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State and local leaders, organizations react to Rittenhouse verdict

Jurors on Friday found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty of all charges against him. Rittenhouse had testified that he acted in self-defense when he shot three people, two fatally, during unrest in Kenosha last year.

Reactions poured in Friday after it was announced Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty of all charges. Statements came from the White House and other national, state, and local elected officials, as well as community leaders.

Following is a sampling of some of the responses received and vetted.

President Joe Biden

“While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken,” Biden wrote in an official statement. “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.”

Joe Biden

Biden

Biden urged the public to respond peacefully.

“I urge everyone to express their views peacefully, consistent with the rule of law,” Biden wrote. “Violence and destruction of property have no place in our democracy.”

He said the White House and federal authorities have been in contact with Governor Tony Evers’ office to offer “any assistance needed to ensure public safety.”

Gov. Tony Evers

Evers, who mobilized the National Guard to respond to any potential violence, called for unity and peace.

Gov. Tony Evers

Evers

“Kenoshans are strong, resilient, and have spent the last year working every day together toward healing,” Evers wrote. “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.”

Evers also called for change.

“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 wrote. “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.”

Mayor John Antaramian

The mayor issued the following statement Friday night regarding the verdict:

MAYOR John ANTARAMIAN

Antaramian

“The jury in the Rittenhouse case has announced its verdict, and I join Kenosha’s community leaders in calling for calm. We all may not agree because we all look at the world differently, but we must engage in civil and respectful dialog.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.

“I believe justice has been served in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. I hope everyone can accept the verdict, remain peaceful, and let the community of Kenosha heal and rebuild,” Johnson wrote.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes

Barnes, who took to Twitter, wrote that the trial is an example of a double standard, and echoes Evers’ call for “equity, accountability and justice” across the state.

“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 wrote. “As elected leaders, myself and others have a special responsibility to lift up the voices of organizers, activists and everyday people working for change. We must transform moments like this by raising our voices, together.”

U.S. Rep Bryan Steil, R-Janesville

“Today’s jury decision comes at the close of a thorough legal process, and after the jury had the opportunity to review all the facts of the case,” Steil wrote in a response statement. “As I stated last year, I encourage our community to be calm and express their views lawfully and peacefully. We have seen the horrors of destruction in Kenosha, and it is my top priority to promote public safety by working with our local officials, law enforcement officers, and our entire community. As we move forward, we must support each other, and stand against any violence or destruction.”

Congressman Bryan Steil

Steil

Steil further stated he feels the entire circumstance is the result of inaction by authorities.

“This trial made clear that when authorities fail to utilize appropriate resources to protect public safety, violence and destruction often follows,” Steil said. “The destruction in Kenosha did not need to occur. The events covered in the trial were avoidable if proper steps were taken last summer to reestablish public safety.”

Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser

“For the last 15 months, Kenosha County has worked toward healing, and growing our mutual understanding of how to make our community safe and welcoming to all,” Kreuser wrote. “While I know there remain many differing opinions about this case, I ask that we continue to work and listen together, to make our community that much stronger.”

Jim Kreuser

Kreuser

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester

“Today’s unanimous verdict may be shocking for some, but for many others, it is proof that our justice system works,” Vos wrote. “The right to a trial by a jury of your peers is a fundamental part of the checks and balances in our country.”

Robin Vos

Vos

“Let’s hope politicians and activists who disagree with the verdict don’t use this as an opportunity to sew more division and destruction in our community. For those disappointed in the outcome, I urge peace and unity over violence and destruction.”

State Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem Lakes

Samantha Kerkman

Samantha Kerkman

“Despite whatever personal opinions we may hold on the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict, none of us served on this jury nor received the same information this jury did,” Kerkman wrote. “The gravity and pressure of jury duty is difficult and I appreciate the time and work of the individuals who were selected.”

“With the verdicts comes an opportunity for closure, and an opportunity for the community to reflect, to harness the strength of that we have in common, and to build bridges and relationships where they may be lacking.”

State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine

Wanggaard, who represents the 21st Senate District that includes a large part of Kenosha County, said “justice was served” and hopes any protests will be peaceful.

Van Wanggaard h/s

Wanggaard

“Whether or not you like this verdict, it was well deliberated and reflects, through the evidence presented, the opinion of the jury,” Wanggaard wrote. “Those 12 jury members are among the only people in the world who saw all the evidence and arguments in the case. The jury undoubtedly felt the weight of the world on them while they discussed the evidence. What they did over the last 3 weeks was not easy- no matter what they had decided. The process, whether or not you agree with the outcome was followed and worked.”

