On November 19th, 2021, the verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, an 18-year old who fatally shot two people in August of 2020, came back declaring him not guilty on all charges.
The incident took place during a time of civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin when protesters were demonstrating their anger regarding the racism evident in the police shooting of 29-year old Jacob Blake. Rittenhouse attended this protest, later testifying that his intention was to help protect private property and act as a medic. However, his encounters with protesters turned violent and resulted in him shooting three individuals, two of which were deadly.
In the trial, Rittenhouse claimed that he acted in self-defense in response to verbal and physical threats, which video evidence does confirm. He was armed with an AR-15, which he utilized in his retaliation to these threats. The jury ultimately sided with Rittenhouse’s claims.
The notion that a man could shoot three people in the presence of countless witnesses and still walk free of any repercussions was a shock to many Americans. Regardless of the circumstance, there are other ways to go about defending oneself without ending the lives of others, especially in a situation where law enforcement was present and could’ve stepped in. Further, why would he have brought a weapon capable of such devastation in the first place? It is hard to believe that there is validity to his claims that his actions were purely out of self-defense when he arrived at the scene armed with an assault rifle.
Whether or not his actions are justified in the eyes of the law, this incident reflects a larger issue present in America: the threat of gun violence. Rittenhouse was 17 years old at the time of the murder—a minor—and was in possession of a dangerous assault weapon. The fact that someone of this age has the ability to own such a weapon brings about the question of how common this is, and what the chances are that something like this could happen again. Also, could the verdict of this trial lead others into thinking they can get away with similar actions?
Many have taken to social media platforms such as TikTok and Twitter following the trial, making posts idolizing Kyle Rittenhouse and his ability to get away with this senseless act. It can not be helped but to wonder if his idolization could serve as the inspiration for similar crimes in hopes of being recognized in the same way, or due to a lack of consequences at all. Shortly after Rittenhouse was declared not guilty, a shooter at Oxford High School in Michigan claimed the lives of four students and injured seven others. Although there is no proven link between the two devastating incidents, it could be argued that the lack of repercussions may have taken part in enabling the event.
Another larger issue highlighted by this case was in the justice system itself. “Self defense” that involves fatally shooting multiple people should not be a lawful act; even if Rittenhouse was truthful in all his claims that he feared for his life, he should not have had to take matters into his own hands and take the lives of others as he did. The United States needs to adapt to the threat that we face as a country by instituting stricter gun laws and regulations in order to help neutralize the possibility of a tragedy such as the one seen last August.