Wisconsin jury finds Rittenhouse not guilty on all counts

Kyle Rittenhouse shot three demonstrators, killing two of them, during a night of unrest that erupted in Kenosha after a police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back while police attempted to arrest him in August 2020. Rittenhouse, from Antioch, Illinois, was 17 at the time of the shooting and armed with an assault rifle. (Photo by Mark Hertzberg-Pool/Getty Images)

 

Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teenager who shot three people, killing two of them, during Black Lives Matter protests in downtown Kenosha, was found not guilty of all the charges against him on Friday.

The Kenosha County jury in the Rittenhouse murder trial found that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injured Gaige Grosskreutz after travelling to Kenosha from Illinois and posting himself at a used car lot, which he said he was defending from vandalism, with an AR-15-style rifle on Aug. 25, 2020.

Rosenbaum, Huber and Grosskreutz were in Kenosha along with hundreds of demonstrators during days of protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer.

The jury deliberated for four days, after hearing eight days of testimony, before reaching its decision Friday morning. Jurors were instructed by the judge to set aside the social and political upheaval surrounding the case and consider only whether Rittenhouse believed his life was in danger when he shot the three men.

Gov. Tony Evers activated the National Guard to be ready to help the city in the event of unrest after the jury announced its verdict.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is running for U.S. Senate, issued a statement from his campaign account immediately after the verdict, saying, “Over the last few weeks, many dreaded the outcome we just witnessed. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is what we should expect from our judicial system, but that standard is not always applied equally. We have seen so many black and brown youth killed, only to be put on trial posthumously, while the innocence of Kyle Rittenhouse was virtually demanded by the judge.”

“Despite Kyle Rittenhouse’s conscious decision to take the lives of two people protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake by police, he was not held responsible for his actions, something that is not surprising,” Shaadie Ali, interim executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “But Kyle Rittenhouse isn’t the only one responsible for the deaths that night. The events in Kenosha stem from the deep roots of white supremacy in our society’s institutions. They underscore that the police do not protect communities of color in the same way they do white people.”

Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s Movement Politics Director JoAnna Bautch called the verdict a “travesty.”

“Kyle Rittenhouse crossed state lines to come to Wisconsin with the intent to infiltrate a peaceful protest organized by leaders and residents in Kenosha calling for racial justice. He did not come to help the community,” Bautch said in a statement released by Citizen Action. “He waved a gun in the face of people exercising their First Amendment rights. He came with support from white nationalist groups to incite violence and intimidate Wisconsinites — Black, white, and Brown — to keep us from speaking out. In his attempts to stop people from exercising their rights, he shot and killed two innocent men, and harmed another.”

Rittenhouse, now 18, was charged with five felonies:

  • First-degree intentional homicide
  • First-degree reckless homicide
  • Attempted first-degree intentional homicide
  • Two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety

A misdemeanor weapons possession charge was dismissed by Judge Bruce Schroeder before the jury began its deliberations, after the defense successfully argued that Wisconsin law allowed Rittenhouse to possess the AR-15 he carried in Kenosha since it was not short-barreled.

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner.

Republicans torpedo debate on voting rights in dangerous moment for democracy

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

When Senate Republicans voted unanimously to block debate on the Freedom to Vote Act on Wednesday, they fulfilled Mitch McConnell’s “hope and anticipation” that not a single GOP senator would break ranks — ensuring that a measure protecting voting rights and secure elections, increasing campaign finance transparency and cracking down on partisan gerrymandering would not come to the floor.

So much for West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin’s promise to get 10 GOP colleagues to support the compromise bill, which he led.

It’s a perilous moment for democracy.

Now Democrats must decide if they are going to push to abolish the filibuster to secure voting rights, or whether they will let Republican state legislatures, which are making an unprecedented push to curtail voting rights, run the table in the 2022 and 2024 elections and for the next 10 years as as they draw new voting districts based on the 2020 census.

