The November 19 acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse by a Wisconsin jury on all charges, including first-degree reckless and intentional homicide, is a travesty of justice. It sends a message to other rightists that vigilantism will go unpunished so long as it is clothed in claims of “self-defense.” It echoes the verdict in the 2012 trial of George Zimmerman who was exonerated for his murder of Trayvon Martin that same year.
“We’re a little dismayed by the situation,” Kenosha resident Max Lewis told NBC news. “This case should have been cut and dried. You kill two people in the street, you get punished for it, end of story.”
Exactly the opposite happened.
Rittenhouse left his home in Antioch, Illinois, and traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 25, 2020, armed with an AR-15-style rifle. There he joined other armed men who went into the streets in response to protests against the shooting of Jacob Blake. A 29-year-old Black man, Blake was left partly paralyzed after a cop had shot him seven times two days earlier.
Video evidence showed Rittenhouse shooting and killing Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36. He also shot and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 27.
Rittenhouse claimed he was defending himself against a perceived threat, and that his life was in danger. But he created the dangerous situation by parading around with a gun that he aimed at protesters responding to the racist brutality against Blake.
The New York Times generously characterized Rittenhouse as someone “who has idolized law enforcement since he was young” and who went to Kenosha “with at least one mission: to play the role of police officer and medic.” The facts showed Rittenhouse was an armed vigilante mimicking the behavior of the cops he idolized.
Karen Bloom and John Huber, the parents of Anthony Huber, one of Rittenhouse’s victims, issued a statement soon after the verdict denouncing the outcome of the trial. The excerpt below sheds light on what actually happened that night. It effectively answers the killer’s fraudulent “self-defense” claim and points to the complicity of the cops in these inexcusable murders.
“The police did nothing. Concerned citizens, confronted with a person shooting indiscriminately on the street, stepped in to stop the violence. Anthony was shot in the chest trying to disarm Mr. Rittenhouse and stop his shooting spree. Still, the police did nothing. Mr. Rittenhouse continued to shoot, maiming Gaige Grosskreutz. The police let Mr. Rittenhouse leave the scene freely. Mr. Rittenhouse came to Kenosha armed to kill. Kenosha police encouraged him to act violently, and our son is dead as a result.”From November 19, 2021, statement by Karen Bloom and John Huber
The conduct of the presiding judge prejudiced the jury in favor of Rittenhouse and turned the teenager’s victims into criminals. Judge Bruce Schroeder frequently abandoned even the pretense of the appearance of a dispassionate magistrate and acted more like a protective guardian watching over the accused.
Schroeder sent a clear political message to the jury when before their deliberations he dismissed one count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18. Rittenhouse was 17 years old at the time of the killings, which tragically confirmed that his weapon was “dangerous.” But Schroeder dismissed the charge because a loophole in Wisconsin’s law excludes guns with longer barrels.
During jury selection the judge denied requests to send questionnaires to the jury pool. He then wrapped up jury selection in a single day, even though only one person of color was selected.
Schroeder screamed at and dressed down the prosecutor in ways seldom witnessed in U.S. courts.
The judge decreed that the prosecution could not refer to those Rittenhouse shot and killed as “victims” in his courtroom, but defense attorneys could potentially call them “rioters” or “looters.”
“Let the evidence show what the evidence shows,” Schroeder said. “And if the evidence shows that any or more than one of these people were engaged in arson, rioting, or looting, then I’m not going to tell the defense they can’t call them that.”
This turned reality on its head. Rittenhouse was on trial for the shooting, not his victims. Arson, rioting, and looting—even if the victims were guilty of such allegations—are not crimes punishable by death. And the law does not support vigilante justice.
Rittenhouse deserved a guilty verdict on all counts and a long sentence behind bars for the crimes he committed.
Categories: Black Struggle, Editorials, Fight Against Police Brutality
An excellent editorial. I have two comments. One is what I believe is a minor factual error. You state “…Blake was left partly paralyzed after a cop had shot him seven times in the back two days earlier.” According to the New York Times “Mr. Blake was hit by seven shots — including several that struck him in the back…” Wikipedia, citing AP News, states that “Blake [was shot] in the back four times and the side three times.”
