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Wisconsin leaders call for peace, respond to acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse

Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 1:02 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 19, 2021 at 7:13 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Wisconsin officials are responding with calls for peace, feelings of outrage and praise for the justice system Friday over the not guilty verdict reached in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who was acquitted of all charges.

Governor Tony Evers responded about an hour after acquittal was announced, but argued no verdict would bring back the lives of the men lost or the trauma experienced by Jacob Blake. (Full statements from all leaders are listed at the bottom.)

“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,” Gov. Evers said.

He also urged the community to exercise their First Amendment Right to protest peacefully, which he says echoes the calls of community leaders.

“I’ve seen the pain and the frustration of so many, and we must remain steadfast in our commitment to ending violence in our communities, supporting victims and survivors as they heal from trauma, and rooting out the disparities that are so often inextricably linked to that violence and trauma,” Evers continued. “We must be unwavering in our promise to build a state where every kid, person, and family can live their life free of violence and have every chance to be successful.”

When the verdict dropped, some people outside the courthouse cheered while others mourned.

“It’s unfortunate for our community and what it says about this town, that you can come here from another place and do whatever you want and there are no consequences,” Tanya McLean, executive director of Leaders of Kenosha, said.

“This was never about Kyle,” a bystander said in the crowd. “This was about the Second Amendment right and the right to defend yourself.”

CNN reporter Kevin Liptak, who covers the White House, spoke with President Joe Biden when he arrived back on the South Lawn following a medical procedure. President Biden was in support of the jury’s decision.

“I stand by what the jury has to say,” Biden said. “The jury system works.”

Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson stated that he believes “justice has been served” in the trial and called for peace.

“I hope everyone can accept the verdict, remain peaceful, and let the community of Kenosha heal and rebuild,” Johnson said.

Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin denounced the decision and urged those who protest to do so peacefully.

“I understand why people believe that justice was not served in this case, because I feel the same way,” Baldwin said. “This ruling makes clear we have so much work to do to take on gun violence, and reform our broken criminal justice system so that it starts working equally and fairly for everyone.”

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes responded to the verdict, calling for leaders to lift up the voices of the community and for the public to remember those who were fatally shot.

“Across Wisconsin and across the country, countless people are coming together in this moment to remember Jacob, Anthony, JoJo, and call for justice,” Barnes said. “Here is what gives me hope: We have seen communities – especially Kenosha – step up to demand action from those in power and work to bring about positive change.”

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul stated that now, officials have work to do to make communities more equitable and safe.

“Let me be clear: I condemn vigilantism,” Kaul said. “It is dangerous and illegal, and it has no place in our communities. The actions of those attempting to take the law into their own hands only put the safety of law enforcement officers and communities in danger.”

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway condemned the verdict, describing it as “deeply disturbing.

“Unfortunately, this will perpetuate distrust in the justice system and further normalize gun violence,” Rhodes-Conway said. “Allowing vigilantism to masquerade as self-defense is a terrible precedent.”

Republican U.S. Representative Bryan Steil urged the public to remain calm and protest peacefully following the verdict.

“We have seen the horrors of destruction in Kenosha, and it is my top priority to promote public safety by working with our local officials, law enforcement officers, and our entire community,” Steil said. ”As we move forward, we must support each other, and stand against any violence or destruction.”

Democratic Minority Leader of the Wisconsin State Assembly Gordon Hintz echoed Barnes, saying his thoughts were with the families of the men who were fatally shot and that people should show support to the Kenosha community.

“Let us all work to transform this painful moment into a turning point in ensuring accountability in public safety, addressing systemic racism in our state, and prioritizing true justice and healing in Wisconsin,” said Hintz. “This ruling is a green light for these types of people to instigate violence, only to use violence to escape accountability.”

Republican State Senator Van Wanggard, who represents almost all of Kenosha County except for the City of Kenosha, expressed that he believes the case was “very well deliberated.”

“The jury undoubtedly felt the weight of the world on them while they discussed the evidence,” Wanggard said. “What they did over the last 3 weeks was not easy- no matter what they had decided. The process, whether or not you agree with the outcome was followed and worked. Justice was served.”

Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the decision is “proof” that the justice system works.

“Let’s hope politicians and activists who disagree with the verdict don’t use this as an opportunity to sew more division and destruction in our community,” Vos said. “For those disappointed in the outcome, I urge peace and unity over violence and destruction.”

Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges Friday after pleading self-defense in the deadly Kenosha shootings that became a flashpoint in the debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice in the U.S.

He had been charged with homicide, attempted homicide and reckless endangering after killing two men and wounding a third with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle during a tumultuous night of protests over police violence against Black people in the summer of 2020. The former police youth cadet is white, as were those he shot.

Full statements of state leaders

“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.

“Kenoshans are strong, resilient, and have spent the last year working every day together toward healing. This case and the resulting national spotlight on the Kenosha community and our state have undoubtedly reopened wounds that have not yet fully healed. I echo the calls of local Kenosha community leaders and join them in asking everyone who might choose to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights in any community to please only do so safely and peacefully. We must have peace in Kenosha and our communities, and any efforts or actions aimed at sowing division are unwelcome in our state as they will only hinder that healing.

“I’ve seen the pain and the frustration of so many, and we must remain steadfast in our commitment to ending violence in our communities, supporting victims and survivors as they heal from trauma, and rooting out the disparities that are so often inextricably linked to that violence and trauma. We must be unwavering in our promise to build a state where every kid, person, and family can live their life free of violence and have every chance to be successful.

