Hundreds more people gathered Saturday for a rally at Federal Plaza before hitting the streets to denounce the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse a day earlier on murder and attempted murder charges that also drew protesters downtown.
Among the speakers at the event was the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., who told the crowd he believed the verdict in Rittenhouse’s case sets a “dangerous precedent” at future protests.
“The Rittenhouse decision jeopardized every freedom fighter,” Jackson told the assembled crowd. “Everyone who’s a demonstrator can be killed by a right-winger with[out] justification.”
“We have the right, the constitutional right, to march,” Jackson said later. “He has the constitutional right to object. He does not have the right to kill us.”
Jackson said his Rainbow PUSH Coalition would be hosting another march Sunday in Kenosha, which is expected to end outside the Kenosha County Courthouse, where Rittenhouse’s trial was held.
“Nobody has the right to go across state lines [with] a loaded weapon, come back with a loaded weapon, shoot two people and then go home,” Jackson said. “So we fight back.”
Rittenhouse, who was 17 and living in suburban Antioch at the time, fatally shot two men and wounded a third last year during a tumultuous night of protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake, who is Black, by a white Kenosha police officer.
Rittenhouse, now 18, said he went to Kenosha to protect businesses from looters and was acting in self-defense when he fired a rifle at the men on Aug. 25, 2020 when they attacked him. He was acquitted by a jury Friday of all charges.
The case became a flashpoint in the debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice in the U.S.
People who viewed Rittenhouse as a vigilante were angered by the verdict. Others who regarded the Antioch teen as a patriot who wanted to stop lawlessness by exercising his Second Amendment right to carry a gun and defend himself, however, felt vindicated by the jury’s decision.
Miracle Boyd, a youth organizer for the anti-violence group Good Kids Mad City, said Saturday that the jury’s verdict was a “miscarriage of justice.”
“He’s the exact kind of person that the system was designed to protect — not my Black and Brown cousins,” Boyd said. “Trayvon Martin had skittles and an Arizona [Iced Tea] and was shot to death. Mr. Rittenhouse was a 17-year-old with an AR-15 as big as him, murdered two people and was sent scot-free.”
“Let’s stop pretending like oppression and supremacy doesn’t exist,” Boyd said.
Tanya Watkins, a community organizer with Blackroots Alliance, said those who shared Boyd’s sentiments should use their energy to change laws and challenge the status quo.
“As the people of the global majority, we must change the dominant narrative, change laws, dismantle systems and build new ones,” Watkins said during a fiery speech to the protesters. “So yeah, be angry as hell y’all. But do not stop. Take every opportunity to disrupt the s--- out of the status quo.”
A portion of the protesters attended another rally earlier in the day at Millennium Park, which was planned as a counter-protest to a purported gathering by the far-right Proud Boys group.
After about two hours, that group marched from the park to Federal Plaza to join the second rally.
Jackson led the first leg of the conjoined march through the Loop, first north on Dearborn Street before turning onto Monroe Street, where Jackson, who turned 80 last month and was recently hospitalized with COVID, was escorted away in a black SUV.
The mass of people then continued toward Michigan Avenue, where they shut down both lanes of traffic for a time while holding signs that read “reject racist vigilante terror,” and “furious but not surprised.”
“Rittenhouse: guilty,” the crowd chanted at one point.
Onlookers in the Loop pulled out their phones to record the protest.
A few bystanders defended Rittenhouse to the crowd, but the interactions, although heated at times, stayed peaceful.
The rally ended about 4:30 p.m.