It was a long three weeks of trial and an even longer three days waiting for a jury to return its decision in the People of Wisconsin v Kyle Rittenhouse. On Friday afternoon, the waiting was over.
The panel unanimously agreed that the 18-year-old is not guilty of murder in the shooting deaths of two men and serious injury of a third victim during protests last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Looking at Kyle Rittenhouse, with his baby-faced cheeks, dressed in his Sunday best in court every day, it would be easy to imagine him in his first semester of community college. Maybe the captain of the baseball team.
It’s an open question, whether Rittenhouse will ever live such a life, or if it’s been lost in the shadows of the favorable verdict so generously awarded by jurors who swore to listen to the evidence and follow the law. Theirs was unenviable job.
The divisive nature of our country’s debate over gun laws will not be lessened by the lack of consequences this young man will face as a result of his decision to pull the trigger on the deadliest of deadly weapons.
Those who believe his actions were justified will point to his acquittal as proof that it is legally permissible to walk the streets with assault-style weapons draped across their bodies and fire if a serious threat arises. People worried that allowing Rittenhouse to go free will make the streets more dangerous are more worried tonight.
For the families of the victims, the courtroom battle and acquittal does not look or feel like justice. Surely the taking of human life–death by the crack of close- range gunfire caught on video–begs for recompense, the families must believe. Is serious reflection on how this tragedy occurred and the next one may be avoided too much to hope for?
And what lies ahead for Kyle Rittenhouse?
During the second day of jury deliberations, Congressman Matt Gaetz extended an invitation for an internship to the defendant. While the congressman faces accusations that Rittenhouse would be advised to avoid, the offer illustrates how people in certain political camps would like to use the teenager for their own gain.
Rittenhouse’s lawyers may have convinced a jury of his innocence according to standards set by Wisconsin law, but the country will judge him on how he conducts himself tomorrow and the days that follow his exit from the courtroom. The teenager who took two lives may best prove his innocence and intentions by laying down the weapons and becoming a man he can be proud of when he looks into the mirror.
He could start by saying he’s sorry.