, shooting all three men in self-defense. Although Rosenbaum hadn't touched him and was unarmed at the time (something Rittenhouse was aware of), the teenager said, "He was chasing me, I was alone, he threatened to kill me earlier that night. I didn't want to have to shoot him," Rittenhouse said. "I pointed it at him because he kept running at me and I didn't want him to chase me."
Rittenhouse was then chased by a group of people in the area; Huber apparently hit Rittenhouse with a skateboard after seeing him shoot the other man, and Rittenhouse fatally shot him. Grosskreutz, who was armed at the time, testified that he believed Rittenhouse "was an active shooter" when he confronted him.
Wisconsin’s law on self-defense allows someone to use deadly force only if "necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm," but jurors must determine whether defendants did feel they were in danger and whether the defendants' belief was reasonable at the time.
Prosecutors argued that Rittenhouse forfeited his right to self-defense when he pointed his AR-15-style gun at Rosenbaum, setting off the whole confrontation.
"That is what provokes this entire incident," prosecutor Thomas Binger said. "When the defendant provokes this incident, he loses the right to self-defense. You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create."
As NPR noted, prosecutors made "repeated missteps" during the trial—defense lawyers requested a mistrial twice. Judge Bruce Schroeder also came under scrutiny during the two-week trial, including when he barred attorneys from using the term “victim” to refer to the two men Rittenhouse killed, excoriated the lead prosecutor for referencing evidence he had barred from trial, and asked the courtroom to applaud for a defense witness on Veterans Day.
Omar Jackson, director of Stand Against Violence East Harlem, an anti-gun violence organization, said he found news of the verdict unsurprising. “It's not a justice system, it's an injustice system,” Jackson told Gothamist/WNYC after an unrelated press conference on Friday. “It's designed for Black men to lose and white men to win.”
Reverend Al Sharpton put out a statement as well, calling the verdict disheartening. “These continue to be dark days for Black people killed at the hands of people that believe our lives do not matter," he said. "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. While it is disheartening that we take one step forward, then several steps back, let this be a reminder that our activism cannot take a backseat.”
Other NYC politicians, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Congressman Adriano Espaillat, also reacted to the verdict on Twitter.
Correction: This story has been updated to note that Rittenhouse did not cross state lines from Illinois to Wisconsin while armed, according to local officials. Lake County, Illinois State's Attorney Michael Nerheim's office said the rifle had been purchased and stored in Wisconsin, NPR reported. We regret the error.