Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with fatally shooting two men and wounding a third at a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August, pleaded not guilty to all counts in an appearance by video in Kenosha County Circuit Court on Tuesday.
Rittenhouse, 18, was charged with first-degree reckless homicide and five other criminal counts related to the shootings, which occurred on August 25 at a demonstration that followed the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer days earlier.
Rittenhouse appeared at the brief virtual arraignment in an office seated next to his lawyer, Mark Richards, wearing a blue button-down shirt, a tie and a black mask because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, the city is bracing for another round of protests as prosecutors prepare to announce whether they will charge the police officer who shot Blake.
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Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey shot Blake seven times on August 23 as Blake was about to get into his car during a domestic dispute. The police union has maintained that Blake resisted arrest and was armed with a knife, although state investigators have said only that a knife was found on the floor of the vehicle. His three children were in the back seat of the SUV when he was shot.
The shooting sparked protests that went on for several nights. Some of them turned violent, with some protesters burning businesses and members of self-styled militias answering a call on social media to travel to the city.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley is expected any day to announce whether Sheskey will face criminal charges. Concrete barricades and oversized metal fencing surrounded the Kenosha County Courthouse on Monday night. Fearing a repeat of the August protests, the Kenosha Common Council on Monday night unanimously approved an emergency resolution that goes into effect with the announcement and allows the mayor to set curfews.
Governor Tony Evers activated 500 United States National Guard troops to help Kenosha authorities when the decision is announced.
“Our members of the National Guard will be on hand to support local first responders, ensure Kenoshans are able to assemble safely and to protect critical infrastructure as necessary,” Evers said in a statement.
Blake’s father led a march through the city on Monday evening, calling on people to “make noise” and be “heard around the world”.
“[Sheskey] tried to kill my son and could have killed my grandchildren,” Jacob Blake Sr said during a news conference before the march. “He shot him seven times in his back unjustifiably.”
The family said it has taken too long for a charging decision, and the precautions suggest Sheskey will not be charged.
“What is the National Guard for?” Jacob Blake Sr asked. “They going to deliver mail? Deliver ice cream? What do you think they’re here for?”
Tanya McLean, executive director of the community organisation Leaders of Kenosha and a friend of the Blake family, said as Monday evening’s march was kicking off that violence is not acceptable.
“No matter what the decision is, we are seeking non-violence,” she said. “We want everybody to come out, make as much noise as you want, but we don’t want any destruction of property or businesses. We are for non-violence. Anything else is not acceptable for this community.”