WASHINGTON, Nov 21 — Kyle Rittenhouse, the American teen acquitted after fatally shooting two men during protests and riots against police brutality last year, said self-defence is “not illegal” as the verdict reverberated across the United States.
On Friday, a jury found the 18-year-old not guilty of reckless and intentional homicide and other charges stemming from the August 2020 shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The ruling sparked sporadic protests across the country late Friday — from New York to Portland, Oregon — but also drew praise from Rittenhouse supporters at the courthouse and gun rights advocates, highlighting how divisive the case was.
In comments broadcast by Fox News Saturday, the teen — seen smiling as he rides in a car after the verdict — said he was relieved that his “rough journey” had come to an end.
“The jury reached the correct verdict — self-defence is not illegal,” Rittenhouse said, ahead of a full interview with Fox to be shown Monday evening and a subsequent documentary scheduled to air in December.
“I’m glad that everything went well… We made it through the hard part.”
Rittenhouse’s family later said via a spokesman that they had been moved to an undisclosed location.
“They are doing well right now, they’re in an undisclosed location, and they’re a family and everybody’s just ecstatic,” spokesman David Hancock told CBS.
Rittenhouse’s case drew national attention, in part because it arose from the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that swept the country last year and featured a controversial mix of guns, racial tensions and vigilantism.
The teen testified during the two-week trial that he shot dead two men and wounded another with his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in self-defence after being attacked during a night of unrest in Kenosha.
Rittenhouse, who lived in neighbouring Illinois, claimed he went to Kenosha to protect businesses from looters and act as a medic.
Prosecutors countered by arguing the then 17-year-old Rittenhouse “provoked” the events on a chaotic night sparked when a white policeman shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back several times during an arrest, leaving him paralysed.
But the jury sided with Rittenhouse.
For John Huber, father of one of the men killed in Kenosha, the “shock” had not dissipated when he appeared on CNN yesterday morning.
“We still can’t believe it,” Huber said. “He should have got about 40 years in prison. That was our expectation.”
“That guy gets to run free and he’s now a hero. And this is my son right here. This is Anthony,” Huber said, holding up a small urn and a photo of his son.
“There’s no justice right now for our family and there’s no closure.”
The reaction to the verdict reflected the national divide over the right to bear firearms in America — and where the line should be drawn on that constitutionally protected right.
President Joe Biden warned against violence following the verdict and appealed for calm.
“While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken,” Biden said in a statement.
“I urge everyone to express their views peacefully, consistent with the rule of law.”
In an editorial, the Wisconsin State Journal called the verdict “disappointing” and said it was “sure to embolden militant people who seek to take the law into their own hands.”
“But further violence in response to the verdict won’t help anyone.”
Meanwhile, the Gun Owners of America cheered Rittenhouse as a “warrior for gun owners and self defense rights” and said it would be “awarding him” with an AR-15 like the one he used that night in Kenosha.
Rittenhouse — who had faced five charges in total — earned praise from some Republican lawmakers and former president Donald Trump.
The most serious charge — intentional homicide — carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
The jury deliberated for a total of 26 hours over four days before delivering a unanimous verdict of not guilty on all counts.
Yesterday, several hundred people marched in downtown Chicago protesting Rittenhouse’s acquittal, led by veteran US civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson, local media reported.
“We have the right, the constitutional right, to march,” Jackson was quoted as saying by the Chicago Sun Times.
“He has the constitutional right to object. He does not have the right to kill us.”
Jackson added that he and his supporters will hold another march today in Kenosha, according to the Sun Times. — AFP