Milwaukee leaders and racial justice advocates reacted with outrage and a complete lack of surprise on November 19, after a Kenosha jury found Illinois teenager Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all charges for killing two men and wounding a third.
The crime occurred 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. The 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.”
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,” Blake 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.”
From Milwaukee to Madison, and to Washington DC, political leaders released statements about the verdict, calling for peace while condemning the legal decision as a painful affirmation of the endemic racism in the American criminal justice system.
“WHILE THE VERDICT IN KENOSHA WILL LEAVE MANY AMERICANS FEELING ANGRY AND CONCERNED, MYSELF INCLUDED, WE MUST ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE JURY HAS SPOKEN. I ran on a promise to bring Americans together, because I believe that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. I know that we’re not going to heal our country’s wounds overnight, but I remain steadfast in my commitment to do everything in my power to ensure that every American is treated equally, with fairness and dignity, under the law. I urge everyone to express their views peacefully, consistent with the rule of law. Violence and destruction of property have no place in our democracy. The White House and Federal authorities have been in contact with Governor Evers’s office to prepare for any outcome in this case, and I have spoken with the Governor this afternoon and offered support and any assistance needed to ensure public safety.” – President Joe Biden
“HERE ARE THE FACTS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO ME. Kyle Rittenhouse, who was a minor at the time, traveled from Illinois to Wisconsin, and picked up an assault rifle that was illegally purchased for him. He 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. This ruling makes clear we have so much work to do to take on gun violence, and reform our broken criminal justice system so that it starts working equally and fairly for everyone. In Wisconsin, this judge has now ruled that it’s legal for a minor to walk the streets in Wisconsin with an assault weapon. If that is true, then our state legislature should take action now in a bipartisan way to change the law and make it illegal. I am afraid many more people will become victims of gun violence unless we take action at the federal and state level to pass common sense gun safety reforms that take on this epidemic and start saving lives. To me that’s just common sense that most people in our state would agree with. 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, and 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. To those who protest this ruling, I strongly urge them to do so safely and peacefully because no one wants to see what happened last year happen again. I have met with community leaders, business owners and racial justice activists in Kenosha a number of times since the police shooting of Jacob Blake and I know that the entire Kenosha community has gone through a lot of heartbreak and that the work for healing, peace, and justice continues. I continue to stand with Kenosha as we work together, to move forward together.” – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin
“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. 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. Kenoshans are strong, resilient, and have spent the last year working every day together toward healing. 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. We must have peace in Kenosha and our communities, and any efforts or actions aimed at sowing division are unwelcome in our state as they will only hinder that healing. 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. 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. We must move forward, together, more united and more motivated to build the sort of future we want for our state—one that is just, one that is equitable, and one where every person has the resources and opportunity to thrive—and I will not stop working to achieve that vision.” – Governor Tony Evers
“THE RESIDENTS OF KENOSHA HAVE ENDURED SIGNIFICANT HARDSHIP OVER THE COURSE OF MORE THAN A YEAR, AND THEY HAVE WORKED HARD TO HEAL THEIR COMMUNITY. It is imperative that everyone who wishes to make their voice heard about today’s verdict does so peacefully and respects the right of Kenosha residents to be safe and to continue healing. Let me be clear: I condemn vigilantism. It is dangerous and illegal, and it has no place in our communities. The actions of those attempting to take the law into their own hands only put the safety of law enforcement officers and communities in danger. We have work to do to make our communities more equitable and safer. We must work together to seek greater unity and not division, with hope and not fear, and we must be unwavering in our pursuit of equal justice under the law.” – Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul
