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The Margin: Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty verdict reactions: From ‘Justice wins the day’ to ‘Only in America’

Kyle Rittenhouse has been found not guilty of killing two men and wounding a third during a night of protests in Kenosha, Wis. last summer. 

Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all five charges, which included first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and first-degree recklessly endangering safety after the then-17-year-old came to Kenosha from his home in Antioch, Ill. while carrying a semiautomatic rifle — intending, he testified, to help protect property after rioters had looted businesses and set fires during previous nights of civil arrest. Two other charges were dismissed by the judge earlier in the trial.

Rittenhouse claimed that he shot the three men in self-defense, arguing that they attacked him during the Aug. 25, 2020 demonstrations. The prosecution argued that Rittenhouse, now 18, provoked the incident. 

Mark Richards, one of the defense lawyers, told reporters that Rittenhouse is “relieved, and he looks forward to getting on with his life. And having a jury of 12 people find him not guilty meant the world to him, in practical and symbolic ways.”

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, the lead prosector, told reporters that, “The jury has represented our community in this trial and has spoken.”

Reactions on social media were just as divided as the verdict was announced on Friday. “Not guilty” and the hashtag #RittenhouseVerdict shot to the top of trending Twitter topics in the U.S. right after the verdict was announced. “Congratulations Kyle” was also trending further down. 

The parents of Anthony Huber, one of the men fatally shot by Rittenhouse, said they were “heartbroken and angry” in a lengthy statement released after the verdict.

“We are heartbroken and angry that Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted in his criminal trial for the murder of our son Anthony Huber. There was no justice today for Anthony, or for Mr. Rittenhouse’s other victims, Joseph Rosenbaum and Gaige Grosskreutz,” said Huber’s parents, Karen Bloom and John Huber.

“Today’s verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son,” they continued. “It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street.”

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, tweeted a statement that read: “No verdict will be able to bring back the lives of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, or heal Gaige Grosskreutz’s injuries, just as no verdict can heal the wounds or trauma experienced by Jacob Blake and his family. 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.”

The trial has become a political flashpoint for several reasons. Rittenhouse became a poster child for gun rights — or for vigilantism, depending how whom you ask — with pro-gun conservatives helping to raise $2 million for his bail and legal defense, the Associated Press reported

“The Rittenhouse verdict is a HUGE victory for self-defense and Second Amendment rights in the United States,” tweeted the gun lobby Gun Owners of America. 

The National Rifle Association tweeted out the text to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Gun control activists including Newtown Action Alliance countered that Americans should be “terrified” by the not guilty verdict. 

Shannon Watts, the founder of the gun control group Moms Demand Action, tweeted, “A white teenager got his hands on a semiautomatic rifle, showed up at a protest in support of Black lives, killed two people and wounded another, traumatized a community — and due to our lax gun laws and culture of extremism, no one was held accountable.” 

His treatment by police officers that night has also become the latest public referendum on race and the American legal system, with many calling out the racial double standard in the way the Blake and Rittenhouse cases were handled. Blake, who is Black, was shot seven times and paralyzed at the door of his SUV after a pocketknife fell from his pants during a scuffle with police. But footage has shown police officers letting Rittenhouse, who is white, and others armed with guns openly roam the streets of Kenosha despite the citywide curfew, as well as giving them bottles of water and telling them that, “We appreciate you guys.”

Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, expressed disappointment with the verdict on CNN. “We want the nation to know … the nation that you live in now isn’t the nation of the United States that we used to live in,” he said.

Related: Bill Ackman: Kyle Rittenhouse is ‘telling the truth’ and ‘acted in self defense’ in viral Twitter thread

While Rittenhouse and the men he shot were all white, Rittenhouse has drawn support from opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement, and he was photographed with apparent members of the far-right Proud Boys after he got out of jail, the Associated Press reported

“This is how the systems conspire to entrench #WhiteSupremacy,” the Black Lives Matter organization tweeted. 

So it’s not surprising that the topic dominated news stories and social media feeds as lawmakers, civil rights leaders and everyday Americans gave their own verdicts of how the trial played out.

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