Kyle Rittenhouse arrives for jury selection at the Kenosha County Courthouse as jury selection in the trial begins on Nov. 1 in Kenosha, Wisc. The jury on Friday acquitted Rittenhouse of all charges against him, finding the teenage gunman acted in self-defense when he fatally shot two men and wounded a third. Sean Krajacic-Pool/Getty Images/TNS

KENOSHA, Wis. — A Kenosha County jury on Friday acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges against him, finding the teenage gunman acted in self-defense when he fatally shot two men and wounded a third.

Rittenhouse, 18, began to sob as each of the five acquittals was read, as the families of the men he killed wept just a few feet away. Chanting from the crowd outside could be heard inside the courtroom, though their words could not be discerned by even those closest to the windows.

“The jury has represented our community in this trial and has spoken,” Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger said.

Rittenhouse and his relatives left the courthouse immediately after the verdict with a law enforcement escort. The families of the men he killed — Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber — also left under the protection of local deputies.

“Today’s verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son,” Huber’s parents, John Huber and Karen Bloom, said in a statement. “It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street. We hope that decent people will join us in forcefully rejecting that message and demanding more of our laws, our officials, and our justice system.”

Rittenhouse fatally shot Rosenbaum and Huber and injured Gaige Grosskreutz while ostensibly guarding a used car lot with an AR-15-style rifle in downtown Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020. All four men were in the southeast Wisconsin town amid social unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer.

The verdict will add, perhaps, the final chapter to a criminal case that deeply divided a country already polarized on issues such as gun rights and racial equity. The intense polarization, however, will remain.

As word of the imminent verdict filtered out to the courthouse steps, which have served all week as a forum for demonstrators, a huge media scrum formed around Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, and local activists.

With no loudspeakers to broadcast the proceedings inside, the crowd relied on cellphones to follow the verdicts. After the final “not guilty” was read, pro-Rittenhouse demonstrators erupted in cheers.

“Innocent!” shouted Brandon Lesco, a California man who hoisted a homemade “Free Kyle” sign above his head.

Across the steps, Justin Blake, who like other activists believed Rittenhouse received deference that no Black defendant would get, condemned the verdict.

“(Jacob Blake) was shot seven times in the back in front of his children and paralyzed,” he said. “Now we have another shooting in this town and he’s getting off today. ... This is a very racist city. It’s been shown over and over.”

As the arguments raged on the steps, Huber’s girlfriend Hannah Gittings and his great-aunt Susan Hughes slowly made their way down a ramp surrounded by a gantlet of deputies and media. They were escorted to the parking lot and drove away.

Within minutes of the outcome, gun rights organizations sent emails holding the verdict up as an endorsement of the Second Amendment. The groups have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the teen’s defense since his arrest.

“The American justice system worked as designed, and a young man who has been lambasted, defamed and threatened by the media and the anti-gun Left was declared innocent of all the charges against him,” said Dudley Brown, the executive director for the National Foundation for Gun Rights.

Anti-violence groups, for their part, decried the verdict as an example of how white men with guns are treated differently from others.

“Kyle Rittenhouse’s intrusion upon the community of Kenosha exemplifies our country’s shameful acceptance of the expendability of Black lives and the lives of those who stand up for us,” said Janel Cubbage, director of Strategic Partnerships and Equity at the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. “As law enforcement arrived on scene, they initially did not approach Rittenhouse — an example of how the race of the person who is holding a gun largely influences the perception of whether the gun is seen as a threatening weapon or simply an adornment. Men have long used guns to murder, intimidate and stoke fear in an attempt to maintain social control and uphold oppressive structures.”

The Kenosha County jury deliberated for more than 25 hours over four days before reaching a decision. The predominantly white panel included seven women and five men, who listened to eight days of testimony over two weeks.

Despite the public fervor surrounding the case, the trial focused on a straightforward self-defense argument in which jurors were asked to decide whether Rittenhouse believed his life to be in danger when he fatally shot Rosenbaum and Huber and injured Grosskreutz. If the answer was “yes,” then they had to decide whether the belief was reasonable.

Though the judge gave jurors instructions to put aside political tensions surrounding the case, several members indicated during the selection process that they worried a verdict would only stoke anger. Indeed, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers activated 500 National Guard members and sent them to Kenosha in anticipation of the trial’s conclusion. Several law enforcement agencies also are on heightened alert, including the Chicago Police Department, which recently canceled days off as the officer’s union said it was bracing for the trial’s conclusion.

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