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Protesters opposed to the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse march Sunday in Kenosha.

After a Kenosha jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois vigilante who left two people dead when he shot up a racial justice protest in Kenosha in the summer of 2020, there were those who suggested that — bad as it was — the jury’s decision needed to be respected.

Why? There is a long history of judges and juries getting things wrong, as is obvious to anyone familiar with the Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson and Korematsu v. United States decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld slavery, segregation and the internment of patriotic Americans during World War II. And those are only the high-level instances of unjust rulings. Law library shelves are full of books about lower court decisions that have failed to meet even the basic standards of justice.

It’s perfectly appropriate to object to the verdict in the Rittenhouse trial, as leaders of the Urban League at the national level and in Wisconsin do in a statement that is reproduced on this page.

Presidents and governors, congresses and legislatures, can and do get things wrong, and when they err, we have a duty to call them out. The same goes for judges and juries.

So, of course, it was appropriate for Shaadie Ali of the ACLU of Wisconsin to observe, “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.”

State Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, noted after the acquittal that it was “an injustice to his victims, to their loved ones, and to the entire Kenosha community.”

The trial of Rittenhouse for shooting and killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and for wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, on the night of Aug. 25, 2020, was a fiasco from start to finish. Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder’s rulings from the bench evidenced a steady bias against the prosecution, and his convoluted jury instructions left the jurors too little space for serious deliberation.

The result was as predictable as it was dismal. We should acknowledge that fact, as state Rep Francesca Hong, D-Madison, did when she said after the ruling, “Kyle Rittenhouse is a murderer and justice was not served today. His acquittal speaks volumes to the privilege of whiteness in America.”

It was also an injustice to Wisconsinites who dare to exercise their First Amendment rights.

“The right to peacefully protest is one guaranteed by our Constitution, and I fear that this decision will only embolden those who would bring weapons to confront protesters and attempt to impose vigilante justice in Wisconsin communities,” warned state Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine.

Neubauer recognizes what is at stake at a time when there is still so much injustice to protest, and so much change to demand.

“We cannot lose sight of the cause of the turmoil where this incident happened — the failure of our justice system to protect Black and Brown lives,” she says. “We must transform how we police, how we prosecute, and how we incarcerate, so we can create a truly just justice system in Wisconsin.”

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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