Officials across the US and the families of victims have urged for calm as protests in several cities followed the polarising outcome in the homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse.
In New York around 300 people marched and carried placards from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to the Brooklyn Bridge before crossing into lower Manhattan on Friday.
Rittenhouse faced five felonies for fatally shooting two men and injuring another with an AR-15-style rifle in the volatile aftermath of a police brutality protest on 25 August, 2020. He was acquitted on 19 November following a 15-day trial with nearly four days of jury deliberations.
Protests in Portland, Oregon prompted officials to declare a riot. A group of “10 to 20” people in a crowd of roughly 200 protesters broke windows and tossed objects at police, according to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
The law enforcement agency declared a riot after the group began “tampering with” a gate out the Multnomah CountyJustice Center, which houses local police, and tried to block the ramp with downed tree branches. One person with an outstanding warrant was arrested.
Another protest in Chicago saw a 90-minute march through the city’s streets. Around 100 demonstrators in Oakland, California marched and rallied on Friday night.
Protesters have pointed to the Rittenhouse verdict as a reflection of the imbalance in the US criminal justice system, and warned that it could set a precedent for vigilante violence. One sign outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn said the verdict marks “open season on civil disobedience and protests”.
New York City Public Advocate and candidate for governor Jumaane Williams, who attended protests in Brooklyn, said the verdict “sets a new standard that will only encourage future Kyle Rittenhouses – some in the streets armed with weapons, some in government armed with oppression.”
Unrest in the city in 2020 followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who is Black, by a white Kenosha Police Department officer. Mr Blake was left paralysed by the shooting.
Following the Rittenhouse verdict, Justin Blake, the uncle of Jacob Blake, told reporters at the courthouse that “we’re going to continue to be peaceful”.
Lawyers representing the family Gaige Grosskreutz, who was injured by Mr Rittenhouse, said “what we need right now is justice, not more violence”.
Kimberley Motley and Milo Schwab, attorneys for Mr Grosskreutz and the estate of Joseph Rosenbaum, who was killed that night, have asked for “peace from everyone hurting” following the jury’s decision. The other victim was Anthony Huber.
“Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum did not deserve to die that night. For now, we ask for peace from everyone hurting and that the public respect the privacy of the victims and their families,” read the statement.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers had kept 500 National Guard service members on standby in the event that local law enforcement needed support, though a relative calm followed the verdict.
A local pastor, Reverend Monica Cummings, led a prayer vigil on Friday night and urged Kenosha to “begin the long process of healing.”
Despite the relatively narrow scope of the jury’s deliberations to determine whether Rittenhouse acted in self-defense under Wisconsin law, the case and the trial have reflected deep divisions across American politics.
The trial has also revived scrutiny and debate into Second Amendment rights and American gun culture.
Many on the American right have celebrated Rittenhouse’s acquittal, while prominent Democratic officials as well as civil rights groups, racial justice activists and gun reform advocates have blamed a criminal legal system and toxic political atmosphere that prompted a then-17-year-old to enter a chaotic scene with a dangerous weapon.
President Joe Biden told reporters on Friday that he stands by “what the jury has concluded” and that “the jury system works”.
In a later statement, the President appealed for calm. He said that“while the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken. I ran on a promise to bring Americans together, because I believe that what unites us is far greater than what divides us”.