Many react with disappointment, but not surprise, after a jury acquits the out-of-state teen who killed two people and injured a third.
Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two unarmed protesters in Kenosha last summer and wounded a third who was armed, was found not guilty on all counts on Friday.
“This is a very racist city,” said Justin Blake—uncle of Jacob Blake, whose shooting by Kenosha police led to the protests—in a press conference after the verdict was read.
The jury started deliberations on Tuesday and the verdict was announced Friday afternoon. Rittenhouse, who has a record of affiliating with militias and white supremacists, was acquitted of all charges.
Wisconsin conservatives, including US Sen. Ron Johnson, gubernatorial candidate and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and state Assembly Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers), applauded the decision. In a statement, US Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville), whose congressional district includes Kenosha, referenced property damage in Kenosha multiple times but did mention the shooting or killing of protesters a single time.
“This trial made clear that when authorities fail to utilize appropriate resources to protect public safety, violence and destruction often follows,” Steil’s statement read. “The destruction in Kenosha did not need to occur. The events covered in the trial were avoidable if proper steps were taken last summer to reestablish public safety.”
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is the Democratic frontrunner for Johnson’s seat, said he and many others were not surprised by the verdict.
“It is a sad testament to the idea of justice how not a single person on my timeline is surprised,” Barnes tweeted. “Everyone’s reaction was already written. People spent the entire week mentally preparing.”
While many commentators were not surprised, many voiced concern for the precedent it will set for future protests, militia activity, and use of self defense arguments.
“Despite Kyle Rittenhouse’s conscious decision to take the lives of two people protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake by police, he was not held responsible for his actions, something that is not surprising,” wrote Shaadie Ali, interim executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin in a press release. “But Kyle Rittenhouse isn’t the only one responsible for the deaths that night.”
Ali referred to open records the ACLU obtained that showed Kenosha’s Police Department and Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office allowed white militia members to act as armed vigilantes largely unhindered. “They also created an environment where protesters, many of whom were people of color, were not protected and treated as the enemy,” Ali wrote. “At the same time, white militia members were welcomed with open arms.”
Michael O’Hear, law professor at Marquette University Law School, said the decision doesn’t change self-defense law—which varies widely from state to state—and it’s unclear what its exact impact will be, but that the acquittal could encourage people to engage in similar behavior.
“It is always hard to predict what impact a jury decision will have,” O’Hear said. “There are probably other, broader social forces that are more important than the outcome of one legal case.”
In a statement, Gov. Tony Evers said that “no verdict will be able to bring back the lives of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, or heal Gaige Grosskreutz’s injuries, just as no verdict can heal the wounds or trauma experienced by Jacob Blake and his family” and emphasized the work that needs to be done to heal and bring equity, accountability, and justice to all Wisconsin communities.
“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,” Evers wrote. “We must be unwavering in our promise to build a state where every kid, person, and family can live their life free of violence and have every chance to be successful.”
Jonathon Sadowski contributed to this report.