“FOR ANYONE WHO IS CONCERNED ABOUT JUSTICE IN WISCONSIN, AND JUSTICE IN AMERICA, THE EVENTS OF TODAY ARE NOT SHOCKING. I think anybody who watched the trial closely could see that, with a lot of the decisions made by the judge and how the case unfolded, it was possible that there would be a not guilty verdict on all accounts, particularly after the gun charge had been dismissed. Having watched that I cannot say justice was done in this case. We have a situation where two people have lost their lives and another person was injured as a result of an individual, a teenager, bringing a semi-automatic assault weapon into a situation that was inherently dangerous. None of us know exactly what went through the minds of the jurors. But it would not be shocking for the jurors to say he was afraid they were going to take the gun. This gets to the point that I think is most relevant. How can we as a society can telling individuals that if you put yourself in a place that is inherently dangerous, you can kill someone. We as a society cannot allow this. That is why we have law enforcement, to monitor these situations. Not to have individuals step forward and take care of it. We have to figure out how to peacefully move forward. I asked for peace in Kenosha, Milwaukee, and everywhere. But we really do have to look at our laws as they pertain to guns and underage individuals. And we must ask ourselves, are we creating a situation when civil unrest happens, that someone can come in with a gun, untrained, and because they feel afraid someone loses their life.” – Mayor Tom Barrett
“TODAY’S VERDICT IN KENOSHA SHOWS THAT THE ARC TOWARD JUSTICE IS STILL BENDING. How in good conscience can an individual cross state lines, to protect property that he wasn’t asked to protect, with a weapon that he shouldn’t even have had, shoot three people – two of them fatally – and suffer no consequences for those actions? Is this the Wisconsin we’ve built? I suggest that as a state, we should reimagine who we are and think about how our justice system works for everyone. Kenosha’s heart has ached for too long. I’m praying for healing and peace there, across Wisconsin, and across our great country.” – Common Council President Cavalier Johnson
“DURING THE LAST TWO WEEKS, ALL EYES WERE ON WISCONSIN AND THE COURT CASE THAT WAS UNFOLDING IN KENOSHA INVOLVING KYLE RITTENHOUSE. What happened that night in August 2020 was sad and disheartening, and while we cannot change what has already been done, we can expect the proper justice to be delivered for the families of those who lost their lives, and those who were endangered. That is what makes today’s decision so upsetting. The demonstrations and protests calling for equality, growth, and reform of our police and justice systems were not falling on deaf ears. Steadily, our community, and many across the country have been enacting change. Yet, we cannot help but feel that the verdict rendered today is two steps back after one step forward. We hope that the decision made today does not send a message about when it is permissible to take someone’s life and that as similar court cases take place in other areas, that this is not the start of a trend of vigilantes who commit acts of violence, only not to be held accountable. To our constituents: Know that progress cannot be pushed backward, and, although today’s verdict was a reminder of the fact that the road toward justice is long and winding, we are committed and will continue to work to make our city a place that is welcoming, just and equitable for everyone.” – Members of the Common Council: Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, Alderman Nik Kovac, Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd, Alderman Khalif J. Rainey, Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa, Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, Alderman José G. Pérez, Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, and Alderman Russell W. Stamper II
“THIS CASE, AND THE INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION IT BROUGHT TO KENOSHA FOR OVER A YEAR, WILL IMPACT THE COMMUNITY AND OUR ENTIRE STATE FOR YEARS TO COME. No matter what your opinion on the outcome today, the healing begins in how we respond to this moment in our history. I stand with the many leaders in Kenosha and throughout Southeast Wisconsin in calling for safe and peaceful demonstrations from those who choose to assemble and exercise their right to have their voices heard. Peace in our streets and in our communities is what we need right now, and it is the only way we’ll be able to move forward. Nothing will bring back the lives of Anthony Huber or Joseph Rosenbaum. Gaige Grosskreutz will live with his injuries for the rest of life. No ruling would have changed those truths. However, I am reminded once again about how far we have to go in achieving the mission and vision at Milwaukee County: by achieving racial equity, we will become the healthiest county in the state. Today, we recommit to our values of equity, transparency, accountability, fairness, and justice because we know that for generations government policies and practices didn’t prioritize those values for all residents. We denounce the violence that brings pain to our neighborhoods and ends too many lives too soon. We are relentless in our pursuit to dismantle racism within our organization and give every Milwaukee County resident the chance to live a long, successful, healthy life. This is the necessary and critical work needed to move forward together, heal our communities, transform Milwaukee County, and the entire state, into a place that protects all of its residents and gives them every chance to succeed.” – County Executive David Crowley
“THIS CASE IS JUST ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE FACT THAT WE HAVE TWO DIFFERENT JUSTICE SYSTEMS IN THE UNITED STATES. One justice system allows a White man to walk freely past police after crossing state lines with an unlawfully held semi-automatic rifle and killing two people with no consequences, while an unarmed Jacob Blake is shot 7 times and paralyzed by police with no semblance of justice. We see one justice system allowing a clearly biased judge to coddle a White man on trial for murder. The other justice system locks up one in 36 Black adults in Wisconsin and allows Black men in Wisconsin to be 28 percent more likely to be sentenced to prison. This case underscores the necessity of our work at Milwaukee County to achieve racial equity.” – Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson
