WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
Things are changing in our legal world, and not for the better. The Roe v. Wade case is likely to be overturned in the Supreme Court, which will deny many women in numerous states the right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy. Then we have the case that has the potential to redefine what self-defense is, and could continue to do so. The State of Wisconsin v. Rittenhouse has established the idea that self defense now includes wounding and killing people with a rifle while claiming to be a medic. The case ended with a tragic verdict, one we were hoping against hope would not come to pass: Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted on all charges, and we are all left with questions. Why did he get off scot-free? What does this mean for the rest of us going forward?
Let’s start by taking a look at the night that Kyle Rittenhouse killed two men and injured another, for which he was later prosecuted. On August 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, crossed state lines into Wisconsin to “protect” the business from BLM (Black Lives Matter) protestors. He did this while in possession of a rifle belonging to his friend Dominick Black, and shouting that he was a medic, which he was not. After a few hours of a poor attempt at being a medic, Rittenhouse briefly clashed with a man who had been running behind him, Joseph Rosenbaum, and fired four shots at him. The medical examiner, Dr. Doug Kelly of the Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office, testified that there were two shots to Rosenbaum’s chest, one in his back, and one in the side of his head. The fatal shot was the third, the one to his back. Rittenhouse then called someone on his cell as he ran away and told them, “I just killed somebody.” As he was running, a group of protesters, containing Anthony Huber, Brendan Gutenschwager, and Gaige Grosskreutz, ran after Rittenhouse. Gutenschwager was the one who recorded a video of the following, which would be evidence to the case. While they were running, Rittenhouse fell to the ground and immediately lifted his loaded weapon and openly fired three times, causing protesters to back away with their hands in the air. Huber persisted, and attempted to grab the gun from Rittenhouse with one hand, the other holding his skateboard. Rittenhouse then fired two rounds straight up, one fatally hitting Huber in the chest. Grosskreutz, a real medic, was the third and final victim of Rittenhouse that evening. He was in the crowd of protesters along with Huber, with his phone and a handgun in his hands above his head, sure he would be shot himself, which he was. Rittenhouse fired directly at him from less than a foot away. After seeing these two men fall to the ground, Rittenhouse got up and walked away calmly, without checking in on his victims, nor calling for any kind of help. Grosskreutz was shot in the bicep, which later led to him needing numerous surgeries. Rittenhouse is not only at fault for the suffering of those he physically harmed, he is also responsible for the trauma he inflicted on the countless people who heard the gunshots and saw the victims hit the ground. We also can’t forget the families of these men; Huber’s longtime girlfriend was in attendance that night, along with Rosenbaum’s fiance.
Two weeks before the shooting, a video was taken of Rittenhouse witnessing alleged shoplifters at a CVS and clearly saying “I wish I had my ******* AR—I’d start shooting rounds at them.” The prosecution tried to admit this on the grounds that it would illustrate Rittenhouse’s state of mind on the night of the robbery, but this request was denied by Judge Bruce Shroeder on the grounds that it was not relevant to the situation, which, of course, it is. While awaiting his trial, Rittenhouse was found posing for photos with known Proud Boys in a bar after drinking as a minor in Wisconsin. Canadian government considers the Proud Boys to be a terrorist organization, and the United States consider them a hate group. He can be seen holding up the white power symbol with the members, and a video from the bar even shows the group serenading Rittenhouse with the Proud Boys anthem. Rittenhouse claims that his former defense attorneys set him up for this meeting, and that he had no knowledge of them being Proud Boys nor that the ‘OK’ hand sign signifies white supremacy. Judge Shroeder once again made the decision not to allow this photo to be submitted as evidence by the prosecution because there was no concrete evidence that Rittenhouse was aware who these men were. Rittenhouse even said he did not know what the Proud Boys were prior to this case. If either of these crucial pieces of evidence had been submitted successfully, it is more than likely we would have had a very different outcome in the case. Judge Schroeder also banned the use of the word ‘victim’ in reference to the people who were shot, which he has done regularly over his past 20 years of cases, yet he still approved the use of terms like ‘rioters’ to refer to those attending the protest. These decisions have the power to sway the outcome of the trial in the defendant’s favor by impacting the jury’s perception of the events.
When I spoke to Brian Halberg, a history and law teacher here at Franklin, about what pieces of evidence from both parties he believed were the most persuasive to the jury, he responded with a statement he would ask the jury: “Here are all the pieces of evidence that one side or the other tried to get in, and was told not to; if you had known that piece of evidence existed, would that have mattered—would that have made you reach a different conclusion?” This only goes to show how unfair our court system can be. You can have the most damning evidence in your hands, and be ready to send a killer to jail. However, if your opposing counsel has a good strategy, or a judge has a bias, you are not given permission to tell the truth of the case to the people who make the ultimate decision. You are not allowed to take a killer off the streets, to take the weapon out of their hands.
In this terrifying and seemingly obviously slanted case, it is unlikely that there will actually be a precedent set that affects the Wisconsin law regarding self defense, let alone one that affects us all the way out in Oregon. This is likely because of how specific the conditions were. But how specific are the conditions, really? Rittenhouse crossed state lines as a minor, possessing an automatic rifle that he did not own, instigated many altercations, then shot three men, two of whom died. Judicial precedent or not, the verdict of this case sets the social precedent that murdering two people is justified, which will not stop others from doing exactly as Rittenhouse did. Rittenhouse is a killer, and he should be treated as one. As said by prosecutor Thomas Binger: “You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create.”