Tuesday, 16 November 2021

On 25th August 2020, then 17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse visited a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which was taking place in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake. He was carrying a Smith and Wesson M&P15 which he used to kill two people and seriously injure one more. Much of the incident was caught on camera and shows Rittenhouse being pursued by members of the public, prior to the shootings. 

Rittenhouse surrendered to police and was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, two counts of homicide, and two counts of reckless endangerment. The first charge has already been dismissed by the judge.

During the initial confrontation, one individual fired a shot into the air, prompting Rittenhouse to turn around, pointing his gun at another member of the public. This was Joseph Rotenbaum who threw a bag containing clothing at Rittenhouse and attempted to tackle him, but was fatally shot four times. Multiple members of the public then gave chase and Rittenhouse was struck in the head, falling to the ground. At this point, Anthony Huber struck Rittenhouse in the shoulder with his skateboard and was shot dead. A local resident approached Rittenhouse with a handgun, but he was shot in the arm.

Supporters of Kyle Rittenhouse say it was clear that he acted in self-defence, that he only shot these people because he was under attack, and that he actually attended the protests to protect property and administer first aid.

Of course, it is not the job of a minor to travel out of town to protect public property armed with a semi-automatic rifle. Whatever views you may have on US cops, it is officially their job to protect private property in this way. Also, it is an incredibly provocative thing to arrive armed at a location in which protesters are clearly emotionally distressed. It is the type of behaviour which provokes suspicion and fear and could absolutely trigger the fight or flight response in people. 

Rittenhouse was effectively saying: "I am carrying this gun and I am prepared to shoot any of you dead because I hate you and everything you stand for." That was the message he was sending so there was always a high probability of his actions ending in tragedy.

The fact is if Rittenhouse did not turn up with a gun, his victims would still be alive today. Shooting people dead does not seem a proportionate response when your mere presence was so provocative and intimidating. However, the mitigating circumstances suggest murder might not have been the best charge.

Having reviewed the camera footage, I absolutely do not feel it was right for Rittenhouse to shoot these people dead, but at the same time, I can see how he was genuinely afraid in the moment. It's just that the situation was manufactured by his presence so he must carry a high degree of blame.

The crowd had to make a snap decision about what they thought was the best move to protect themselves and others, and some felt the best move was to stop an armed individual from potentially killing people. Did they make the right call? Absolutely not. But they were placed in a terrifying situation by an individual who should not have been there.

It seems unquestionable to me that Rittenhouse is guilty of serious crimes. If someone in the UK arrived at a protest in which they held the protesters in contempt and were armed with a machine gun, leading to an incident where they shot people dead, that person would be looking at serious jail time. But this is America we are talking about, the land where people openly carry guns and take kids to shooting ranges. The land where white people can pull a get out of jail free card from their pockets.

What is troubling in this case is how the judge seemed all too keen to dismiss evidence against Rittenhouse, such as him attending a Proud Boys event in which attendees reportedly spoke of killing people. The judge seemed genuinely protective of the defendant and not at all impartial. 

For example, he would not allow lawyers to refer to the victims as "victims" but did allow lawyers to refer to them as "arsonists" and "looters". This could surely be perceived as an attempt to influence the jury and has prompted an outcry on social media.

The jury is now deliberating and I suspect Rittenhouse will get off on the homicide charges, but it would be hard to justify acquitting him of two reckless endangerment charges, which each carry sentences of up to 17 years. However, I am fully expecting the judge to give Rittenhouse the most lenient sentence he possibly can and that could trigger a ton of further unrest.