Many Americans reacted with anger and many others with delight Friday after 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges related to the shooting deaths of two men during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year.
The verdict, and the split-screen reaction, served as the latest example of how deeply the nation is divided along ideological and racial lines.
For liberals and many people of color, Rittenhouse’s acquittal was an outrage and a dangerous license for others to engage in violent vigilantism in the future.
For conservatives, the jury’s decision was an act of bravery, an example of citizens dispassionately enforcing the law even amid the media hubbub and broader social turmoil.
For those Americans who are not committed members of either ideological camp, the verdict was somewhat more complicated: a legally defensible decision, but a discomfort-inducing reminder of how differently the actions of black and white Americans are still judged.
For many, it was a shocking demonstration of the fact that what is fair and what is legal are not always the same.
Rittenhouse had traveled to Kenosha from his home in Antioch, Ill., Amid protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, in August 2020. Police, responding to a call about a domestic disturbance, had shot at Blake on the back.
Rittenhouse came to Kenosha motivated by general sentiments in favor of the police and, he claimed, a desire to protect property. He also said he was there to offer medical assistance, although he exaggerated his medical training.
Rittenhouse walked the streets armed with an assault rifle, despite being only 17 at the time. Kenosha policemen thanked him and other pro-police protesters and, in some cases, handed them bottles of water.
A short time later, amid the disorder, Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26. He also shot and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 27.
Friday’s verdicts cleared him of the Rosenbaum and Huber murders, the Grosskreutz assassination attempt and two other charges.
Rittenhouse’s case centered on his self-defense claims.
These claims were even reinforced by some prosecution witnesses. The court heard that Rosenbaum had threatened to kill Rittenhouse and had taken his gun; that Huber had hit him with a skateboard; and that Grosskreutz, by his own admission, had been shot only after pointing his own pistol at Rittenhouse.
That was enough to convince the jury that Rittenhouse had been acting out of fear of being killed or seriously injured.
The central prosecution counterargument, that Rittenhouse’s claim to self-defense was invalid because he had provoked the confrontations in the first place by strutting with a rifle, failed to succeed.
“The verdict speaks to the dramatic differences in perspective that people have, based on racial origin, on justice in our country,” civil rights attorney Shavar Jeffries told this column. “For many people of color, the idea that they can show up with an assault rifle at a rally site, kill people and be exonerated is beyond comprehension.”
President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrats push vote on social spending plan through Friday Fauci says all adults should ‘go get a boost’ Senate confirms Park Service director after years of sitting bosses MORE, in a statement shortly after the verdict, emphasized the need to accept the jury’s decision.
The verdict, he admitted, “will make many Americans angry and worried, myself included. [but] we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken. “Biden added a warning to all Americans” to express their views peacefully. “
But while Biden tried to apply some kind of salve to a rogue nation, others eagerly took a different tack.
Representative Madison Cawthorn (RN.C.) offered Rittenhouse an internship, saying that people have the right to “be armed, dangerous and moral.” Rep. Paul gosarPaul Anthony Gosar House Democrats Push Vote On Social Spending Plan Until Friday McCarthy Delays Speedy Approval Of Spending Plan With Long Speech On Floor Trump Supports Gosar After No-confidence Vote MORE (R-Ariz.), Who earlier this week became the first member of Congress in more than a decade to be censored, also offered Rittenhouse an internship.
Previous President TrumpDonald Trump Republican Senate Candidate Says Fauci Is A ‘Mass Killer’, Should Be Imprisoned Instead Of A ‘Hero’ Rittenhouse Overnight Health Care – Presented By Emergent Biosolutions – Pfizer, The COVID-19 Pill Deal US Strike On The Money – House Democrats Ready To Build Back Better MOREThe main political action committee sent an email showing the comments Trump had made while in office, when he told a reporter that Rittenhouse was “trying to get away from them, I guess … They attacked him very violently. “.
“It seems that President Trump was right!” the email said.
Although all of the people Rittenhouse shot were white, the case has inevitably been drawn into the current calculation of the nation’s race because it had the Jacob Blake shooting as a backdrop.
Racial tensions strained over the Rittenhouse verdict will become even more strained in the coming days.
On Monday, final arguments are expected in the trial of three white men in Georgia accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old unarmed black man.
Rittenhouse’s verdict is out now.
But many of the deeper problems it raises remain unsolved.
The Memo is a column reported by Niall Stanage.