The stakes are high.

Molly McGrath, a voting rights attorney, advocate, and organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project told the Wisconsin TV show Up Front’s Mike Gousha on Wednesday that in the absence of federal action, state-level voter suppression bills around the country could determine the outcome of elections for years to come. “It’s almost like death by 1,000 cuts,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of restrictions that are going to have a very, very big impact on people who will be able to cast a ballot, a huge impact on traditionally disenfranchised communities.”

The Brennan Center for Justice recently reported that, in an unprecedented year so far for voting legislation, 19 states have enacted 33 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote.

All of those state laws make it absolutely essential for Congress to act to protect voting rights, McGrath said. “Doing nothing doesn’t keep us in neutral,” she explained. “Doing nothing on the federal level actually takes us backward.” Read more

On Earth Day 2021, ‘a complicated dance between hope and despair’

Environmentalist Tia Nelson, daughter of Earth Day’s founder, reflects on what it will take to save the planet

On Thursday, the 51st anniversary of the first annual Earth Day on April 22, 1970, Tia Nelson will be speaking to a classroom full of fourth graders in the school named after her father in the town of Clear Lake, Wisconsin. That’s where Earth Day founder, Wisconsin governor and U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson grew up. 

“Helping kids find their voice and giving them a sense of agency,” says Nelson, “helping them understand that my dad was just a little boy from a little town and he grew up to make a really big difference — and they can, too — I figure at this point in my life that’s probably the most important job I’ve got.”

On the first Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson decared: “I don’t think there’s any other issue, viewed in its broadest sense, which is as critical to mankind as the issue of the environment in which we live.”

His daughter has dedicated her life to carrying on his legacy, serving in leadership roles with The Nature Conservancy, as executive secretary of the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (where she endured attacks from Republicans during the administration of former Gov. Scott Walker for daring to utter the words “climate change”) and, most recently, managing the climate program at the Outrider Foundation. 

Gaylord Nelson’s original call to action, Tia Nelson points out, was multi generational, bipartisan, and broadly inclusive. “There was a very strong social justice element that, regrettably, the environmental community was slow to embrace.”

Nelson keeps a copy of her father’s speech given in Denver on April 22, 1970, in which he described ecology as a “big science”:

“Environment is all of America and it’s problems,” he declared. “It is rats in the ghetto. It is a hungry child in a land of affluence. It is housing not worthy of the name; neighborhoods not fit to inhabit.”

Gaylord Nelson’s broad, optimistic vision shines through in that speech. “Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty,” he says. “The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.”

Today, taking stock, Tia Nelson says, “I’m in a complicated dance between hope and despair.” Looking back, she sees the many missed opportunities in a history that includes President Richard Nixon signing the Clean Air Act, followed by the more recent descent into toxic partisanship that has made conservatives who believe in conservation an endangered species. But Nelson is encouraged by the dramatic growth of the environmental movement and a consensus among young people, regardless of political affiliation, that climate change is the most urgent problem we confront. 

“Youth, regardless of political ideology, consider climate change a priority,” Nelson says. “That is going to change what happens in Washington, and what happens in our statehouses. I see that happening now.”

“I think it’s really critical for us, especially in these hyper partisan times, to think about how we build bridges,” she adds. “I’m not interested in speaking to the choir. I’m interested in growing the congregation.”

To that end, through the Outrider Foundation, Nelson helped make a film last year called When the Earth Moves to tell “the authentic story and original vision of Earth Day as a bipartisan and socially just environmental movement” and to highlight “the need for people across generations and on both sides of the political aisle to play an active part.”   Read more

Update from Wisconsin: Election 2020 is finally over

North Carolina electors gathered yesterday in the State Capitol Building. Photo courtesy of David Delk

Trump and the GOP fail to subvert the will of the voters

The Electoral College vote affirming the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States made official what we’ve known since early November — that Biden won and President Donald Trump lost.

