As the jury deliberated over the past week in Kenosha, Wisconsin in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the exterior of the courthouse served as a sort of forum for the broader culture war.
The riots during which Rittenhouse shot two people and injured a third – and was subsequently acquitted of all charges – took place following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, served as a leader for the racial justice community in Kenosha.
While the three individuals Rittenhouse shot were white, they were hailed as heroes for the community of activists who wanted him found guilty. For them, the shootings symbolized white privilege translated into deadly violence.
To conservatives, the shooting appeared to be a simple case of self-defense, and many who protested outside the courthouse contended that the Second Amendment itself was in jeopardy if Rittenhouse was acquitted.
The protests remained peaceful for the most part. On the second day of deliberation, a small scuffle occurred on the courthouse steps. While leaders in the community de-escalated, police swarmed in and arrested the apparent instigator, and a second activist was arrested in the process.
On the third day, the Kenosha Sheriff’s Department set up a “cookies for peace” table outside the courthouse in an apparent effort to sooth tensions between the two sides in close proximity.
That day, Jesse T. Kline, a fired former Ferguson cop who had been charged in 2018 with stalked his ex and pointed a gun at her new lover, arrived with a rifle bag, apparently implying that he was armed.
The day before, he showed up with a rifle, and was told to put it away. On Wednesday however, he refused to open the bag until a crowd formed, and then revealed the gesture to be a sort of crude prank.
Minutes later, a different man showed up wearing a handgun on his belt, and was promptly arrested.
The McCloskeys, a couple best known for confronting BLM activists at their home while armed, also showed up to the courthouse in an apparent effort to promote Mark McCloskey’s new senate run.
During the fourth day of deliberation, a Friday, it was announced that a verdict had been reached. Crowds formed around the courthouse, eager to hear the outcome.
As it became clear that Rittenhouse had been acquitted, both sides felt their own positions had been validated. For conservatives, the acquittal meant that the system worked, and armed self-defense itself had been validated.
To the social justice activists, the defeat felt like another instance of the system favoring a white man who had the odds stacked in his favor.
The community organized a barbecue gathering to heal together productively as the sun set on Kenosha following the acquittal.
For Justin Blake, this journey didn’t end with the verdict in the Rittenhouse case.
Kyle Rittenhouse may have been on trial for eight shots fired in August of 2020, but for Americans converging around the case, they symbolized objectives and fears of the broader culture war.