CHICAGO — More than 1,000 people demonstrated Saturday to protest the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, rallying in Federal Plaza before marching throughout Downtown.
A jury acquitted Rittenhouse of intentional homicide and other charges Friday, finding the teenage gunman acted in self-defense when he fatally shot two men and wounded a third in August 2020 in downtown Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The Rittenhouse case encapsulates racism in the justice system, protesters said, and reignited debates about gun rights and vigilantism.
Jazmine Salas, an organizer with Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, said the protest was about showing demonstrators would not give in “to the racism and fear.”
“I think we’re in this moment where vigilantes are feeling very empowered. Their poster child Kyle just got off,” Salas said. “But I think as Chicagoans, as a majority Black and Brown city, we are extremely powerful. … Today it’s about really showing our power, not backing down.”
Rittenhouse, who is white and now 18, was in Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020, amid protests and social unrest after a white police officer shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake, a Black man.
Rittenhouse, then 17 of suburban Antioch, inserted himself into the unrest by jumping at a chance to guard a used car lot with an AR-15-style rifle prosecutors say a friend illegally purchased for him. He also falsely claimed he was a certified medic in interviews before the shooting, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Rittenhouse later shot three men, two of them fatally.
After a protest in Federal Plaza, demonstrators marched down Dearborn Street led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, demonstrating on both lanes Michigan Avenue near Millennium Park, before stopping at the Thompson Center and returning to Federal Plaza.
Demonstrators chanted “Indict, convict, send Rittenhouse to jail.”
“Too many times white men get away with killing,” activist Catlyn Savado said to the crowd gathered in front of the Thompson Center. “When a white person crosses state lines, and kills people, how are you not guilty? And the whole system is guilty, too.”
Demonstrators say Rittenhouse’s verdict shows racist bias in a legal system that forgives white men and over-criminalizes Black and Latino people. They criticized Judge Bruce Schroeder for seeming to favor Rittenhouse, for instance barring prosecutors from referring to Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutzas as “victims” — saying that term was too loaded — but allowing the terms “rioters,” “looters” and “arsonists.”
“Rittenhouse was protected when he walked into that courtroom. And he left that courtroom into a society built to protect him,” said Dod McColgan with the Chicago Alliance. “This verdict shows the system does not oppose vigilantes — it endorses and enables them.”
“The verdict is telling us to be silent — under the complete threat of violence,” activist Troy Gaston said.
Chicago Public Schools teacher Saul Garcia noted how Rittenhouse can now live a free life while Laquan McDonald and Adam Toledo, two Black and Latino Chicagoans in Rittenhouse’s peer group, were killed even as one walked away from an officer and another raised his hands to comply when he was shot.
“If you are a person who is white, you can march down the street with an AK-47, you can shoot people, kill them, have blood on your hands, and be free,” Garcia said. “But if you are a person of color, you’ll get executed on sight.”
Many held signs showing photos of Rosenbaum and Huber, calling them brave allies of the Black Lives Matter movement. Bishop Tavis L. Grant II of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition was at the courthouse in Kenosha and said he helped console the two men’s families shortly after the verdict. He plans to travel from Saturday’s demonstration in Chicago to be with them at a rally tomorrow in Kenosha.
“This has been equal in the night of the killing. It’s as if the justice system has taken a shot, and killed their family members all over again,” Grant said. “Because so many people in the courtroom tried to demonize and turn the victims into villains.”
In his remarks, Jackson said there is much work needed to be done to make the criminal justice system equitable. He rebuked President Joe Biden’s comments saying people needed to respect the jury system and the verdict.
“Biden said law is the law. I don’t believe that. So we must change the law,” Jackson said. “This boy, Rittenhouse, as long as he lives, he will be the killer or two people.”
Jackson also called for the case to be taken up in federal court.
“Rittenhouse is not yet through. Are you through?” Jackson asked the crowd.
The crowd responded resoundingly: “No!”
In a statement after the verdict Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot also said “we must respect the jury’s decision” but criticized Rittenhouse’s actions.
“No one should ever take the law into their own hands, or attempt to make themselves the judge, jury, and executioner,” Lightfoot said. “What Kyle Rittenhouse did was reckless, dangerous, and showed an utter disregard for human life. My condolences go out to the family, friends, and loved ones of the victims during this difficult time. Let us also remember and pray for Jacob Blake and his family as he continues his journey of rehabilitation.”
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Friday the verdict was a “miscarriage of justice.”
“I think of the many young Black and Brown people who have never and will never be afforded the same privilege as Kyle Rittenhouse,” Preckwinkle said in a statement. “Our Black and Brown youth are routinely targeted, harassed and even killed just for wearing a hoodie, just for going for a jog, just for walking down the street or just for existing. Yet, no one stopped Rittenhouse while carrying an assault rifle.
“My fear after today’s verdict is that it will only embolden others to commit similar types of crimes under the guise of maintaining order and will diminish individuals’ right to peaceful protest.”
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