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St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial: A teenage vigilante has quite literally gotten away with murder

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial: A teenage vigilante has quite literally gotten away with murder

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Kenosha Protest Shootings

Kyle Rittenhouse enters the courtroom to hear the verdicts in his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Friday. Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges. 

The justice system has performed its job in the murder trial of teenager Kyle Rittenhouse, but in no way can this verdict be deemed to have served the cause of justice. Rittenhouse was the beneficiary of a Kenosha, Wisconsin, judge who did everything in his power to ensure Rittenhouse walked free despite clear evidence that the teen had inserted himself into a dangerous situation, goaded confrontation with Black Lives Matter protesters and recklessly endangered others with an assault rifle the boy never should have had.

To the jury’s credit, it deliberated for three days before issuing not-guilty verdicts on all five felony counts. The length of their deliberations suggested jury members at least weighed the considerable evidence pointing to Rittenhouse’s guilt in the assault-rifle killings of two men and severe wounding of a third. The video evidence was incontrovertible that Rittenhouse recklessly inserted himself into a violent protest situation while brandishing a fully loaded AR-15 rifle.

The vigilante community across America must be jubilant with the knowledge that it’s possible to go out hunting for violent protesters, provoking confrontation, and then successfully claiming self-defense to avoid prison time for murder.

The weapons possession part of this case alone should have yielded a quick-and-easy guilty verdict since Rittenhouse was 17 at the time and not permitted under Wisconsin law to possess a gun. Rittenhouse violated a curfew in order to join other vigilantes as rioters attacked and burned other businesses in Kenosha. But Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a misdemeanor weapons possession charge before the jury could hear it. He also dismissed a non-criminal count for violating the curfew.

Schroeder hamstrung the prosecution at every turn. He banned use of the word “victims” to describe the people Rittenhouse shot but allowed defense lawyers to refer to them as rioters and arsonists. Bad guys who deserved what they got, in other words. At one point during the trial, Schroeder’s cellphone rang. His audible ringtone was a portion of “God Bless the U.S.A.,” whose command to “stand up!” has gained particular popularity among conservatives in response to Black athletes kneeling in protest of racism.

Schroeder also blocked the prosecution from showing photos of an unrepentant Rittenhouse celebrating and posing in a bar after the killings with members of the Proud Boys, a group linked to white supremacy.

Even if the jury believed Rittenhouse shot in self-defense, it’s unfathomable how jurors could conclude he had not recklessly endangered others, the topic of two counts against him. There was ample video available with Rittenhouse stating openly that he thought his “job” was to run toward danger. No, his job as a 17-year-old was to obey the curfew, stay at home, and leave his assault rifle locked up and unloaded until he was old enough to carry it responsibly.

Teenage vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse quite literally has gotten away with murder.

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