KENOSHA, Wisc. — A profanity-laced shouting match erupted outside the Kenosha County Courthouse moments before the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict was read.
Then “God Bless America” blared on a loudspeaker after the 18-year-old Antioch man was acquitted of all charges.
“I flew here from California. ... I wasn’t going to let the Rittenhouse family be here and not feel supported. This is a just trial,” one supporter said. His sign read: “Free Kyle. The USA is still worth defending.”
Rittenhouse, 18, had testified he was acting self-defense in the deadly Kenosha shootings that became a flashpoint in the nation’s debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice.
He had been charged with homicide, attempted homicide and reckless endangering after killing two men and wounding a third with a semi-automatic rifle during a tumultuous night of protests over police violence against Black people in the summer of 2020. Rittenhouse, a former police youth cadet, is white, as were the men he shot. Rittenhouse killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, then shot to death protester Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded demonstrator Gaige Grosskreutz, now 28.
Those protests in Kenosha were sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake in August 2020. Some witnesses say Blake was simply trying to break up a fight. Cellphone video of the incident shows Blake walking around and opening up his car door before appearing to be shot in the back by police.
The outcome of Rittenhouse’s case left Blake’s father, also named Jacob Blake, dismayed.
Friday’s verdict “gives white people freelance to kill anyone,” the elder Blake said. But if Rittenhouse were Black, Blake said, “what do you think would have happened?”
It’s just another example of the “two systems of justice,” Blake said. His son was shot in the back seven times by a police officer, but that wasn’t ruled an excessive use of force, Blake said. But Rittenhouse killed two people and was “totally exonerated,” Blake said.
“We have to live with the fact that (Huber and Rosenbaum) were out there protesting on the behalf of my son,” Blake said. “And now they’re dead. And that’s OK in Wisconsin.”
Blake noted that something else also happened Friday afternoon. In Kansas City, a white police officer was found guilty of fatally shooting Cameron Lamb, a Black man, in 2019, a case that involved police planting evidence. It was a “beautiful thing,” said the elder Jacob Blake.
Instead of focusing on that verdict, most of the country’s attention will stay on the Rittenhouse verdict, Blake said.
“We’re so caught up in what happened in Kenosha that we didn’t pay attention to police moving a dead body in Kansas City,” Blake said. “Just when we get to the precipice of a hill, just when we’re ready to get to the top, they slide some mud down the hill and set us back a few feet.”
On the steps of the courthouse, a woman had a seizure. Police came out to form a barrier around her, and one officer pushed a man protesting. pic.twitter.com/RqBC1MADkJ— Clare Spaulding (@ceproctor23) November 19, 2021
More than an hour after the verdict was delivered, a woman appeared to suffer a seizure on the courthouse steps. Law enforcement officers surrounded the woman. An officer shoved a Black man as a crowd formed around the woman.
Justin Blake, an uncle of Jacob Blake, was disgusted by the verdict. He said the trial’s outcome was “even worse” than prosecutors not charging the officer.
“It shows this city doesn’t welcome African Americans or minorities,” Justin Blake said.
Johnathon McClellan, president of the Minnesota Justice Coalition, stood on the courthouse steps hours after the jury reached a verdict. McClellan called on the federal government to intervene and for the Wisconsin attorney general to re-charge Rittenhouse with illegal possession of a firearm.
Several cars drove by the courthouse honking their horns or cheering out the window. One pickup truck blared “Celebration,” by Kool & The Gang.
The jury, which appeared to be overwhelmingly white, deliberated for close to 3 1/2 days.
Rittenhouse could have been sentenced to life in prison if found guilty on the most serious charge, first-degree intentional homicide — what some states call first-degree murder.
As the verdict drew near, Gov. Tony Evers had pleaded for calm and said 500 National Guard members would be ready for duty in Kenosha if needed.
Scott Graser Sr., of Omaha, was pleased with the verdict. “Had he been found guilty of lesser charges, I would still say justice had been served.”
Matthew McGinnis, who lives west of Kenosha, said, “I think the verdict sends the message that we have the right to protect ourselves.”
Dave Graham, who has been outside the courthouse all week with a sign reading “Unity Not Fracture,” was “shocked” by the verdict.
“If I was a criminal ... I’d want that prosecution in my case,” Graham said. He called the prosecution the “worst example of [wasted] tax dollars.”
Later, about a dozen people gathered in front of Bradford Unitarian Universalist Community Church to pray for the healing of Kenosha. The residents recited somber songs just blocks away from where TV reporters had done live shots about the verdict in front of the county courthouse.
“We know that the trial officially ended today. Our trial has just begun,” Rev. Erik David Carlson said. “We need to take this opportunity as a city and as a society to examine some of the problems in our legal system that basically allowed a jury to affirm the legal right of Kyle [Rittenhouse] to take two lives.”
Carlson said they must work to ensure people have the right to protest “over the right to bear arms.”
The church had suffered some fire damage when a neighboring car dealership was ignited during the violent protest that erupted the night before Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha.
Rev. Monica Cummings, another pastor for the church, said she was happy to see people come out despite the cold. Seeing people gathering meant they weren’t in it alone, when they lean on each other during difficult times, she said.
“We offer this prayer for healing in our beloved city and each of us in the community,” she said.
“We offer this prayer for [the Rosenbaum and Huber] families who are grieving again tonight and we ask that they stop grieving,” Rev. Cummings added. “We offer this prayer, that people don’t get discouraged and continue to struggle for justice.”
Contributing: The Associated Press