Rittenhouse Verdict Sparks Split Reactions, Fears of Vigilantism
(Bloomberg) -- Kyle Rittenhouse was hailed as a hero by conservatives, and condemned as a symbol of white privilege by liberal leaders, in one of the most highly politicized cases to follow in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.
The acquittal on Friday sparked outrage from many Democrats who feared the verdict would encourage vigilantism.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the decision “disgusting” and said it sent a “horrible message to the country.” California Governor Gavin Newsom said it told armed Americans they can “break the law, carry around weapons built for a military, shoot and kill people, and get away with it.”
In Texas, meanwhile, where gun rights are fiercely protected, Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton cheered.
“Justice, due process, and the unalienable right to self-defense won today,” Paxton said on Twitter. “As did an innocent young man.”
Rittenhouse, now 18, was found not guilty of two counts of homicide in the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, one count of attempted homicide for shooting Gaige Grosskreutz, and two counts of reckless endangerment, as well as lesser charges.
His defense lawyer told jurors in the Wisconsin court that Rittenhouse “feared for his life” as he was attacked by rioters. The case raised questions about vigilantism, the right to bear arms and white privilege.
Read more here: Rittenhouse Acquitted on All Charges in Wisconsin Shootings
“I am afraid that as people are empowered by this verdict to weaponize the public spaces, we will see more fatalities,” said Cheryl Bader, a former assistant U.S. attorney and associate clinical professor at Fordham University School of Law.
President Joe Biden, who included Rittenhouse’s image in a September 2020 video about Donald Trump failing to disavow White supremacists, said Friday that he hadn’t watched the trial.
“I stand by what the jury has concluded,” Biden said. “The jury system works and we have to abide by it.” In a statement, he urged Americans to “express their views peacefully.”
Other Democrats were more incensed. Libby Schaaf, mayor of Oakland, California, said the verdict “gives vigilantism a free pass and fortifies white privilege.” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Rittenhouse was “reckless, dangerous, and showed an utter disregard for human life.”
“To call this a miscarriage of justice is an understatement,” New York’s de Blasio said.
Eric Adams, New York’s mayor-elect, said the verdict sends a “dangerous message” and is an indictment of “irresponsible laws” tied to gun use and self defense.
“We should not be shocked,” he said on Twitter. “We should be focused on swift and righteous action.”
At least one civil-rights group had called for a “Solidarity With Kenosha” gathering at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the site of massive protests following the May 2020 murder of Floyd in Minneapolis. Others were encouraged on social media to gather in Oakland; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Chicago; and Washington, D.C.
At the courtroom on Friday afternoon, there was more media than protesters. Lauren Newcomb, 53, said she came to Kenosha because she was interested in the case and is from Rittenhouse’s hometown in Illinois.
“I thought they’d at least find something, but yet I do feel that watching the videos that it was self defense,” she said.
Kevin Diaz, 57, criticized Kenosha officials “for allowing young men who are armed to cross the border into the city. They allowed it to happen.”
“It’s just an upsetting precedent that someone can go into a community and murder two people and seriously harm a third,” Diaz said.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers had 500 National Guard troops on standby in case protests broke out after the verdict. The crowd thinned out within hours of the jury’s dismissal.
“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 experience by Jacob Blake and his family,” Evers, a Democrat, said 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.”
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