KENOSHA, Wisc. — The murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse has drawn renewed attention to events that unfolded here after cop Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake Jr. last year. The trial and debate surrounding it underscore the stakes for working people in opposing the violent actions carried out by antifa anarchists, a layer of Black Lives Matter leaders and other rioters.
Blake Jr., a young Black man, was left partially paralyzed after the Aug. 23, 2020, shooting, which sparked outrage among working people in the area. Several hundred marched from the shooting site to the Kenosha County Courthouse that day, and hundreds more rallied the following day to protest police abuse.
Both nights anarchists and others seized on the protests to burn down small businesses in working-class and Black neighborhoods and carry out other destruction. Four blocks in Kenosha’s Uptown district were virtually leveled.
This correspondent joined protests and attended a news conference Aug. 25 organized by Blake’s parents calling for prosecution of the cop who shot their son. His mother spoke, saying she supported continued protests, but opposed looting and destruction. I met workers there who had marched during the previous days, but left because the “craziness” started. As dusk approached, we saw people gathering who clearly intended to continue the mayhem, some openly carrying knives or guns.
That night Rittenhouse, then 17 and an aspiring cop, was among dozens of armed people who volunteered to defend local businesses from further attack. Though he lives in Illinois, he has family in Kenosha and was working there that day as a lifeguard. He spent the day helping clean up graffiti left from rioting the night before. In the evening he brought his gun and his first-aid kit and went to a business he was asked to help defend. As rioters flooded the area, he was attacked. Rittenhouse then shot and killed two people associated with the violence and wounded a third.
He faces a battery of charges, including reckless, intentional, and attempted homicide. Ironically, he’s being charged as an adult — which means he could face life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge. He was also charged with carrying a weapon while underage, which the judge dismissed.
Rittenhouse says he acted in self-defense. Much of the evidence presented in the trial, including by the prosecution itself, bolsters his argument. In the midst of rioting and destruction, he was chased. Witnesses testified that Joseph Rosenbaum, the first of those Rittenhouse shot, had threatened to kill Rittenhouse if he caught him alone. Video and eyewitnesses confirm Rosenbaum chased the teen, lunged toward him, and was trying to grab the gun away when Rittenhouse fired at him.
Anthony Huber was one of several people, some armed, who chased Rittenhouse. One of them delivered a flying kick to Rittenhouse, who fired but missed. Then video introduced at the trial shows Huber hitting Rittenhouse on the head and neck with his skateboard after the teen fell to the ground. Rittenhouse shot Huber in the chest, killing him. Gaige Grosskreutz testified he ran toward Rittenhouse, who was still on the pavement. Grosskreutz admitted Rittenhouse shot him in the arm only after he pointed his own Glock handgun at the teen from just a few feet away.
The police did nothing to stop Rittenhouse, the rioters or the fight. They even drove right past Rittenhouse when he walked toward them, with his rifle and hands in the air, after the shooting.
Presumption of innocence
Much of the “left” argues that it will be a great injustice if Rittenhouse is acquitted. They insist he’s a “white supremacist,” though there’s no evidence that’s true and it’s not an issue in the trial. “Rittenhouse was driven by undoubtedly racist motivations to wield a gun against demonstrators taking part in the movement for Black lives,” says a Nov. 11 article on the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s website. “There is no question that Kyle Rittenhouse is guilty.”
But facts do matter, for the working class and our political rights. No one should be convicted without a trial and due process. And, as the liberal Washington Post put it, the prosecution in this case faces a lot of “inconvenient facts.” The working class should jealously guard the right to presumption of innocence and constitutional rights, no matter who the defendant is. In this case — in contrast to the Minneapolis trial of cop Derek Chauvin earlier this year — the judge has mostly upheld those rights.
As the prosecution’s case tottered, the judge has come under attack by the middle-class left. He’s been called a “secret Trumpist” and a “racist.”
The case went to the jury Nov. 15.