Now more to the point. You call for “…the maximum sentence allowed by law for the crimes he committed: Life in prison.” I cannot advocate sentencing anyone to life in prison, regardless of how horrendous the crime — especially for someone who was 17 years old at the time he committed the crimes. What would be your position if the maximum sentence allowed by law was the death penalty, which it is in many states?
Mark, thank you very much for your feedback.
First we want to respond to the factual correction you suggested. For the statement on Blake’s shooting by the cops we used as the source a Nov. 16, 2021, New York Times article, which said in its opening paragraph: “Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was left partly paralyzed after a white police officer shot him seven times in the back outside an apartment complex in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 23, 2020.” Since there are other sources with varying accounts on how many bullets struck Blake in the back we deleted the “in the back” portion from that sentence in our editorial.
We also appreciate your comment on the length of the sentence the court should have handed Rittenhouse. We agree with you that if the law allowed the death penalty for the crimes Rittenhouse committed we would not have called for capital punishment since we oppose the U.S. government imposing the death penalty for any crime. We do not share your view that we would never advocate life behind bars regardless of how horrendous the crime. In this case, however, given Rittenhouse’s age when he shot and killed two people and wounded a third and the fact that the cops were complicit in the shooting spree that night and did nothing to stop it, as Anthony Huber’s parents accurately explained, a more appropriate stance would be to call for a long prison sentence. We have, therefore, amended our editorial to read: “Rittenhouse deserved a guilty verdict on all counts and a long sentence behind bars for the crimes he committed.”
The editorial by World-Outlook puts forward the only possible position for working people to support on the Rittenhouse murders.
The video compiled by the New York Times that I am linking to below provides the single best factual accounting of the events. I urge anyone interested in the facts of the case to take the time to watch it. I certainly don’t agree with many aspects of the narrative but as I stated it is the single best source available.
What is clear are a number of factual questions and then some important political lessons.
The cops planned to create the pressure cooker conditions that led to the shooting. They tolerated and encouraged right-wing vigilantes with the obvious expectation that they would shoot the protesters. They then proceeded to drive the protesters into the vigilantes and made clear their brazen support for the armed thugs, as the leaderless protesters unfortunately mixed with the vigilantes.
Joseph Rosenbaum, the first person murdered by Rittenhouse was not a protester. He was simply a severely mentally ill person on the street, only just released from an institution that morning, and who was scooped up by the cops as part of their hammer and anvil maneuver to push the protesters into the awaiting vigilantes, fully aware that this would lead to confrontations and likely shootings.
Rittenhouse came to do just what he did. Nothing he did can be construed as “self-defense” legally unless one accepts that armed bank robbers shooting it out with the cops are acting in “self-defense.”
The most important questions for us now are the lessons to be drawn, since justice will not be done.
The protesters made many serious errors. I believe most were made in ignorance rather than stupidity and malice, although I also believe that was present among some too.
The arson and looting that broke out the first night after the attempted murder of Jacob Blake by the cop, was the typical disorganized outrage by oppressed workers without leadership, that we have seen many times over the decades. It was wrong and counterproductive, but until we build a real fighting leadership of the working class it will continue.
Following that, provocateurs encouraged and engaged in similar conduct, which inevitably and correctly alienated the Black working class residents of the area, and led to the isolation of the protesters, only a paltry hundreds, instead of thousands. Some of these provocateurs claimed the mantle of ANTIFA and BLM. This has unfortunately not been clearly denounced by those claiming to speak for either.
The decision to engage in protests at night, which were sure to be ignored by most of the Black working class community, was a deadly error. The decision to continue past curfew in open defiance of an overwhelming police deployment ensured the horrific results that night. It also reflected an abysmal underappreciation of the conscious violence exercised by the police. Again. The cops consciously organized the violence that night. It’s what they always do.
The role of any real leadership of a mass protest movement is to organize all activities and statements to draw millions more into the protests. Only massive movements of tens of millions and tens of millions more supporters can ever have any effect in battles against the rulers.
