Kenosha Protest Shootings

Kyle Rittenhouse puts his hand over his face after he is found not guilt on all counts at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. The jury came back with its verdict afer close to 3 1/2 days of deliberation.

Kyle Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two men and wounded another during Kenosha protests and riots in summer 2020, was acquitted of all charges Friday after four days of deliberation.

The jury agreed Rittenhouse, 18, acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum and injured Gaige Grosskreutz with a semiautomatic rifle at protests sparked by the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a Kenosha police officer.

The jury ruled Rittenhouse was not guilty in the five felonies he was charged with: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two first-degree counts of recklessly endangering safety.

In the national spotlight, the trial has fueled debate over the concept of self-defense, gun rights and vigilantism. The verdict prompted responses ranging from outrage, resignation and calls for peace from elected officials and others across Wisconsin.

“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," Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin said. "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."

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said no verdict will bring back those lost in Kenosha or “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,” Evers said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who’s running for governor in 2022, denounced the prosecution, calling them "a complete disgrace" for “praising the mob who burned our streets as ‘heroes.’”

Evers went on to ask those who choose to assemble and protest in any community to 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,” Evers said. 

In Madison, after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May 2020 sparked largely peaceful protests along with some riots and destruction, activists are preparing to gather. In a tweet, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s BIPOC Coalition said it is working to distribute funds to organizers in Kenosha and Madison. 

The Madison Police Department is working with outside agencies and established an incident command post earlier this week in case protests occur, according to Stephanie Fryer, a spokesperson for the department. 

The department’s special events team — officers specifically trained in event staffing — is on standby, Fryer said Friday afternoon. Staffing holds are also in place at this time to ensure enough officers are available if any protests take place.

Additionally, the police department is working with Community Dialogue Representatives who can help connect community members and police during potential gatherings.

“The Madison Police Department understands and recognizes there are strong emotions concerning today’s verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial,” reads a statement from the Madison Police Department. “The department has been working with outside agencies on response plans and is prepared to protect the constitutional rights of the public should demonstrations occur.”

Cecelia Klingele, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, said she was not surprised by the jury’s decision due to Wisconsin’s self-defense law. She explained the law is “fairly protective of the rights of a person defending himself against what he reasonably believes to be a serious threat of force against him.”

While the case doesn’t “break any new ground” from a state law perspective, Klingele said the trial sparked national debate on the appropriate use of force and the use of weapons in public spaces. 

“Because Kyle Rittenhouse was in Kenosha that day in connection with protests against police violence that were occurring, it has lots of racial overtones and implications for how we think about the role of the citizen versus the role of police in protecting public spaces,” she said.

Anthony Cooper, who leads the Nehemiah Center Reentry Services program, said the trial’s outcome reflects a national trend: According to the NAACP, Black people are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white Americans.

“You have to bring race into the equation when you are talking about the criminal justice system,” Cooper said. “If this had been a young black boy, this would have definitely played out differently."

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes called the verdict “another example of the difficult road to justice in America” on Twitter Friday

“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,” Barnes tweeted. “We must transform moments like this by raising our voices, together.”

More reactions from across the state:

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