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Kenosha, Wisconsin, reacts to Kyle Rittenhouse acquittal

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

After 3 1/2 days of deliberations, a jury in Kenosha yesterday acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges, including first-degree intentional and first-degree reckless homicide. He argued he acted in self-defense when he shot and killed two men and injured a third during unrest in Kenosha after the police shooting of Jacob Blake Jr.

Maayan Silver of member station WUWM in Milwaukee reports on reaction to the verdict.

MAAYAN SILVER, BYLINE: The framework for this trial was a stark one. Was it self-defense or vigilantism? Was Rittenhouse, as the state alleged, a chaos tourist, patrolling Kenosha with an AR-15, posing as a medic and gunning down people at close range when there were alternatives? Or was he, as the defense insisted, a victim himself, attacked by every person he shot, with a reasonable fear that they were going to cause him to die or suffer great injuries?

That the jury supported the self-defense claim doesn't sit well with Hannah Gittings. She's the girlfriend of Anthony Huber, the second man Rittenhouse shot and killed on August 25, 2020.

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HANNAH GITTINGS: I miss Anthony every single day. Every day I wish that I could come home to him and unload some of this weight that's on my shoulders. But I can't because he's dead. And now the system is telling me that nobody needs to answer for that.

SILVER: Accountability is also something racial justice activists have been seeking in this case and that many feel they haven't received.

Justin Blake is still angry that the police officer who shot his nephew Jacob Blake Jr. during a 911 call and paralyzed him wasn't himself charged with a crime. In January, the district attorney's office said it wouldn't be able to prove the officer's actions weren't in self-defense.

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JUSTIN BLAKE: You can't market this city anymore as the city by the lake. This is like a sundown town, where you don't welcome minorities, where you don't welcome African Americans. And African Americans will know to stay the hell up out of here.

SILVER: There's a palpable weariness among activists here, a feeling that Kenosha is not advancing in areas of economic justice or addressing issues of police misconduct. But others here feel the justice system worked as intended in the Rittenhouse case.

Joel Bennett is a prep cook who's lived in Kenosha for 50 years.

JOEL BENNETT: I think it was all self-defense. I mean, that night of the shootings, when they happened, curfew was at 8 o'clock. So nobody was supposed to be on the streets that night. So if somebody like Kyle had - was armed with a gun, and people are coming after him, you know, to cause harm to him, he's got every right to protect himself, so...

SILVER: Others are quick to point out that verdicts in a criminal case should not be counted on to solve issues of social injustice.

Before the verdict, Bishop Tavis Grant of the civil rights group Rainbow PUSH Coalition said momentum would be undeterred if the verdict did not go the way he hoped.

TAVIS GRANT: We had a lot of cases that didn't go our way. Laquan McDonald didn't necessarily go our way. Trayvon Martin didn't go our way. Michael Bell didn't go our way. But the push is nevertheless the same.

SILVER: He says the push is not about wins and losses, but about civil rights and social justice.

For NPR News, I'm Maayan Silver in Kenosha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.