The millions more on the sidelines want to know that their lives and wellbeing are foremost in the minds of organizers. That they will be able to march without being unnecessarily hurt, arrested or killed. They must feel our cause is just.
Violent provocative actions that seek to provoke the cops are a deadly menace to our movement. As is the case with irresponsible calls to block traffic or highways to inconvenience working people and provoke deadly clashes. As is the case of vandalism and arson.
We all know that more struggles and protests will come. We want them to be effective. We want them to grow. That means we need to discuss these issues of tactics and strategy as well as bigger political issues.
Let us learn from our defeats and setbacks, or we truly are doomed to repeat them.
– Aaron Ruby
Reconstructing the Rittenhouse Shootings: How Kenosha Echoed America’s Polarization https://nyti.ms/3byuVyR
Thanks for this. The comparison with the Zimmerman case is especially apropos. Here are my thoughts on the recent events:
I dunno what to say. The Bari Weiss article is making the rounds, as are the TYT video and various other mea culpas by supposed “progressive” figures stating how grievously wrong they were about the “facts” of the Rittenhouse case. “Liberal Muckraker” Glenn Greenwald “uncovered” a Tweet from someone who claimed to be “highly educated and reasonably perceptive” but admitted, “it was only today that [they] learned the Kyle Rittenhouse victims were white.”
These confessionals contribute nothing to the search for justice. They’re just testimony to backsliding among a layer of rad-lib public “intellectuals” under the pressure of reactionary bourgeois “public opinion.” (Bari Weiss, of course, has never claimed to be a progressive or liberal of any kind).
Shortly after the Kenosha events last year Eric Zorn, a liberal columnist for the Chicago Tribune, wrote a lengthy article on the Rittenhouse case (“Here’s Why Kyle Rittenhouse, the Teen Shooting Suspect in Kenosha Killings, is Likely to Get Off,” Chicago Tribune, September 3, 2020) Based on a close study of the available video footage, and his knowledge of Wisconsin self-defense law, Zorn concluded that it was most likely that Rittenhouse would walk. This wasn’t a resolution that Zorn was happy with but as he saw it, the law was the law.
I wasn’t happy with Zorn’s conclusions, but he turned out to be right on the money. Those of us who’ve been following the case and trial have long felt that Rittenhouse would go free. This conclusion was based not just on the demonstrated bias of the presiding judge but a reading of Wisconsin’s “self-defense” laws. In recent years, under the pressure of the far-right gun lobby, the passage of “Stand Your Ground” laws in numerous states and generous interpretations of the “Castle Doctrine,” these laws have come to be a “Get Out of Jail” card for any malefactor (especially a white one) with access to a good lawyer and plenty of money.
The basic facts of this case have never been in question. On the night of August 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse, in response to two nights of civil unrest and property damage in Kenosha following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, came into town carrying a military-style assault weapon. This was a gun he had no training in and by some interpretations of the law was not even allowed to posses (the judge later dropped the weapons charge against him). He blew away Joseph Rosenbaum, a mentally-ill man whom bystanders described as a “babbling idiot,” who threw a plastic bag at him. When another person, Anthony Huber, observing this, attempted to disarm Rittenhouse with the only weapon he had on hand, a skateboard, he too was executed. Finally, another person, Gaige Grosskreuz, who attempted to stop him was also shot and severely injured.
Whatever his motives, Rittenhouse’s involvement in the events that night was thoroughly irresponsible. He inflamed an already tense situation and when the inevitable happened, he murdered two people and mutilated a third. Self-defense my ass! The fact that Rittenhouse was let off by a “jury of his peers” applying Wisconsin law doesn’t exonerate him in the court of human decency. In the words made famous by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, “THE LAW IS A ASS!”
By the way, I have a few words for the people who are crying that Rittenhouse was denied due process, that he was “convicted by the liberal media.” “Poor Kyle Rittenhouse,” like the killer cop Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis before him, got more justice than 99% of the working-class people who go before the US “Justice” system. How about a little compassion for his victims, Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreuz? For the last year their names have been dragged through through the mud and they’ve been called thugs, criminals and hoodlums. None of those things are punishable by death even if true, which they aren’t.
