In a matter of seconds Friday afternoon, the crowd on and near the steps of the Kenosha County Courthouse went from near silence, as dozens of journalists and a number of demonstrators listened on cell phones to “not guilty” verdicts being read aloud in court, to an explosion of shouts and yells and verbal fights and speeches filling the air.
In the ensuing hours, demonstrators in support of and opposed to Kyle Rittenhouse would get nose to nose and nearly come to blows. One woman appeared to have a seizure, tears were shed, and wide-ranging and conflicting opinions were shared loudly and ad nauseum.
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Justin Blake, the uncle of Jacob Blake, whose shooting by police began the series of events that led to the Rittenhouse shootings, called for peace and for more protests after the verdict.
“This kid is guilty as hell … We got work to do,” Justin Blake said. “This was a godawful sight for the whole world to see, the racism, the underbelly of racism that runs through this country in every jurisdiction.”
Added Bishop Tavis Grant, a leader of the Rainbow Push Coalition that was founded by Rev. Jesse Jackson, “This is a sad day in America, and this is a time that we must use peace and protest and civil disobedience to move our cause forward.”
But a man standing atop a railing leading up to the courthouse repeatedly yelled “Kyle was in the right place, with the right weapon, at the right time!” while holding a “Free Kyle” sign. The man, who has been demonstrating for several days, said he is from California, but has given multiple different names to the press.
Veronica King, president of the Kenosha Branch NAACP, said she was “disappointed” but not surprised by the verdicts. She pointed to how 11 of the 12 jurors in the case (and all six alternates) were white.
Hannah Gittings and Susan Hughes, the girlfriend and aunt of the late Anthony Huber, walked silently and slowly out of the courthouse, surrounded by a mob of cameramen.
Others in the crowd yelled, “The Second Amendment still exists in America!”
Scott Graser, who said he came from Omaha, Nebraska, to support Rittenhouse, said, “They don’t want us to have this right.”
Debate far from over
Even if the trial may be over, the debates surrounding race, gun laws, the Second Amendment and so much else tied to this case are far from concluded.
“These jurors saw a different American from what we see every day,” Justin Blake said, noting the racial makeup of the jury. It was something King noticed as well, as both Blake and King said “more work needs to be done” in reforming the American court system to be more equitable.
Blake said that African Americans make up about 17% of the U.S. population, but make up nearly 40% of prison inmates and less than 10% (if not 0%) of the jury in the Rittenhouse shooting. Blake and King have been among those asking how different this case would be if Rittenhouse had been black.
While all three people Rittenhouse shot were white, they had been at protests in support of Jacob Blake on Aug. 25, 2020, the same night Rittenhouse came to town. He testified that he came to defend local businesses after widespread rioting had hit the city.
Justin Blake and others associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have shown support for Gaige Grosskreutz, Anthony Huber and Joseph “JoJo” Rosenbaum after they were shot.
“Everybody, please take a deep breath. What we saw here was a terrible, tragic injustice,” Justin Blake said in front of the courthouse moments after the not-guilty verdicts were read out. “These young men were trying to support my nephew, Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the street in the back in front of his children.”
Justin Blake continued: “The mayor, the police chief, the people who were running the Army have blood on their hands today. This isn’t just an attack on African Americans. I keep saying that. This is an attack on our democracy.”
Of the protests expected to come, he said: “I want everybody to try and be as peaceful as they can, but as Martin Luther King said, there’s a check out there that’s overdue for African-Americans.
“We made this country the greatest country in the world for 300, 400 years of free slavery. We need ours like yesterday. We need that check cashed. We need it brought to our people and cashed.”
“I feel like justice wasn’t served today,” said Indiria Hudson of Kenosha. “I know for a fact it wasn’t served today because a life is a life. Killing somebody should never be OK, and nobody should ever get off for that, no matter the circumstance … I understand that people were saying he was trying to defend himself, but I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve never heard of a self-defense law here.
“I was there,” on Aug. 25, 2020,” Hudson continued. “(Rittenhouse) wasn’t in danger. He created the danger for himself. I’m not saying that because I’m a biased person. I’m saying that because it’s true.”
Kevin Mathewson, the former Kenosha alderman who issued the call to arms that led to dozens of armed people coming to Kenosha’s streets the night of the shootings, said he was "thrilled" with the outcome.
“Justice was done," he said, upon exiting the courthouse. "Now this kid can go back to whatever he can of a normal life. Justice was served.”