CHICAGO (AP) – For many black Americans, Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal on all charges by a Wisconsin jury on Friday confirmed their belief in two legal systems: one for white people and another for blacks.
Rittenhouse, the two men he killed, and the man he wounded were all white, but the case has been linked from the outset to issues of race and the criminal justice system.
Activists have previously pointed to differences in how police handled Rittenhouse’s case and Jacob Blake, the black man who was shot by a white Kenosha police officer in August 2020, sparking protests in the city that became destructive and violent.
Video footage played during the trial showed Rittenhouse running towards police, still wearing his rifle, and continuing past the police line following the direction of officers. He reported himself to police in Antioch, Illinois, early the following day.
And although Kenosha prosecutors filed serious charges that had the potential to put Rittenhouse in jail for life, the criminal case also struck many activists as unusually respectful of the defendant.
“You can really smell and see the underlying systemic racism that is in the justice system and the police system,” Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, said after the verdict.
Black activists in Kenosha said the verdict showed they need to continue to push for change in their city and state – in local elections, in education and in changes in the police.
“You can ‘t tell me these institutions are not sick,” said Kyle Johnson, an organizer at Black Leaders Organizing Communities. “You can not tell me that these institutions are not tainted with racism.”
Many legal experts had said Rittenhouse had a strong argument for self-defense under Wisconsin law and could be acquitted. Prosecutors had to overcome Rittenhouse’s claim that he feared for his life, and some of the states’ own witnesses made it more difficult.
Still, Judge Bruce Schroeder’s handling of the case sparked scrutiny on several counts, including when he said before it began that the men Rittenhouse shot could not be referred to as “victims” during the trial – a lengthy rule in his courtroom. Schroeder also brought a round of applause to military veterans, just as a defense witness who had served in the Army was testifying, and had Rittenhouse himself draw jury numbers to dismiss deputies – including his many years of practice.
Local attorneys characterized most of the 75-year-old judge’s decisions and methods as typical of his courtroom and within the bounds of the law, and Rittenhouse attorney Mark Richards said he “had never seen so much made of so little.”
But others questioned whether Schrøder’s decisions had an impact on the jury.
“From the outset, this case has drawn back the curtain for the deep cracks in our justice system – from the deep bias routinely and shamelessly displayed by the judge, to the apathy of officers who witnessed Rittenhouse’s crimes and did nothing,” said Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer who has represented the families of Jacob Blake, Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery. “If we were talking about a black man, the conversation and the outcome would be completely different.”
Richards said Schroeder has a reputation for harsh sentences, but “gives you a fair trial as accused.”
“And if we lost, we knew what would happen,” Richards told reporters after the verdicts. “So it would not have mattered if it was that judge or another judge. He will receive life in prison. “
Frankie Cooks of Kenosha, who stood at the steps of the courthouse shortly after Rittenhouse’s acquittal, was not angry with the result. She said she could not be sure the juries were wrong.
The complaint from Cooks, who is black, was that she has never heard of Wisconsin’s self-defense laws working for the benefit of those in her community.
“Rittenhouse would not have been acquitted if he were a black man,” Cooks said.
For chefs, it’s personal. She said her 20-year-old son, Tyrese Sherrod, is accused of opening fire on several men who she says attacked him at a gas station in Kenosha in October. He faces five crimes, including first-degree reckless endangerment and first-degree reckless injury, according to Kenosha News.
According to a complaint and video in the case, at least one person who was shot by Sherrod had previously drawn a gun at him. After Sherrod fired about 10 shots, he reportedly fled the scene.
“I want to see them deal with his case – the case of a black child – as if they were dealing with this one,” she said. “I would like to see that.”
Rittenhouse’s acquittal created fears that protesters against racial injustice and other causes would be in danger from right-wing causes that already considered Rittenhouse a hero after the shootings. Pastor Jesse Jackson, the longtime civil rights leader and activist, told The Associated Press that it suggests “it’s open season for human rights protesters.”
“Concern over this verdict is heightened by the fact that (Jacob) Blake, who was originally the problem, was shot in the back by a police officer seven times. He is in a wheelchair today, paralyzed forever. And that policeman is walking the streets of Kenosha. , on the strength today, ”Jackson said.
Associated Press reporters Scott Bauer in Madison, Wis., Michael Tarm and Mike Householder in Kenosha, Wis. and Aaron Morrison of New York contributed.