On Nov. 19, after a four-day jury deliberation, 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on accounts of first-degree homicide and other charges. The jury had controversially accepted that Rittenhouse had acted reasonably to defend himself during his interactions.
Rittenhouse had previously shot two men, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounded another, Gaige Grosskreutz, in Wisconsin during the James Blake shooting protests in Kenosha in August 2020. Rittenhouse turned himself in soon after in his hometown of Antioch, Illinois being labeled a “fugitive from justice” since it was alleged that he “fled the state of Wisconsin with intent to avoid prosecution for the offense.”
The case has raised questions over vigilantism, gun rights and racism in America which caused many to debate over the results of the verdict.
Victoria Graham, a freshman studying criminal justice and sociology at Mercer with the intent to become a homicide detective, thought the trial was unjust and a result of white privilege.
“It makes me feel very angry to know that justice, once again, is not being rightfully served,” Graham said. “This is highly unconstitutional and he deserved to be charged and be put in jail for his wrongdoings.”
Graham felt as though Rittenhouse forced himself to cry during the trial in an effort to win sympathy from the jury throughout the trial. Graham also believes that Huber himself was acting in self-defense as he likely saw Rittenhouse had already fired a weapon aimed at hurting people.
Graham was not the only person upset with the results of the trial. Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyer R. Gary Spencer told The Cluster he was bothered by the verdict as well.
“What really bothers me is this whole notion that this kid, who happens to be white, is in another state, and he comes over and takes it upon himself to come back and walk the street with, what was it, some sort of AR 15? And somehow that's okay?" Spencer said. "Are we so pro-gun now that you can do that? You can just show up, not even protecting your property? It's not even your community.”
Spencer had not been closely following the trial and was not as aware of the evidence presented, but wasn’t all too surprised by the verdict as he had seen the community struggle with similar results in other previous cases.
“The judge’s rulings seem to be pro-defense in a way that I have not seen, certainly in my career," he said. "But nobody was stunned by that verdict. It just seemed as though that was the verdict, that the judge certainly seemed to have a preference as to where it was going to go.”
Both Graham and Spencer believe that the Black community wants a just system throughout the nation and wants America to recognize the racial bias within the criminal justice system.
Manuel Flores, a junior studying Latin and criminal justice at Mercer with the intent to go to law school, saw the verdict as an expected outcome.
“I feel it was expected because of the poor way the prosecution handled the case,” Flores said. “The prosecution nearly caused a mistrial earlier this week and conducted himself poorly over the rest of the week.”
Flores mainly drew points towards gun laws recognized during the trial such as when the prosecution asked Rittenhouse if he knew what a .223 caliber bullet is capable of, despite most people not knowing exactly how much damage bullet calibers can do.
“I have seen and heard people say that if a person doesn't know what the effects of certain calibers are, then they can't buy a firearm, even though there is no requirement for such knowledge,” Flores said.
Flores also wants most people seeing the verdict to stop being “coach lawyers” and to look more closely at the state laws in Wisconsin as well before making a final decision about the trial.
However, some students also agreed with the verdict delivered by the jury. Duncan Noel, an electrical engineering junior, thought the verdict was correct.
“Was it a dumb decision on his part to go to a protest with a rifle? Yes. But was he acting in self-defense? Also yes,” Noel claimed. “Even by the low-quality videos, it was clear that this was an act of self-defense.”
Spencer also brought up a certain instance in the trial that also agreed with Noel’s claim.
“I saw that the first witness the state called regarding the case was the person who got shot who admitted to pointing a gun at Mr. Rittenhouse,” Spencer said. “Well, obviously, that was gonna be self-defense.”
Noel also said the prosecution's gross mishandling of a firearm and firearm safety really stood out to him.
“Pointing a possibly loaded firearm in a courtroom with their finger on the trigger is a gross endangerment to human life,” Noel said.
As the case came to a close, President Joe Biden stood by the decision made by the jury and former President Donald Trump congratulated Rittenhouse on the verdict. Protests against the verdict soon began late Friday night in cities across the country, with many protesters planning to continue protesting on Saturday.