Lawmakers and legal experts across the country responded Friday to the innocent verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case, in which many criticized his acquittal on all five counts in the shooting of three men, two of whom were fatal, in a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin in support of Jacob Blake, a black man who was shot in the back by police in August 2020.
Rittenhouse, 18, was charged with five crimes, the shootings of Joseph Rosenbaum (36) and Anthony Huber (26) and the non-fatal shooting of Gaige Großkreutz, now 27.
The twelve-person jury made a decision on Friday afternoon after four days of deliberation.
Rittenhouse shivered as the jury pronounced the verdict and wept after all five “not guilty” charges were read out.
Lawyers for Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, claim he was defending himself from an angry crowd of protesters when he fired multiple shots from an AR-15 rifle.
“I did nothing wrong. I defended myself, ”said Rittenhouse. “I didn’t mean to kill her. I wanted to stop the people who attacked me. “
Prosecutors argued he incited violence when he took the 30-minute drive from his hometown of Antioch, Illinois to the protests and carried a loaded AR-15 rifle through the highly emotional crowd that opposed the shooting of Blake by the Police demonstrated. The 29-year-old black man was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer outside his Kenosha apartment complex. His three children witnessed the shooting, which was videotaped by a viewer, which quickly went viral and sparked outrage.
Blake remained partially paralyzed. The officers involved have not been charged with criminal charges following an investigation by the Kenosha District Attorney.
Testimony at the trial indicated that Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum – who was discharged from a mental hospital that day and was seen by others and in video footage that acted erratically during the protests – after chasing him into a parking lot. Rittenhouse then shot and killed Huber and Grosskreutz, who testified that he had drawn a pistol that he was carrying with him because he believed Rittenhouse was an active shooter when they were chasing him.
The Rittenhouse case has become a focal point in the country’s culture wars.
Conservatives rallied around the teenager, characterizing him as an All-American hero who protected the city from stormy protests while he exercised his gun rights.
For others, Rittenhouse stands for extremism, right-wing extremism and a judicial system geared towards white privileges.
The chaotic process brought a media circus to Kenosha, where 500 Army National Guard soldiers were stationed Friday to prepare for the riot after the verdict.
Circuit judge Bruce Schroeder sometimes came under fire for bizarre behavior and feelings of sympathy for Rittenhouse. He allowed Rittenhouse to select jurors from a tumbler and later cast gun possession charges he faced.
Here are some of the early responses to the ruling from lawmakers and criminal law experts:
Governor Kathy Hochul: “Kyle Rittenhouse killed two people with an assault weapon. That is not justice. If there was a question about why we need strict gun safety laws, this is your answer. That should never have happened in the first place. We have a lot to do”, she tweeted.
New York City Mayor-Elect Eric Adams: “The decision is an indictment of irresponsible laws that make our society far more violent and insecure under the guise of personal freedom and so-called self-defense. It also sends an extremely dangerous message to those in our country who – often born of prejudice and ignorance – seek anarchy to wreak havoc in their communities and possibly murder their neighbors. We shouldn’t be shocked. We should focus on acting quickly and honestly, ”he said in a statement.
New York Attorney General Letitia James: “This is a dark day for our judicial system. As a lawyer, I respect the judges’ judgments. But this is another reminder that our system needs to be uprooted and reformed. ” she tweeted.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio: “Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum are victims. You should be alive today. . . The only reason they aren’t is because a violent, dangerous man decided to take a gun across state lines and shoot people. . . To call this a miscarriage of justice is an understatement. ” he tweeted.
New York City Public Advocate and Gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams: “The Kyle Rittenhouse trial and ruling are clear and devastating representations of the way our country and legal system view innocence and guilt, vigilante groups and villains, race and the fight against racial injustice.” he said in a statement. “All over the country we see people who are committed not to change systems of injustice, but to use these systems to harm those who protest or protest against it. This ruling sets a new standard that will only encourage future Kyle Rittenhouses – some armed with guns on the streets, some of them armed with repression in the government. “
Gale Brewer, Manhattan District President: “Joseph Rosenbaum, 36 and Anthony Huber, 26 – victims killed by Kyle Rittenhouse. The killer is free in WI thanks to a miscarriage of justice. Huber leaves behind a stepdaughter, Rosenbaum a daughter. White supremacy, guns and institutional racism are a toxic combination. ” she tweeted.
State Senator Zellnor Myrie: “This is not just one case in … an already-failing system … The United States Supreme Court could sanction the Rittenhouse fact sheet for the whole country next year. . . Allow yourself to feel all the emotions that you are feeling. Then organize. Immediately,” he tweeted.
Member of the State Assembly Latoya Joyner: “What the hell!” she tweeted.
Member of the State Assembly Jo Anne Simon: “That’s really bad. Damn unbelievably bad. ” she tweeted.
Keith Powers, Member of the New York City Council: “Nobody can look at today’s verdict and believe that America doesn’t have two judicial systems. . . It is clearer than ever that we have an incredible amount of work to do to build a fair and equitable judicial system. ” he tweeted.
Newly elected member of New York City Council Sandy nurse: “The jury’s decision does not come out of the blue. The process was marred by the defense’s racist dog whistles and the judge’s baseless, biased comments, ”she said in a statement. “The process and its outcome were shaped by the ideologies of white supremacy that are deeply rooted in our country. The jury’s decision will have far-reaching consequences for our shared democratic ideals of freedom of expression and assembly. Ultimately, today’s ruling gives extremists the green light to use violence against those who fight for a more compassionate, just and just world. “
Newly elected member of New York City Council Crystal Hudson: “I wish I could say I’m surprised” she tweeted.
Dov Hikind, former MP for the New York National Assembly: “Not only was Kyle Rittenhouse on trial for kenosha, but our constitutional rights as well. . . And the verdict is in place. . . Americans have a right to self-defense and free from the liberal madness that makes violent rioting and property destruction acceptable! . . . A day of justice ” he tweeted.
Civil rights attorney and former Manhattan District Attorney candidate Tahanie Aboushi: “the #Rittenhouse judgment sets a target for protesters and sets a dangerous precedent that it is okay to kill / injure protesters under the guise of “self-defense”. The judge would not have her called a victim because that would have weakened Rittenhouse’s claim to self-defense, ”she wrote in a tweet also shared by Councilor Justin Brannan.
New York Public Defender and Former Manhattan Attorney, Eliza Orlins: “Kyle Rittenhouse found not guilty on all charges. . . This is not an example of our “broken” criminal justice system. It’s another example of the system working exactly as planned. ” she tweeted.
President Joe Biden: “While the Kenosha ruling will make many Americans angry and concerned, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken,” he said in a statement. “I promised to bring Americans together because I believe that what unites us is much greater than what divides us. I know we will not heal our country’s wounds overnight, but I stand firm in my obligation to do everything in my power to ensure that every American is treated equally, with fairness and dignity under the law. “
With additional coverage from Jeff Coltin and Zach Williams.