KENOSHA, Wisconsin – After more than a year, Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teenager who has been labeled by some as a public order advocate and by others as a reckless shooter, is on trial for manslaughter in a Wisconsin courtroom starting Monday.
In Kenosha, a former industrial town on the shores of Lake Michigan, proceedings will take place in the county courthouse which was the scene of protests that erupted in August 2020 after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a black resident, seven times in the back during an arrest. For several days, police brutality protesters gathered in their thousands in Kenosha, and rioters torched buildings and looted businesses, crushing police and national guards.
The third night of protests turned deadly when Mr Rittenhouse, then 17, came to Kenosha with a military-style semi-automatic rifle and joined a group of people who said they were there to help maintain the order in the streets. Within hours Mr Rittenhouse had shot dead two men and injured a third in a clash.
Mr. Rittenhouse faces six counts, including first degree reckless homicide, first degree intentional homicide and attempted first degree homicide.
The case has also become another flashpoint in the country’s political divide over the protests and riots that have swept American cities in recent years in response to police violence against blacks. To some on the left, Mr. Rittenhouse is seen as a happy and dangerous intruder in a meaningful protest; on the right, some see him as a hero who intended to help protect the lawless streets.
“It’s a storytelling battle,” said Steven Wright, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin. “People will see it as a young man who crossed state borders with a gun with the intention of causing trouble, or people will come with the belief that he came here with a medical kit and tried to stand up for the law and stand up for people. “
The proceedings will bring Kenosha, a city of 100,000 inhabitants, back to the forefront of the national scene. Since protests last year, many residents have been pushing for broader race consideration and changes to the police service, including body cameras and bias training. A county prosecutor has refused to indict the criminal Rusten Sheskey, the officer who shot Mr Blake, a move that sparked protests in January. Mr Blake, who was partially paralyzed in the shooting, left Kenosha determined never to return, his family said.
Mr Rittenhouse’s trial is expected to last two to three weeks, with jury selection starting on Monday.
Lawyers for Mr Rittenhouse will argue that he was acting in self-defense when he killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, who a witness said had taken Mr Rittenhouse’s gun and was filmed shooting it. to chase. As Mr. Rittenhouse fled down the street, he shot two other men in pursuit, killing Anthony Huber, 26, who had attempted to hit Mr. Rittenhouse with a skateboard, and injuring Gaige Grosskreutz, a nurse from West Allis, Wisconsin.
Mr Rittenhouse said he was in Kenosha on the night of August 25 to protect businesses from destruction amid police protests. “He was not the one shooting the looters,” Corey Chirafisi, an attorney for Mr Rittenhouse, said at a court hearing. “Sir. Rosenbaum was chasing him. That’s what started it all.
Prosecutors claim Mr Rittenhouse was an intruder from Antioch, Ill., About a 30-minute drive from Kenosha, who intended to disrupt the protests with violence.
“The accused has come to our community,” Thomas Binger, deputy district attorney, said at a recent preliminary hearing into the case. “He is not a resident, he is a minor, he came out after curfew, he is armed with an illegal weapon. Why? That is the question.”
Kenosha County jurors will be asked to review the events of that night and decide whether Mr Rittenhouse, who is now 18, was acting reasonably when he used lethal force in a clash.
Under Wisconsin law, a person can only legally use lethal force if they “reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or grievous bodily harm to themselves.” In Wisconsin, there is no “duty to retreat” before using force, and prosecutors will have to convince the jury that Mr. Rittenhouse’s belief was unreasonable. In a matter unrelated to self-defense, Mr. Rittenhouse also faces a charge of unlawful possession; minors in Wisconsin are not allowed to own firearms or carry them in public, with a few exceptions for hunting.
The jury will be presented with videos and testimonies from passers-by and journalists who captured the murders and the events that preceded them.
That evening, three days after the protests against Blake’s shooting began, violence erupted in downtown Kenosha as protesters threw fireworks at police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Residents dressed in camouflage and armed with rifles patrolled the area, explaining that they had come because police and national guards were vastly outnumbered the night before, allowing people to burn down businesses and terrify city habitants.
After the police forced the protesters out of the park, most of them left the area to go home. But dozens of people – including Mr. Rosenbaum, whose rationale was unclear – remained. They regrouped on nearby Sheridan Road, arguing, shoving and setting fire to garbage cans, with other armed civilians nearby, including Mr Rittenhouse, claiming they were there to protect businesses. Law enforcement officers in armored vehicles monitored the groups without stopping them – at one point they even offered bottled water to Mr Rittenhouse and others.
Moments before Mr Rittenhouse started firing his gun, Mr Rosenbaum chased him through a used car park and, according to at least one witness, grabbed the barrel of Mr Rittenhouse’s rifle.
“The jury will have to answer this open question: Did Rittenhouse behave reasonably or not?” said Michael O’Hear, professor of law at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee. “The answer could depend heavily on who the jurors are, especially in a case like this which has such political undertones.”
Jury selection could stretch over several days, and Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder, Wisconsin’s longest-serving circuit court judge, said he had asked for a pool of jurors unusually large of nearly 150 potential jurors.
Mary DM Fan, a law professor at the University of Washington, said that while the trial will focus on defining self-defense, it will also focus on the Second Amendment, race, politics, and the role of freedom. ‘expression.
“Let’s be real – why is this such a polarizing case?” she said. “It is also a referendum on very different views on the protests that have rocked this nation.”