After more than 20 hours of deliberation, a jury in Kenosha, Wisconsin found 18-year old Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty of murder on Friday, putting an end to the legal battles that have raged since the teenager shot three men in self-defense during the violent protests and riots in Kenosha last August.
Rittenhouse was facing five total counts ranging from first degree murder to reckless endangerment, but the jury was allowed to consider lesser charges in the shooting of Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber, and Gaige Grosskreutz. It turns out those lesser charges didn’t matter, as the jurors unanimously concluded that prosecutors had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the teenager was acting in self-defense.
What took so long? None of the jurors have publicly spoken yet, but the most obvious answer is that they wanted to take their time and consider all of the evidence before they reached their conclusion. After all, we’re talking about the deaths of two people here, the injuring of another, and the potential to put an 18-year old behind bars for the rest of his life if they concluded he wasn’t acting in self-defense. Those of us watching the trial online may have made up our minds long ago, but we don’t have any responsibility in determining Rittenhouse’s fate. Personally, while I’m very curious as to why it took until today to reach a unanimous decision, I believe the jurors made the right call.
Rittenhouse’s defense had asked for a mistrial on separate occasions during the trial based on the prosecution’s use of drone footage that it provided to the defense in a cropped and lower-resolution version, as well as a still image from that footage that the defense says was improperly used as forensic evidence. Judge Bruce Schroeder hadn’t issued a ruling on those motions, and the jury’s acquittal makes those motions a moot point.
While the jury trial has concluded, the debate isn’t over in the court of public opinion. Of course, as law professor and blogger William Jacobson pointed out a few days ago, the court of public opinion has been unduly influenced by a media more intent on sowing chaos than in covering the facts.
From the start, the media misrepresented the Blake case and ensuing riots. They portrayed Blake as an unarmed man who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, subjected to police brutality due to racism.
The truth was far different.
After an intensive investigation, prosecutors declared Blake’s shooting a justifiable use of force. The federal Justice Department reached the same conclusion. Contrary to media portraits, Blake was armed with a knife and was shot when he turned in a slashing motion at a policeman within arm’s reach.
While it wouldn’t be fair to say the media coverage caused the Kenosha riots, the press downplayed the mayhem and ramped up the hysteria. As with the Black Lives Matter riots in Minneapolis and beyond, the mainstream media incessantly focused away from the violence, despite almost 20 related deaths and more than $1 billion in damage.
And when it came to Rittenhouse and the shooting of three protesters, the media narrative kicked into overdrive. He was labeled a “white supremacist” and a “domestic terrorist”, a “militia member” and a “vigilante”. From the moment that Kyle Rittenhouse’s name became known, the media was intent to make him wear a black hat. And even as the state’s own witnesses cast doubt on the prosecution’s narrative of the night of August 25th, 2020, the media persisted.
With trial evidence inconsistent with the news’ narrative, there could have been a major media mea culpa. Instead, headlines and framing continue that pre-trial narrative, even if inconvenient facts appear deep down in the articles. As the editors who run these stories and draft the headlines know, many if not most people don’t get far beyond the headlines and opening paragraphs.
Thus, NBC News breathlessly headlines a news report about the prosecution’s forensic pathologist testifying that Rosenbaum was in a “horizontal” position, “suggesting the victim wasn’t a threat when he was gunned down.” It’s not until the bottom of the article that NBC acknowledges that same expert testified the wound positioning was consistent with Rosenbaum diving towards Rittenhouse. Left out of the story was his testimony that gunpowder residue was consistent with Rosenbaum grabbing the muzzle of the gun when he was shot, just as Rittenhouse and witnesses said.
The headline highlight of Grosskreutz’s testimony according to a Daily Beast report was that he “tried to surrender” to Rittenhouse. Similar misleading narratives frame the case at the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today and elsewhere. Reading only these publications, it would be reasonable to believe the original story of Rittenhouse as a shooter run amok, despite the trial testimony to the contrary.
From the inception of the Blake shooting, to the riots and now to the Rittenhouse trial, media malpractice has framed a Kenosha narrative completely divorced from reality.
Judge Schroeder had warned prosecutors of a “day of reckoning” if the jury returned a guilty verdict based on the drone footage, and Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger may actually be breathing a sigh of relief this afternoon. The members of the news media that sought to convict Kyle Rittenhouse in the public eye, on the other hand, should be ashamed of their performance throughout this entire process. Unfortunately, we all know that the same pundits and anchors who vilified Rittenhouse are now going to expand their acrimony to include the entire justice system; fueling the anger and outrage that they rely on to generate viewers and readers.