A Clear Case of Self-Defense: The Trial of Kyle Rittenhouse

In an August 28, 2020 blog, Suicide by Cop and Victim-Precipitated Homicide, I wrote the following, “In Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 25, a teenager from Illinois was attacked by several men who had assembled in Kenosha either to protest or riot the shooting of Jacob Blake (who survived his injuries). The teenager was armed and shot three of them. The following account is drawn from multiple news sources. Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, a registered sex offender for a sex crime involving a minor, chased the teenager and threw something at him. Rosenbaum was shot multiple times and died from his wounds. Anthony Huber, 26, who had a criminal history that included charges of battery and domestic abuse, chased down the teenager and was beating the teenager with a skateboard while the teenager was on the ground. Huber was fatally shot in the abdomen. Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, a member of the People’s Revolution Movement of Milwaukee, who also has a criminal record, was chasing the teenager alongside Huber. Grosskreutz was armed with a pistol, which is clearly visible in video and images. Grosskreutz was shot in the upper arm and survived. He reportedly regrets not killing the teenager. The two dead men are being portrayed as martyrs. Did they think of themselves as heroes in a situation of their own making? Were these redemptive acts?”

Because the teenager was a minor I avoided using his name in the blog (he has now reached the age of majority). The state of Wisconsin did not treat Rittenhouse as a minor. On August 26, Kyle Rittenhouse was charged as an adult with five felonies and a misdemeanor. Among the more serious charges, the state accused Rittenhouse of first-degree reckless homicide against Joseph Rosenbaum, punishable by imprisonment of up to 65 years, first-degree intentional homicide against Anthony Huber, punishable by a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole, and attempted first-degree intentional homicide against Gaige Grosskreutz, punishable by imprisonment of up to 65 years. The 2020 presidential campaign season was soon full throttle and civil unrest continued, so I moved on to other stories.

Rittenhouse is now on trial, the trial is live-streamed, so it’s time to return to the matter. I have been watching the trial. As a teacher of criminal justice process, I feel obligated. But I am also very interested in this case for its ramifications. Will the jury deny Rittenhouse his human right to defend himself against death and injury? The facts presented at trial provide no reason for me to change the description of events I provided more than a year ago. That description was based on extensive photographic and video evidence. In the present blog, I recount the chain of events once more and renew my opposition to state action in this matter. I am convinced that this is an open-and-shut case of self defense. Rittenhouse should be on trial. I also suggest a motive behind this and other high profile prosecutions against individuals who defend themselves against belligerents.

The moment when the witness admits that Rittenhouse didn’t shoot him in the arm that was holding the gun until the witness pointed the gun at Rittenhouse.

The image above captures the moment witness and gunshot survivor Gaige Grosskreutz admitted under cross-examination by defense attorney Corey Chirafisi that Rittenhouse didn’t shoot him in the arm that was holding the gun until the Grosskreutz pointed the gun at Rittenhouse. That’s a prosecutor literally facepalming in the moment. The jury is just off to his right side. The prosecution then called Kenosha Police Department Detective Ben Antaramian to the stand. Here’s the exchange that led to Antaramian confirming that the shootings on Sheridan Road only occurred when Rittenhouse was attacked.

Chirafisi: You saw other people that were kind of—it wasn’t a two or three-person chase, there were multiple people kind of around Mr. Rittenhouse, some of them brandishing weapons, correct?

Antaramian: There were people—and there were people that were armed, absolutely.

Chirafisi: And those people who didn’t attack him—he didn’t fire at them, did he?

Antaramian: Correct.

Chirafisi: The only people that he fired at were people that had either kicked him, hit him with something, or pulled a gun on him when he’s running down Sheridan Road, right?

Antaramian: I would agree with that statement.

Chirafisi: And after he—initially, when he sees Gaige Grosskreutz, you’d agree when Mr. Grosskreutz’s hands are up, he doesn’t fire?

Antaramian: Correct.

Chirafisi: There is a person—to Mr. Grosskreutz’s—it would be his left—with a metal pipe. Do you remember that?

Antaramian: I don’t—earlier, you called it a wooden club—I don’t know that I’ve ever seen wooden, or—off, fairly off in the distance there’s a metal pipe, yes.

Chirafisi: So people who are armed, he doesn’t fire at any of those people, does he?

Antaramian: Correct.

Chirafisi: After the shooting, I counted—and I don’t, I’m not asking you for the specific number—but there’s multiple shots fired after Mr. Rittenhouse fires his last shout, right?

Antaramian: Correct.

Chirafisi: I counted ten, but there’s multiple, right?

Antaramian: Agreed.

Chirafisi: He never turns and fires in that direction, does he?

Antaramian: No.