But Trump turned what should have been a smooth transition into an agonizing fight. Republicans at both the state and national levels joined him in denying the clear results and pushing lawsuits, hearings, and protest rallies to carry the message that Biden’s win was not legitimate and the U.S. election process cannot be trusted. 

The GOP has led us into dark, dangerous, unprecedented political terrain. Only because the margin was so clear did the Republicans fail in their efforts to subvert the will of the voters. If Trump had lost by fewer votes in Wisconsin and elsewhere you can bet his campaign lawyers and his many GOP enablers would have tried to take their effort to steal the election all the way to the hoop.

As it is, they’ve allowed partisanship to poison Americans’ sense of fair play, showed that they are willing to throw away our shared set of rules and have undermined the bedrock principle of a peaceful transfer of power. It’s not just Trump and his buffoonish lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani who are willing to cheat, lie, and throw anything at the wall to see if it might stick. It’s also Wisconsin’s Republican officials on the Elections Commission and in the Legislature, which ran a ridiculously one-sided hearing on Friday to air baseless claims of voter fraud and wrongdoing by Wisconsin’s election clerks. Rep. Ron Tusler (R-Appleton), the chair of the committee that held those hearings, still won’t admit Trump lost. Most ominously, as my colleague Melanie Conklin reports, Republican legislators are seeking input from partisan “poll watchers” on rigging future elections.

As Justice Jill Karofsky put it during the Trump campaign’s oral arguments before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Republican attack on votes in Dane and Milwaukee counties, and their attempt to change election rules after the fact, amounted to not just “seeding, but watering and nurturing doubt about a legitimate election.”

Long after Trump is finally escorted from the White House we will continue to reap the poisonous fruits of that effort. Read more

Dissecting Trump’s weird, rambling Rose Garden speech on policing reform

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 16: Surrounded by members of law enforcement, U.S. President Donald Trump holds up an executive order he signed on “Safe Policing for Safe Communities” during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Was anyone comforted by Donald Trump’s Rose Garden speech announcing his executive order on safe policing?

“There are bad police officers,” Trump acknowledged, “but they are very tiny.”

This statement came after the president assured the families of Black people killed by police, “We are going to pursue what we said we will be pursuing, and we will be pursuing it strongly.”

The president went on at length praising the cops — right after reading out the names of Black people killed by police and saying he had just met with their families (the family of George Floyd was notably absent from the list). “To all of the hurting families, I want you to know that all Americans mourn by your side. Your loved ones will not have died in vain.” 

Then Trump outlined his proposal for more funding for police departments, especially for high-tech weaponry for which “cost is no object.” He promoted a ban on chokeholds that includes a giant loophole if police feel that their lives are in danger.

Trump denounced violence against police officers by protesters, and repeated his offer of military backup. The federal government stands  “ready, willing and able to help, as we did in Minneapolis,” he declared. “There will be no more looting or arson and the penalty will be very grave.”

After declaring that “what’s needed now is not more stoking of fear and division,” Trump stoked fears of “riots and looting.”

Then he took a shot at President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, claiming they had not tried to prevent police violence, as Trump said he was doing with his executive order.  “The reason they didn’t try,” he explained, “is because they had no idea how to do it.”

“Americans want law and order. They demand law and order,” he added. “They may not say it. They may not talk about it. But that’s what they want. Some of them may not even know that’s what they want.”

Trump — giving Americans what they didn’t know they wanted.

“Nobody has ever delivered results like we’ve delivered,” Trump declared. That’s for sure.

If Trump’s photo op surrounded by an overwhelmingly white, male collection of police officers as he signed his executive order wasn’t enough to get the point across, there was his shout-out to the sanctity of the Confederate monuments being toppled throughout the South: “We must build upon our heritage, not tear it down.”

Beyond these obvious appeals to racism, the main message of Trump’s speech was: I’m finished.  Read more