Kyle Rittenhouse‘s acquittal for the fatal shootings of racial justice protesters last year has spurred powerful – and divergent – reactions from activists and lawmakers across the United States, highlighting the political symbolism of the trial and deep-seated divisions in the country.
Civil rights groups and Democratic activists decried the verdict on Friday as an example of white privilege and a miscarriage of justice, while Rittenhouse’s supporters, including associates of former President Donald Trump, celebrated it as a victory.
Rittenhouse fatally shot two protesters and injured a third during chaotic demonstrations against police brutality in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after a white officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back, paralysing him.
But in a trial that captured the nation’s attention since early November, Rittenhouse and his lawyers argued that he acted in self-defence and only used his AR-style rifle to protect himself from demonstrators who were attacking him. Prosecutors had accused the teenager of provoking the deadly violence on August 25, 2020.
“You know damn well that if Kyle Rittenhouse were Black he would have been found guilty in a heartbeat – or shot dead by cops on the scene,” former Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro wrote on Twitter.
This trial lays bare everything we've been talking about for years. Rittenhouse embodies the very danger posed by a toxic mix of a white supremacist culture that values property over human life, and wide proliferation of high-powered guns with fewer limits than a drivers license.
— March For Our Lives (@AMarch4OurLives) November 19, 2021
“If you need a stunning example of white privilege, please see Kyle Rittenhouse’s verdict,” wrote Andy Levin, a Democratic congressman.
President Joe Biden, who said earlier on Friday that he did not watch the trial, suggested that he accepted the verdict.
“While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken,” Biden said in a statement.
The family of Anthony Huber, one of the protesters fatally shot by Rittenhouse, said they were heartbroken by the jury’s decision.
“It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street,” the family said in a statement, as reported by several US media outlets.
“We hope that decent people will join us in forcefully rejecting that message and demanding more of our laws, our officials, and our justice system.”
This justice system has once again showcased that there is a system within the system that consistently slaps “other”communities on the wrist and sentences black communities to profiling and despair. Today that system has failed us, right on schedule.#RittenhouseVerdict
— Derrick Johnson (@DerrickNAACP) November 19, 2021
Kimberley Motley and Milo Schwab, attorneys for Gaige Grosskreutz, who was wounded in the shooting, and the estate of Joseph Rosenbaum, who was fatally shot by Rittenhouse, vowed to continue the push for accountability.
“That night in Kenosha, Gaige Grosskreutz, Anthony Huber, and many others acted heroically,” the lawyers said in a statement.
“They did not seek violence, but to end violence. What we need right now is justice, not more violence. While today’s verdict may mean justice delayed, it will not mean justice denied. We are committed to uncovering the truth of that night and holding those responsible to account.”
Cori Bush, a Democratic congresswoman and Black Lives Matter activist, said she was “hurt”, “angry” and “heartbroken”.
The judge. The jury. The defendant.
It’s white supremacy in action.
This system isn’t built to hold white supremacists accountable. It’s why Black and brown folks are brutalized and put in cages while white supremacist murderers walk free.
I’m hurt. I’m angry. I’m heartbroken.
— Cori Bush (@CoriBush) November 19, 2021
“The verdict in the #KyleRittenhouse case is a travesty and fails to deliver justice on behalf of those who lost their lives as they peacefully assembled to protest against police brutality and violence,” the NAACP, a racial justice advocacy group, said in a tweet.
Bernice King, racial justice activist and daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr, tweeted a photo of a sign that reads, “The system isn’t broken. It was built this way.”
Reminder: the system is working exactly as it is meant to. The system was always meant to protect and uphold white supremacy.
— Black Lives Matter (@Blklivesmatter) November 19, 2021
While racial justice advocates lamented the verdict, prominent right-wing figures rejoiced.
Rudy Giuliani, a Trump ally and the former mayor of New York City, saluted the jurors and slammed the “mainstream media” for its coverage of the case.
There are many Americans who are,unlike the MSM and the Bidenistas,fair and honest people.The jurors in the Rittenhouse case also showed real courage to overcome the intimidation of the mob outside the courthouse,the MSM lying about the case and Biden’s obstructive remarks.
— Rudy W. Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) November 19, 2021
The National Rifle Association (NRA), an advocacy group for gun rights, tweeted the text of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which enshrines “the right … to keep and bear arms”.
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
— NRA (@NRA) November 19, 2021
Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, a staunch conservative, also cited the Second Amendment in celebrating the verdict.
“Today is a great day for the Second Amendment and the right to self-defense,” she wrote on Twitter. “Kyle Rittenhouse is not guilty on all counts! Glory to God!”
Congressman Paul Gosar, who was formally rebuked by the House of Representatives this week for tweeting a violent video about Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, suggested that he will offer Rittenhouse an internship like his Republican colleague Matt Gaetz.
Justice was served for #KyleRittenhouse and he is fully exonerated. As I said last year, obviously self-defense.
— Paul Gosar (@DrPaulGosar) November 19, 2021
But back in Wisconsin, Democratic Governor Tony Evers called for “healing” after the verdict, urging any potential protesters to express themselves “peacefully”.
“I’ve seen the pain and the frustration of so many, and we must remain steadfast in our commitment to ending violence in our communities, supporting victims and survivors as they heal from trauma, and rooting out the disparities that are so often inextricably linked to that violence and trauma,” he said in a statement.