This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on Nov. 19, 2021. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.
Racial justice advocates reacted with outrage and a complete lack of surprise Friday after a Kenosha, Wisconsin jury found Illinois teenager Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all charges for killing two men and wounding a third during a 2020 protest against the police shooting of Jacob Blake, with some observers asserting that the verdict encourages vigilante attacks on protestors.
Rejecting the prosecution’s assertion that “you cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create,” the nearly all-white jury acquitted Rittenhouse, who was 17 years old when he shot and killed Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle on August 25, 2020.
“We are heartbroken and angry that Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted in his criminal trial for the murder of our son Anthony Huber,” the slain 26-year-old’s family said in a statement. “There was no justice today for Anthony, or for Mr. Rittenhouse’s other victims.”
“Today’s verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son,” the statement continued. “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.”
Speaking outside the Kenosha County Courthouse after the verdict, Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, contended that “from day one, the judge had his hand on the scale.”
“He didn’t allow pictures. He didn’t allow videotapes. He didn’t allow. He didn’t allow. He didn’t allow,” he said. “He was doing everything he could to allow this young man to leave the courtroom clear and free. It put blinds on the eyes of the jurors, and maybe because he did it, they didn’t see the evidence how they could have seen it.”
“He was doing everything he could to allow this young man to leave the courtroom clear and free,” Blake added.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said it could “not forget the root of this issue.”
“Kyle Rittenhouse murdered two people during protests against the police shooting of Jacob Blake,” the group continued, referring to the Black man shot seven times in the back and paralyzed by Kenosha cop Rusten Sheskey. No charges were filed against Sheskey, who remains an officer today.
“Jacob Blake has yet to receive justice,” Brady Center added. “We must continue to fight America’s systemic racism, which fuels police violence and white vigilantism.”
Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, said in a statement that “Rittenhouse’s acquittal shows how the criminal justice system is designed to protect racist vigilantism.”
“When Rittenhouse went to Kenosha last year he was continuing a long and ugly history in this country of white supremacists responding to multiracial movements for justice and civil rights with violence, and then claiming to be the victim,” Cotler asserted.
“We saw this truth from the moment police allowed him to leave the scene after killing two people,” he added, as well as “his brutal actions championed by politicians and pundits who routinely manufacture fear and division in order to hold onto power.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) said in a statement that the verdict “is saddening, infuriating, and utterly unsurprising.”
“It came at the end of a trial in which Judge Bruce Schroeder went out of his way to favor Rittenhouse in ways that would have been inconceivable were the defendant a Black person who had taken a semi-automatic rifle to a protest and killed two people,” the group argued.
After an aspiring militia leader invited “patriots” to combat “evil thugs,” Rittenhouse, an Illinois, resident, was one of a group of heavily armed, pro-police paramilitaries who descended on the protests in Kenosha and to whom the local police provided their gratitude, support and encouragement.
Not surprisingly, Rittenhouse, with his link to the Proud Boys, has become a hero to white nationalists and many on the right. His racist vigilantism adds him to a long line of racist vigilantes, including George Zimmerman—Trayvon Martin’s killer—and the three white men now on trial in Georgia for killing Ahmaud Arbery. Their actions are set against the backdrop of ongoing law-enforcement targeting and surveillance of Black-led organizing.
The People’s City Council of Los Angeles said “white supremacy will do whatever it can to protect itself. Kyle Rittenhouse getting off should surprise no one.”
“America is a racist, anti-Black country,” the group added. “White supremacists around the country will now be emboldened to hunt down protestors.”
Rashad Robinson, president of the racial justice group Color of Change, said in a statement that “Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal doesn’t just add insult to injury in this horrific case, it sends a dangerous and twisted message about how the legal system coddles white defendants accused of unconscionable crimes.”
“For too long, the system—judges, lawyers, police officers—has accepted this as the norm, but we cannot tolerate this kind of negligence anymore; it’s literally killing us,” he continued. “Throughout the trial, we’ve seen the structural inequities within the legal system on full display.”
“From dismissing the underage weapons charge to politicizing the straightforward facts of Rittenhouse’s case, Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder presented a case study in how the judiciary upholds systems of white supremacy,” Robinson added. “And he’s no anomaly. His behavior underscores how the entire legal apparatus perpetuates the existence of two criminal justice systems: one for white people and another for Black people.”
US Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) tweeted: “Kyle Rittenhouse is living proof that white tears can still forestall justice. A murderer is once again walking free today—our system is terribly broken.”