This week, 12 jurors are poised to decide the fate of American teen, Kyle Rittenhouse, and, more largely, the fate of justice in America. Rittenhouse, 18, faces five felony charges for shooting three men during a night of protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 25, 2020. Two of the men: Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, were killed and the third, Gaige Grosskreutz, was wounded. The charges Rittenhouse faces are: reckless homicide, intentional homicide and attempted intentional homicide. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Following two weeks of testimony with more than 30 witnesses taking the stand: the closing arguments of the trial took place on Monday. Both sides were instructed to be brief by Judge Bruce Schroeder, with the defence motioning for a mistrial with prejudice; while the prosecution condemned Rittenhouse for “bringing a gun to a fistfight”.

Rittenhouse did, in fact, bring an AR-15-style rifle with him to the streets of Kenosha, traveling there from his home in Antioch, Illinois. Local officials had declared a state of emergency a day earlier amid mass unrest over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man. Rittenhouse came in response to a Kenosha-based militia calling for protection for businesses against protesters supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

Now with the second day of deliberations set to resume on Wednesday morning: all eyes turn to the set of jurors who must reach a verdict amidst unease in Wisconsin – and across America. Outside the Kenosha county courthouse, demonstrators for and against Rittenhouse fire chants at one another, echoing “Black Lives Matter!” on one end and “Self-defence is not a crime!” on the other. 

This demonstration solidifies the larger implications this case has on racial injustice and gun violence in America. To some, this is a case of a gun-wielding teenager who contributed to fuelling racial unrest by shooting three anti-racist protesters. To others, Rittenhouse used his weapon in self-defence after he was attacked and chased by a violent crowd. 

Still, many see the support of Rittenhouse from the right as a racist affront to the protests against police brutality that were taking place in Kenosha in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake. Conservatives who have raised large sums for Rittenhouse’s legal defence, justify him exercising self-defence out of fear. As a wary America watches to see which side of history this trial will be on, it is clear to all that there is no simple verdict. 

With the deliberation dragging on, concerns are mounting about potential responses from demonstrators following the verdict’s release. The Kenosha County Sheriff released a statement last Thursday, stating that the trial is being closely monitored because: “We recognize that some varying opinions and feelings revolve around the trial that may cause concerns.” 

The city of Kenosha is hoping to avoid violent protests such as those which erupted in August 2020. Last week, Wisconsin’s governor, Tony Evers, mobilized 500 national guard members to assist local law enforcement if needed. 

The fate of Rittenhouse is expected to come next week, as early as Monday morning. Considering the trial featured more than a dozen videos from the night of the shootings, most of the facts are not up for debate but rather, the intentions of analysis of Rittenhouse’s actions and whether they can be considered “reasonable.”

Photo Credit: Sean Krajacic/Pool

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