Kyle Rittenhouse Trial: 'Self-Defense' or 'Provoked Bloodshed'?

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

Kyle Rittenhouse (left) listens to his defence attorney Mark Richards (right) as he takes the stand during his trial.

Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old accused of fatally shooting two men and injuring a third during racial justice protests in the Wisconsin city of Kenosha on 25 August 2020, was acquitted of all charges on 20 November 2021. How can it be that U.S. laws permit a teenager to bypass criminal liability after he travels from out of state to a scene of civil unrest, violates a curfew specifically designed to keep people off the streets, and illegally carries with him an assault weapon that results in deadly harm?

The Rittenhouse case has become a flashpoint in the U.S. debate over guns, racial justice protests, vigilantism, and law and order.

After deliberating for three and a half days, the jury cleared Rittenhouse of homicide, attempted homicide, and reckless endangerment in the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, as well as the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz, 28.

Prosecutors and defence attorneys presented radically dichotomous depictions of Rittenhouse’s actions and motivations. Richards, the defence attorney, described him as “a 17-year-old kid out there trying to help this community”. The characterization of Rittenhouse was a familiar one: that he was a civic-minded teenager with good intentions, trapped in a no-win situation after being targeted by rioters. Bingers, the prosecutor, stated:

"When the defendant provokes this incident, he loses the right to self-defence. You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create."

Rittenhouse, 17 at the time of the incident, persuaded a friend to buy an AR-15-style rifle—a semi-automatic weapon which he was too young to buy—and keep it on his behalf. On 25 August 2020, he and that friend, Dominick Black, took their rifles to Kenosha and volunteered to help defend a local car dealership from protests, which had started after the Kenosha police shot a black man, Jacob Blake, seven times, paralysing him from the waist down.

Rittenhouse on the night of the shooting.