“LET US REMEMBER THE FAMILIES OF JOSEPH ROSENBAUM AND ANTHONY HUBER WHO WERE KILLED IN THIS TRAGEDY, GAIGE GROSSKREUTZ, WHO WAS SERIOUSLY INJURED, AND ALL WHO COLLECTIVELY SUFFER THE TRAUMA OF THE AFTERMATH OF THESE EVENTS. Many in our country and in our community are justifiably deeply hurt and disappointed by the verdict. Even so, the American criminal justice system remains the finest in the world and, despite the outcome, functioned in this case. We can hail our system of justice while at the same time acknowledging our history in this country of not treating everyone equally under the law. We support and defend every community member’s right to lawfully assemble and peacefully protest in calling for justice from the institutions and systems in which we place our trust. It is important, though, that we maintain calm and peace in our community, even as we ensure that our voices are heard, our pain felt, and our demands for positive change made clear. Our nation is at its best when we channel our energies into the urgent work of transforming our democracy for the better.” – Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas
“TODAY’S VERDICT IN THE RITTENHOUSE CASE IS WHAT WE EXPECTED: AN ABSENCE OF JUSTICE. But justice wasn’t an option today, regardless of the opinion the jury brought back. I was in Kenosha that night. In response to reports that White Supremacists had put out public, explicit calls on social media to kill protesters, law enforcement trained their weapons not at those people making the threats, but on the protesters themselves. I watched as independent observers and media were tear-gassed, and as protesters justifiably upset about yet another police shooting were driven from a public space, kettled, hit with pepper rounds, gassed, and funneled towards where three would be shot and two would be killed. This act of violence did not begin with Rittenhouse. It began with the curfew, the horrific police response which saw him as a ‘friendly,’ and the system which went to great lengths to protect him, and itself, from accountability. Justice was never an option. We must change the system.” – County Supervisor Ryan Clancy
“THERE IS NO GROWTH IN DENIAL. NO WISDOM TO BE DERIVED FROM UNDERSTANDING AT THE LOWEST FORM. NO GODLINESS IN IGNORANCE. There is simply nothing of value to come from minimizing. This case is not simply about Rittenhouse’s self-defense acquittal; this is about a long and storied history of conditional worth, conditional dignity, and conditional justice. For far too many still have to wrestle with these feelings on a day to day basis. Since childhood, when one looks to the world and asks, ‘what will the world make of me.’ Only to look around and have to contemplate, ‘what will the world make of them.’ Some may be considered the embodiment of guilt while others benefited by the consideration of innocence. Fair or unfair, good or bad, described by the bombardment of euphemisms or dysphemisms that normalize our realties. As long as we breathe in this worldly existence, let’s not be ignorant to the serpent of division and denial. Let’s work to provide unconditional and divine worth to all.” – Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee Pardeep Singh Kaleka
“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. But Kyle Rittenhouse isn’t the only one responsible for the deaths that night. The events in Kenosha stem from the deep roots of White Supremacy in our society’s institutions. They underscore that the police do not protect communities of color in the same way they do White people. The situation also represents an outrageous failure to protect protesters by the Kenosha Police Department and the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office. Months of research and open records requests have uncovered many incidents in which police enabled White militia members to become armed vigilantes in the street due to their failure to control the crowd. They also created an environment where protesters, many of whom were people of color, were not protected and treated as the enemy. At the same time, White militia members were welcomed with open arms. We need a system of public safety that protects the lives of the entire community. Rittenhouse’s trial highlights an urgent need for reform for both police and the criminal legal system. The system is broken, and it desperately needs to be fixed.” – Interim Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin Shaadie Ali
“KYLE RITTENHOUSE WAS A JUVENILE WHO TRAVELED ACROSS STATE LINES ON A VIGILANTE MISSION, WAS ALLOWED BY POLICE TO ROAM THE STREETS OF KENOSHA WITH AN ASSAULT RIFLE AND ENDED UP SHOOTING THREE PEOPLE AND KILLING TWO. These are the simple, tragic facts. His acquittal comes after an ACLU investigation exposing how Kenosha law enforcement used violence against protesters and drove them toward White militia groups, in ways that escalated tensions and almost certainly led to these shootings. This complicity, along with the reason for the protests that Rittenhouse took it upon himself to confront — the police shooting of a Black man outside of a family function — highlights that the violence in Kenosha is not an anomaly, but rather endemic to a system built upon White Supremacy. In Kenosha, we saw the police shoot a Black man in the back — in front of his children. When the community rose up to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, police enabled White Supremacist militia members, which helped to spur rank vigilantism. The result of this failure was bloodshed, the loss of lives, and enduring trauma. It is far too easy to overlook the impact that violence in defense of White Supremacy has on all of our communities. As we reimagine public safety, we need to create solutions that extend that safety to everyone, including those that have been systematically neglected and preyed upon.” – Director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project Brandon Buskey