Testifying in his own defense in front of his murder trial, 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse explained why he chose to possess an AR-15 rifle which he used to shoot three men amid riots over police conduct in Wisconsin at the age of 17.
“It looked cool,” Rittenhouse said.
Rittenhouse was acquitted on all counts, including first degree intentional homicide and four other charges, after about 26 hours of jury deliberation. Many people feel vindicated after Rittenhouse’s acquittal, saying he was justified in defending himself. For others, it was another disappointment in the criminal justice system and gun control legislations in the U.S.
It was not cool when dead bodies laid on the ground that night in Wisconsin, nor was it cool for murderers to not be condemned for their actions. It also was not cool how a 17-year-old was able to get his hands on an AR-15 and carry it at a protest, nor was it cool for individuals of color to once again realize racial bias is still apparent in the criminal justice system.
I want people to remember this moment in history where a white 18-year-old, who shot three people when he was 17, walked out of court as a free man at the decision of a mostly-white jury. He has appeared in multiple public interviews while also being hailed as a freedom figure by many people.
Rittenhouse did not purchase an AR-15 to protect himself or anyone else. He did not possess it for hunting. His friend Dominick Black, who was 18 at the time and also carried that night in Wisconsin, used Rittenhouse’s money to buy him a rifle comparable to Black’s. The court did not charge Rittenhouse for possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18.
His acquittal quickly lit up the discussion among Americans. The Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist and founder of the National Action Network, a nonprofit organization to fight for equal opportunities for all people, said in a statement that these will continue to be dark days for Black people.
“This verdict was not only outrageous and dangerous, it was also an obvious signal that encourages [and] notifies ‘vigilantes’ that they can continue to use violence to assert their power, and more importantly that they are above the criminal justice system when they do,” the statement said.
Other organizations also joined to voice their opinions.
“Disappointed but not surprised. This is not justice. This is not accountability,” voting rights organization Black Voters Matter tweeted. “However, this is America.”
“GOA will be awarding Kyle Rittenhouse with an AR-15 for his defense of gun rights in America,” gun rights organization Gun Owners of America tweeted. “Join us in saying THANK YOU to Kyle Rittenhouse for being a warrior for gun owners and self defense rights across the country!”
President Joe Biden, whose presidential campaign video used Rittenhouse’s photo in reference to denouncing white supremacy, said he did not watch the trial. But he has chosen to believe in the jury system and people should respect it even if they are not happy with the decision.
“I stand by what the jury has concluded,” Biden said. “The jury system works, and we have to abide by it."
After the trial, Rittenhouse said he wanted to become a normal 18-year-old nursing student attending Arizona State University on campus by changing his name and appearance. The fund for his transformation comes from supporters who donate through his website.
One of his only few consequences comes from four left-leaning student organizations at ASU who are demanding the university’s administration withdraw Rittenhouse from the university.
This is a reminder that the criminal justice system in the U.S. still has a long way to go. And judging by the president’s response to the verdict, individuals of color will still have to endure many more injustices in their lives. They are not seen as equal to their white counterparts, and they may never be. Unless they continue to fight for justice and make themselves heard, nothing will happen.
It’s also important to remember the names of the victims, along with thousands of other voiceless victims of gun violence.
Joseph Rosenbaum. Anthony Huber. Gaige Grosskreutz.