Updated Nov 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats, activists denounce not guilty verdict in Rittenhouse case

Waiting for verdict

A demonstrator cries outside of the Kenosha County Courthouse during closing arguments on Nov. 16. Photo: Christian Monterrosa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One of the families of the two men killed as well as some Democrats and activists on Friday denounced Kyle Rittenhouse's not guilty verdict, saying it highlights the systemic racism in the country's judicial system.

Driving the news: Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all five counts in the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber during racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020.

What they're saying: "We are heartbroken and angry that Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted in his criminal trial for the murder of our son Anthony Huber. There was no justice today for Anthony, or for Mr. Rittenhouse’s other victims, Joseph Rosenbaum and Gaige Grosskreutz," said Karen Bloom and John Huber, per CNN.

  • "Today’s verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son. 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."
  • "No reasonable person viewing all of the evidence could conclude that Mr. Rittenhouse acted in self-defense … Mr. Rittenhouse came to Kenosha armed to kill. Kenosha police encouraged him to act violently, and our son is dead as a result."

Rittenhouse's defense attorney Mark Richards told reporters after the verdict that "[j]ustice is done when the truth is reached."

  • "It was a case about self-defense, the right to protect oneself ... I don't want to make it bigger than it is," he added.

Republicans also praised the verdict. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said that "justice has been served in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial."

  • "I hope everyone can accept the verdict, remain peaceful, and let the community of Kenosha heal and rebuild," Johnson added.
  • "All of us who knew what actually happened in Kenosha last year assumed this would be the verdict. Thankfully, the jury thought the same," tweeted Republican former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), on the other hand, condemned the ruling: "[Rittenhouse] took the law into his own hands, killing two people and injuring another. They were victims of gun violence and too many families have lost loved ones to these tragedies. I understand why people believe that justice was not served in this case, because I feel the same way."

  • "The fact that some people are cheering a ruling that has allowed someone to take the law into his own hands and walk free from any accountability after shooting and killing two people is disrespectful to the lives that were lost," she added.
  • "I am deeply concerned that it will encourage more tragic gun violence from those like Kyle Rittenhouse who think they have a license to take the law into their own hands in a violent way."

"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," said Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) in a statement.

  • "No ruling today changes our reality in Wisconsin that we have work to do toward equity, accountability, and justice that communities across our state are demanding and deserve."
  • "This case and the resulting national spotlight on the Kenosha community and our state have undoubtedly reopened wounds that have not yet fully healed. I echo the calls of local Kenosha community leaders and join them in asking everyone who might choose to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights in any community to please only do so safely and peacefully."

"Over the last few weeks, many dreaded the outcome we just witnessed," said Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is Black and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

  • "The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is what we should expect from our judicial system, but that standard is not always applied equally."
  • "We have seen so many black and brown youth killed, only to be put on trial posthumously, while the innocence of Kyle Rittenhouse was virtually demanded by the judge."

"If this isn't a disparity between races, I don't know what is," Isaac Wallner, a Black truck driver and activist in Kenosha, Wis., told Axios.

  • Wallner said there are a ton of cases where Black residents in Kenosha who use self defense are found guilty in the same court while this white teen "who came to my city to play G.I. Joe" walks free.
  • "Yes, the victims were white but they were at a Black Lives Matter protest."

The verdict sparked reactions on a national level from current and former officials, as well as activists.

  • The justice system's decision is "unconscionable," Congressional Black Caucus chair Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) said in a statement. "The ludicrous claim of self-defense is on par with the abhorrent behavior displayed by the prosecution and the judge."
  • "It is time for criminal justice reform, and it is beyond time for gun reform," she added. "While today is filled with disappointment, we must continue to champion justice and gun reform, and condemn vigilantism so this never happens again."

"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 and former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro tweeted following the verdict.

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said, "The judge. The jury. The defendant. It’s white supremacy in action." The congresswoman said she was "heartbroken."

  • "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."

"Today’s acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse continues our nation’s legacy of defending white supremacist violence while stereotyping Black and Brown people as criminals," Service Employees International Union International President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement.

  • Henry said the verdict also showed white men still can skirt accountability for murder with dubious claims of self-defense.

“Kyle Rittenhouse walks free while Black people are being killed daily by police and vigilantes who face no accountability for the crimes they commit in our communities. It is both heartbreaking and enraging," Alicia Garza, Principal of Black to the Future Action Fund, said after the verdict.

Don’t forget: The Rittenhouse shooting came after the city of Kenosha erupted in violent protest following the release of a video showing Jacob Blake, a Black man, getting shot in the back by white police officer, Rusten Sheskey.

  • The mid-sized Midwestern city saw angry demonstrators takes to the streets where some burned buildings and torched a car dealership.
  • Blake, then 29, was left paralyzed.
  • Amid a city-wide curfew, Rittenhouse and other militia members were allowed to roam freely in the city while people of color were harassed by police.
  • Despite the national outcry, Sheskey did not face any charges.

Editor's note: This story will continue to be updated as reactions come in.

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