Wanggaard reiterated his sentiment, debated by many, that had “Governor Evers and Lt. Governor Barnes taken control of the situation earlier last August, rather than fan the flames of unrest, this whole situation could have been avoided. Unfortunately, Barnes has already decided to fan the flames again. Words and actions have meaning. I hope that everyone else takes a deep breath and thinks about what they say before they say it. If you want to protest or celebrate, do so peacefully. Kenosha and Wisconsin cannot afford a repeat of last August.”

Tanya McClean, executive director of Leaders of Kenosha

“We know that even a guilty verdict cannot deliver justice, bring back Anthony Huber and JoJo Rosenbaum, or ensure true safety for our communities. We are coming together to show our leaders in Kenosha, the White House, and everywhere that we won’t stop until they meet this moment, fund our lives, and secure justice and safety for all, no exceptions.”

Tanya McLean

McLean

Uptown Kenosha Inc. Board President, Krista Maurer

“We believe that the high profile case verdict of Kyle Rittenhouse does not change the city of Kenosha from moving forward with its diligent work efforts for Equity, Unity and Equality in the Uptown Kenosha Community,” Maurer wrote, pledging that the Uptown Kenosha Inc. community will “Stand for Peace.”

“We strongly encourage you to follow our guidance and be aware of the hard work and dedication to our movement of systems change that will strengthen all of our children, families and businesses in Uptown Kenosha,” Maurer wrote. “With continued efforts, we will amplify our supports with neighborhoods, families, schools and businesses.”

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler

“Today’s verdict — searing, shocking, but painfully unsurprising — has sent a wave of heartbreak and grief through our state and country,” Wikler wrote. “If a Black person had done what Kyle Rittenhouse did, it almost goes without saying, they would be far more likely to have been killed by police that night than to be walking free today. This verdict, and the trial and other events that preceded it, are a gut-wrenching illustration of a society with two systems of justice, two ways lives are valued, two sets of rules.”

He called for action to “remake our systems to create a state and a world where none of these events could ever have happened.

Wikler also called for peaceful support for Kenosha.

“We can show up for each other, come together peacefully to help the community of Kenosha heal, and we can honor the victims and their families by calling for accountability, safety, and justice for all; by dismantling systems and cultures of white supremacy and violence; and by building a state where everyone, no exceptions, can thrive.”

State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine

“I am horrified by the jury’s decision to acquit Rittenhouse today,” Neubauer wrote, adding her thoughts are with the family and friends of those who were shot by Rittenhouse.

Neubauer urged those who choose to protest to do so peacefully and made a call for action to legislators to fix a broken justice system.

“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.”

“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. We must transform how we police, how we prosecute, and how we incarcerate, so we can create a truly just justice system in Wisconsin. As Kenosha works to heal from this tragedy, I call on all Wisconsinites to commit to transforming our broken justice system together.

Citizen Action Council

Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a non-profit coalition focused on social justice, provided a statement decrying the verdict.

“The fact is that Rittenhouse is free after murdering two innocent men and harming a third because of racist ideology,” the statement from the organization reads. “It is heartbreaking that he gets to live out the rest of his life with his family and friends, while Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber’s friends and families have to figure out how to go on without them. The idea that our criminal justice system is so broken as to allow for this to happen is just plain scary. But in the spirit of the civil rights movement, we won’t stop gathering peacefully in our communities, calling for what is right and just, for all of us in Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin Conservation Voters

“We’re angered and saddened after the Rittenhouse verdict today. We are reminded that the fight for justice isn’t over, and that we all have more work to do.”

Damon Hewitt, executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

“This verdict is part of a long history in which our legal system has failed to hold perpetrators of violence against those who speak up in the name of racial justice accountable,” Hewitt wrote. “Despite this absurd result and ongoing racial injustice, we will continue to fight for an America where everyone is safe from armed aggression, where everyone can also safely express themselves in a space that does not lead to fatal violence, and where all children are protected.”

Shaadie Ali, interim executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin

“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.”

Brandon Buskey, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, stated

“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.”

Jake Spence, State Director of the Wisconsin Working Families Party

“If the goal of our criminal justice system is to promote well-being, public safety and justice for all, then today’s verdict is an abject failure. And it’s also a permission slip for future vigilantes,” the statement from Spence reads. “This failure that lays at the feet of every judge, District Attorney, sheriff, and politician who has let armed white militants like Rittenhouse walk free time after time, while giving law enforcement carte blanche to brutalize people like Jacob Blake, kill people like Joel Acevedo, and harass Black and brown people.”

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