Rittenhouse having exercised his right to self defense against Joseph Rosenbaum who had attacked him unprovoked in a parking lot. A mob of belligerents then chased Kyle Rittenhouse down a Kenosha, Wisconsin street. Rittenhouse was attempting to reach the police to turn himself in when the mob reached him and physically assaulted him. One man kicked Rittenhouse after Rittenhouse had fallen to the ground. Rittenhouse fired at him twice but missed both times (there is a felony charge concerning this incident). Another man, Anthony Huber, struck Rittenhouse with a skateboard while Rittenhouse was still on the ground. Rittenhouse fired once, striking Huber in the chest, killing him. Another man, Gaige Grosskreutz, pointed a handgun at Rittenhouse, and Rittenhouse, still on the ground, shot him once in the right arm, the arm attached to the firearm he was pointing at Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse was seconds away from possibly being fatally shot.

At no point was Rittenhouse an aggressor. We need to say this loudly: Rittenhouse was a victim. He was physically attacked by Rosenbaum, an unidentified assailant, Huber, and Grosskreutz. Rittenhouse was a victim of multiple assaults. In repelling his attackers, he lawfully exercised his right to use lethal force in self defense. His use of lethal force was proportional. The actions of these three men left Rittenhouse no choice but to take defensive action. The state is not only wrong but cruel for putting Kyle Rittenhouse through this. This young man is being forced to relive the trauma of having to defend himself against belligerents, some who whom were armed, all of whom represented a danger to life or limb, They intended to do him grave harm. His only purpose tat day was to defend persons and property as violent mobs where destroying the city. Rittenhouse justifiably defended himself expertly and judiciously. Given the conditions, it is frankly astonishing that that this young men, seventeen years old, had the presence of mind to so deftly execute the standards of proportional response. The video is graphic but a clinic in the rules of armed self-defense.

If the facts known from the beginning were not enough to end this travesty of justice, then yesterdays events should be. But the state had more than enough evidence to discontinue this case well before trial. Why didn’t they? They did not do so, it seems to me, because they are more concerned with appeasing the mob. They worried about more violence and property destruction in Kenosha and elsewhere, so they opted to drag an individual who followed the law through an arduous trial for the sake of the lawless. Politics is also an unavoidable influence in the case. In states across the country during the summer and fall of 2020, authorities sided with the violent mob over against the interests of law-abiding citizens. The media fueled the flames of destruction and violence while denying the character of the riots. They concealed from the public the truth that the reason for the uprising—systemic racism in the conduct of law enforcement—is a myth repeatedly debunked by science for decades. White they dwelled on Rittenhouse’s race, they usually never reported the race of his victims. For the record, Rittenhouse and his assailants are white males. The defamation of Kyle Rittenhouse was even perpetrated by the occupant of highest political office in the United States.

This tweet not only defames Rittenhouse, but mislead the public about President Donald Trump’s explicit and repeated disavowals of white supremacy.

We have video of a man claiming to be George Floyd’s nephew, Cortez Rice, reporting that he has people on the inside in Kenosha taking pictures of the jury in order to make public their identities of they do not convict (see above). Rice is saying, “We need the same results….” presumably referring to the manner in which the jurors in the Derek Chauvin trial were intimidated. (I cover that case and verdict here: The Derek Chauvin Show Trial; The FAR Podcast: The Derek Chauvin Verdict.) We also see intimidation being used in front of what the mob think is the residence of the judge who disallowed cameras in the Daunte Wright trial. For those if you who do not know, on April 11, 2021, Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter shot Duante Wright during a traffic stop and attempted arrest for an outstanding warrants. I discuss that case here: An Avoidable Tragedy: The Accidental Shooting of Duante Wright and Another Sacrifice Upon the Altar of Antiracism. The judge in the Rittenhouse trial today informed the court that a deputy observed someone taking video of the jury as they arrived. The deputy made the person delete the video. “I’ve been assured the officers had the video that was taken deleted. New measures are being taken to make sure that does not reoccur,” the judge told the jury when they arrived in the courtroom. This is menacing, attempting to intimidate judge and jury into making decisions based not on law and reason and evidence but on fear of reprisal.

The rule of law is being flouted for political-ideological reasons, most disturbingly around issues of race. We need to be clear about this. Rittenhouse is on trial because he is a white man, one likely holding conservative views, who lawfully defended himself against a lawless mob operating with motives approved by the Party. The Guardian described Rittenhouse a “white armed extremist.” This is a pattern. We all saw what authorities in St Louis did to Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a couple who defended their property against an armed mob of three hundred that broke and entered private property, signs announcing this clearly posted. Such were the forces arrayed against them that they pled guilty to misdemeanors and had to forfeit their guns. Meanwhile, we are shamed for criticizing mob violence when it is the right color or for noting the extraordinarily high rates of crime and violence in black-majority neighborhoods.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

One thought on “A Clear Case of Self-Defense: The Trial of Kyle Rittenhouse”

  1. I suspect the Mayor, DA and perhaps the Governor wanted to blame an outside agitator for the killings. Otherwise they would have to take the blame for not going after rioters, or for not calling out the National Guard.
    When the civil authorities aren’t doing their job, desperate oddballs like Rosenbaum (I’m being charitable) can show up and escalate things.

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