And the “educated and perceptive” person who claims to be “surprised” to discover that Rittenhouse’s victims were white is clearly not speaking in good faith or is just plain stupid. (And so what anyway? If they had been Black, would that make any difference?).
Yesterday I attended a protest of the Rittenhouse verdict at the US Federal Courthouse in Milwaukee. A young Black woman from Kenosha who spoke summed it up pretty well: “We know they don’t care about Black lives. Well, if you’re white and you support us, they don’t care about your life either!”
Rittenhouse’s case has some parallels, although not exactly, with that of George Zimmerman, the vigilante “neighborhood watchman” who in February 2012 in Florida stalked and murdered Trayvon Martin, a young Black man. Zimmerman successfully invoked Florida’s reactionary “Stand Your Ground” law and is walking free today.
The Militant, a self-described socialist newspaper, had some useful and true things to say about that case at the time (“Vigilantism: Enemy of Working Class,” The Militant, August 12, 2013):
“…Vigilantism has a long and deep history in the U.S. and has always been directed against the interests of working people. It has served as a tool of ruling-class terror to keep the oppressed and exploited ‘in-line,’ divided and fearful. Targets have included African-Americans and all defenders of Black rights, other victims of discrimination from Mexicans and Chinese to Catholics, Jews and Mormons; as well as militant workers and their small farmer allies, unionists, communists and other targets of the propertied rulers.
“Frontier ‘justice’ and lynchings date back centuries. Countless Hollywood movies feature vigilantes in the West riding into town, hunting down and killing rustlers, Native Americans and others, then riding off into the sunset.
“Among the registered gains of the revolutionary U.S. Civil War that overthrew the slavocracy was passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. These amendments outlawed slavery, made it the law of the land that all men could vote, and granted power to the federal government to take action against Ku Klux Klanners and other vigilante thugs who employed lynchings and mob violence against the social progress of Radical Reconstruction. Anti-vigilante laws were adopted in many areas of the country. The abolitionists and their allies who dominated the Congress sent federal troops to the South to defend freed Blacks and their allies.
“But with the 1877 withdrawal of federal troops from the South and other counterrevolutionary moves by the Northern rulers, the reactionary forces were given free rein and were ultimately successful in dealing the greatest blows ever inflicted on the working class in the U.S., a body blow that included the imposition of Jim Crow segregation.
“Through a series of Supreme Court decisions, the rulers overturned the newly adopted constitutional protections against mob rule and vigilante lynchings. The black-robed agents of the bosses declared protection of basic rights was a matter for the states, and Blacks and other workers couldn’t use federal constitutional protections to defend themselves.
“In 1873 some 150 heavily armed vigilantes attacked and murdered an equal number of out-gunned African-Americans, many members of the city’s militia, who were defending the county courthouse in Colfax, La. The U.S. Attorney in New Orleans indicted nearly 100 of the attackers under the enforcement provisions of the 14th Amendment, affording equal protection of the laws to all. When the case reached the Supreme Court, the justices unanimously overturned the convictions in 1876, ruling the amendment only applied to actions carried out by state governments. This notorious ruling — still the law of the land — was a milestone blow to the fight against vigilantism and racist violence.
“The need to push back and defend against all forms of vigilante ‘justice’ is not a thing of the past. In fact, it will become a bigger question in the future when a sharpening class struggle leads the capitalist rulers to employ their armed state power — supplemented by deputized vigilantes and ‘extralegal’ goons — against fighting workers and their organizations…”
It’s truly unfortunate that The Militant has retreated from this correct world-view and has lately, under some convoluted interpretation of “Due Process” has taken up the cause, not only of Kyle Rittenhouse but Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd last year. They seem motivated more by a desire to “Own the Libs” and differentiate themselves from the “Petty-Bourgeois Left” than any search for clarity on these complex issues.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
You have to put your prejudices aside when evaluating this case. Ignoring the evidence because it goes against your ideology is a travesty of justice.