“We must move forward, together, more united and more motivated to build the sort of future we want for our state—one that is just, one that is equitable, and one where every person has the resources and opportunity to thrive—and I will not stop working to achieve that vision.”

Governor Tony Evers

“I believe justice has been served in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. I hope everyone can accept the verdict, remain peaceful, and let the community of Kenosha heal and rebuild.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)

“Over the last few weeks, many dreaded the outcome we just witnessed. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is what we should expect from our judicial system, but that standard is not always applied equally. We have seen so many black and brown youth killed, only to be put on trial posthumously, while the innocence of Kyle Rittenhouse was virtually demanded by the judge.

“This is another example of the difficult road to justice in America, and while we can easily view this as a setback, we have to turn this into a moment to push even harder by staying engaged, by organizing for justice, by holding our leaders accountable, and by registering our friends and neighbors to vote. As elected leaders, myself and others have a special responsibility to lift up the voices of organizers, activists, and everyday people working for change. We must transform moments like this by raising our voices, together.

“Across Wisconsin and across the country, countless people are coming together in this moment to remember Jacob, Anthony, JoJo, and call for justice. Here is what gives me hope: We have seen communities – especially Kenosha – step up to demand action from those in power and work to bring about positive change. We have the power to elect leaders at every level who represent our highest aspirations, who will fight alongside us for reform and progress. We all have the power to heal Kenosha and our nation.”

Lt. Governor and U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes

“My thoughts are with the loved ones of Anthony Huber and JoJo Rosenbaum, who were killed by Kyle Rittenhouse on August 25, 2020. Both men should still be alive today.

“I urge all Wisconsinites to support continued healing for the people of Kenosha and to reimagine what true justice and safety look like in Wisconsin. Let us all work to transform this painful moment into a turning point in ensuring accountability in public safety, addressing systemic racism in our state, and prioritizing true justice and healing in Wisconsin.

“This ruling is a green light for these types of people to instigate violence, only to use violence to escape accountability.”

Rep. Gordon Hintz

“Today’s jury decision comes at the close of a thorough legal process, and after the jury had the opportunity to review all the facts of the case.

As I stated last year, I encourage our community to be calm and express their views lawfully and peacefully. We have seen the horrors of destruction in Kenosha, and it is my top priority to promote public safety by working with our local officials, law enforcement officers, and our entire community. As we move forward, we must support each other, and stand against any violence or destruction

This trial made clear that when authorities fail to utilize appropriate resources to protect public safety, violence and destruction often follows. The destruction in Kenosha did not need to occur. The events covered in the trial were avoidable if proper steps were taken last summer to reestablish public safety.”

Congressman Bryan Steil (WI-01)

“Whether or not you like this verdict, it was well deliberated and reflects, through the evidence presented, the opinion of the jury. Those 12 jury members are among the only people in the world who saw all the evidence and arguments in the case. The jury undoubtedly felt the weight of the world on them while they discussed the evidence. What they did over the last 3 weeks was not easy- no matter what they had decided. The process, whether or not you agree with the outcome was followed and worked. Justice was served.

Had Governor Evers and Lt. Governor Barnes taken control of the situation earlier last August, rather than fan the flames of unrest, this whole situation could have been avoided. Unfortunately, Barnes has already decided to fan the flames again. Words and actions have meaning.

I hope that everyone else takes a deep breath and thinks about what they say before they say it. If you want to protest or celebrate, do so peacefully. Kenosha and Wisconsin cannot afford a repeat of last August.

Senator Van Wanggaard

“Today’s unanimous verdict may be shocking for some, but for many others, it is proof that our justice system works. The right to a trial by a jury of your peers is a fundamental part of the checks and balances in our country.

“Let's hope politicians and activists who disagree with the verdict don't use this as an opportunity to sew more division and destruction in our community. For those disappointed in the outcome, I urge peace and unity over violence and destruction.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

“Here are the facts that are important to me. Kyle Rittenhouse, who was a minor at the time, traveled from Illinois to Wisconsin, and picked up an assault rifle that was illegally purchased for him. He took the law into his own hands, killing two people and injuring another. They were victims of gun violence and too many families have lost loved ones to these tragedies. I understand why people believe that justice was not served in this case, because I feel the same way. This ruling makes clear we have so much work to do to take on gun violence, and reform our broken criminal justice system so that it starts working equally and fairly for everyone.

“In Wisconsin, this judge has now ruled that it’s legal for a minor to walk the streets in Wisconsin with an assault weapon. If that is true, then our state legislature should take action now in a bipartisan way to change the law and make it illegal. I am afraid many more people will become victims of gun violence unless we take action at the federal and state level to pass common sense gun safety reforms that take on this epidemic and start saving lives. To me that’s just common sense that most people in our state would agree with.

“The fact that some people are cheering a ruling that has allowed someone to take the law into his own hands and walk free from any accountability after shooting and killing two people is disrespectful to the lives that were lost, and I am deeply concerned that it will encourage more tragic gun violence from those like Kyle Rittenhouse who think they have a license to take the law into their own hands in a violent way.

“To those who protest this ruling, I strongly urge them to do so safely and peacefully because no one wants to see what happened last year happen again. I have met with community leaders, business owners and racial justice activists in Kenosha a number of times since the police shooting of Jacob Blake and I know that the entire Kenosha community has gone through a lot of heartbreak and that the work for healing, peace, and justice continues. I continue to stand with Kenosha as we work together, to move forward together.”

Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin

The jury’s decision in the Rittenhouse trial is deeply disturbing. Unfortunately, this will perpetuate distrust in the justice system and further normalize gun violence. Allowing vigilantism to masquerade as self-defense is a terrible precedent.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway

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