Prominent media and political personalities on the right in Wisconsin and elsewhere had discussed throughout the summer the need for this kind of community-level response to what they depicted as Democratic failure in the face of rioting. Appearing on a talk radio program the day after the Rittenhouse shootings, David Clarke, the former Milwaukee County sheriff and a right-wing political celebrity, said that he did not advocate “some of the stuff that’s starting to happen” but that he would not condemn it either, and he advised listeners to have a plausible argument for their actions in such cases.
“Think about it, have a plan,” he said. “You have to act reasonably. Then you’re going to have to articulate what you did afterwards.” After the Rittenhouse verdict on Friday, Mr. Clarke told Newsmax that he had to “hold back tears” after the verdict was read. “I’ve talked to this young man,” he said. “He’s been under a lot.”
A 2013 Urban Institute study found marked disparities in how often homicides were deemed justifiable by juries based on the race of the parties involved. And “stand your ground” laws, which codify a particularly expansive right to self-defense, have played a role in the acquittal of defendants accused of killing Black people who were unarmed in several high-profile cases, most notably in George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager, in 2012. Three white men currently on trial in Georgia for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery — a 25-year-old Black man who was unarmed, and whom the men pursued through their neighborhood — have similarly claimed self-defense.
Mr. Rittenhouse’s detractors rushed to cast his acquittal as part of this pattern. “This system isn’t built to hold white supremacists accountable,” Representative Cori Bush of Missouri, a Black Lives Matter activist elected to Congress as a Democrat last year, wrote on Twitter shortly after the decision.
But the Rittenhouse shootings, though they happened after he brought an assault-style rifle to the aftermath of a racial justice protest, diverged in significant ways from that template. The three men Mr. Rittenhouse shot, two of them fatally, were all white, and the shootings occurred in a genuinely chaotic and violent situation, with deadly weapons present on all sides.
His acquittal was considered a likely outcome by legal analysts, who had regarded the prosecution’s path to conviction on homicide charges as exceptionally steep because it would have required demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. Rittenhouse had not acted in self-defense. “I think this is not a terribly surprising verdict,” Michael M. O’Hear, a professor at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, said.
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