We have years to dissect what led to the jury's not guilty verdicts in the Kyle Rittenhouse case. But the two men he killed, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, ran out of time the night they encountered Rittenhouse, then 17, and his AR-style semi-automatic rifle on the streets of Kenosha, Wis., in 2020.
Many of us are left with questions, including: In what kind of country does a teenager get a gun and go to a racial justice protest to keep the peace? And in what kind of country does one party of politicians celebrate such a verdict as justice served, while the other assails it as an indictment of the system that produced it? Welcome, once again, to America 2021.
A jury that appeared to be overwhelmingly white heard the case and decided that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense when he killed Rosenbaum, 36, and Huber, 26, and wounded a third man, Gaige Grosskreutz, who was 27. Rittenhouse and Grosskreutz are white, as were Rosenbaum and Huber.
Rittenhouse — who had been charged with homicide, attempted homicide and reckless endangering — was drawn to Kenosha from his Antioch, Ill., home during the tumultuous summer of 2020. He later said that he wanted to protect commercial property and provide medical aid after businesses in the Wisconsin city were ransacked and burned following the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer who has not been charged.
But things went terribly wrong when Rittenhouse, whom prosecutors labeled a "wannabe soldier," encountered Rosenbaum, who chased the teen and appeared to try to grab his gun before being shot. Rittenhouse then killed Huber, who had struck him with a skateboard, and shot Grosskreutz, who pointed a gun of his own at the Illinois man.
Did the prosecution pursue the right charges? Did the unusual behavior of the judge influence the outcome? Or did the defense do a better job making its case of self-defense, prompting the jury to decide, after more than three days of deliberations, that the prosecution did not prove otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt?
Again, we have years to consider those questions. More immediately, Americans must decide how to react to this most recent test of our national conscience. Once again, we call on those who object to the verdicts to try to understand and respect the processes of law.
We also ask those who had hoped for these verdicts to pause and consider that two more Americans are the victims of gun violence that could have been avoided. Please stop the celebratory messaging: There are no heroes here.