President Donald Trump defended the 17-year-old suspect in the shooting of three protesters against police brutality in Kenosha, Wis., claiming, without evidence, that the gunman was acting in self-defense.
Kyle Rittenhouse has been charged with six criminal counts, including first-degree intentional homicide, for the shooting last week that left two protesters dead and a third injured. An investigation is ongoing, which the president also acknowledged.
The incident occurred during the third night of protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old African American the father of six children, who was shot and seriously injured by police on August 23, 2020 as he was gearing up for a day of celebrating his son’s eighth birthday.
Police officer Rusten Sheskey shot seven times at his back, with four shots hitting Blake. Video shows Blake was unarmed at the time he was shot in the back multiple times at point-blank range..
Protests erupted Sunday after the police shooting, with cars set on fire and windows smashed out. Monday night, peaceful protesters marched through the city streets, denouncing police abuse, but the incidents again turned violent after dark.
Kenosha residents woke up Tuesday to desolate streets with burned out buildings and armed vigilantes like Rittenhouse descending on the town from outside.
In a video recorded before the shooting, which left two protesters dead and another injured, a person who appears to be Rittenhouse describes himself as part of a local militia whose job was to protect businesses in Kenosha.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said Monday that he has seen no information to suggest Blake had a knife or other weapon, but that the case is still being investigated. Wisconsin’s governor summoned the National Guard for fear of another round of violent protests.
“Those police officers that shot my son like a dog in the street are responsible for everything that has happened in the city of Kenosha,” said the shooting victim’s father, Jacob Blake Sr. “My son is not responsible for it. My son didn’t have a weapon. He didn’t have a gun.”
When asked Monday whether he would condemn the Illinois teen’s actions, Trump defended Rittenhouse, suggesting that it appeared to him that the shooter was acting in self-defense.
“He was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like,” Trump said, noting the incident was under investigation. “I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed.”
Graphic video from the chaotic scene only tells a partial story.
The shooter’s actions have split onlookers on party lines, with Republicans painting Rittenhouse as a patriot whose extreme actions were necessary to quell violence on the streets.
That view obscures facts, such as the illegality of a teenager possessing a high powered assault weapon and the lack of evidence that unarmed protesters would have killed the gunman.
Democrats, meanwhile, have taken a dimmer view of the situation, pointing to the president’s increasingly divisive rhetoric and past endorsements of violence against protesters, as evidence of a clear message to renegade gun owners to feel that they can act with impunity in the name of “law and order.”
Trump, who has presided over a period of violence and unrest hopes to turn Americans against his 2020 rival Joe Biden, a genuine advocate of law and order who has opposed white supremacists and private militia groups that take the law into their own hands.
The Republican plans to visit Kenosha, Wis. “to see the people that did such a good job for me” during the protests.
When asked whether he was worried that his presence, which comes against the Kenosha mayor’s wishes, might inflame an already-heated situation, Trump said: “Well, it could also increase enthusiasm, and it could increase love and respect for our country. And that’s why I’m going.”
The president will not, during this trip, meet with the family of Blake, the man whose shooting and subsequent paralyzing sparked the Kenosha uprisings, citing a wariness of attending a meeting that Trump said would include the family’s attorney.
“I thought it would be better not to do anything where there are lawyers involved. They wanted me to speak, but they wanted to have lawyers involved, and I thought that was inappropriate, so I didn’t do that,” he said.
Rittenhouse, the Illinois teenager Trump defended, has been charged with six criminal counts including felony charges of first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley filed the charges against Rittenhouse on Thursday, according to court documents. Rittenhouse is also being charged with two counts of recklessly endangering safety and possession of a dangerous weapon while under 18, which is a misdemeanor.
The most serious charge, first-degree intentional homicide, is punishable by life imprisonment.
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