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Unequal justice system or justice served? Local observers have mixed reactions to Rittenhouse verdict
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Unequal justice system or justice served? Local observers have mixed reactions to Rittenhouse verdict

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Eric Ellison, a Winston-Salem criminal defense attorney, said Friday’s not guilty verdicts for Kyle Rittenhouse on charges of homicide and other offenses demonstrate that there are two different tracts of justice for whites and minorities within U.S. legal system.

“White privilege and racism persist,” said Ellison, a former chairman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party. “And decent-minded people need to continue to work towards a better community, one that consists of a justice system that is fair, blind, and equally applicable to all, despite their race, ethnicity or religion.”

A jury in Kenosha, Wis., acquitted Rittenhouse, 18, of all charges Friday after he fatally shot two men and wounded another man last year amid protests and riots over a white Kenosha police officer shooting a black man.

The jury deliberated 26 hours before it acquitted Rittenhouse, who is white, for his role in the violence of Aug. 25, 2020, in which he killed two white men and wounded another white man.

The verdicts denied justice to the victims in this case, Ellison said.

Ken Raymond, the chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party, said he was pleased with the verdicts.

“Based on the evidence presented during the trial, Kyle Rittenhouse acted in self-defense and therefore is not guilty of the charges,” Raymond said. “I’m also happy to see that the threats and intimidation tactics against the judge and the jury did not work. This is still a nation governed by what’s written in the Constitution, not by angry, violent mobs.”

Legal experts and social-justice activists say that the case intensified debate over vigilantism, policing and guns.

Testimony and video footage showed during Rittenhouse’s trial revealed that Rittenhouse was chased into a parking lot during the Kenosha protest at one point by Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, who was unarmed and behaving erratically.

Rittenhouse turned, shot and killed Rosenbaum at close range. Rittenhouse then shot two other people, Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz, who pursued Rittenhouse as he fled, according to testimony.

Huber died, but Grosskreutz survived and testified in the trial.

"The greatest injustice in the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict is not the acquittal of Rittenhouse as much as it is the fact that those who protect and enforce the injustices of this system will be treated entirely differently than most black, brown and working class people fighting for justice," said Tony Ndege, a protest organizer for Black Lives Matter — Winston-Salem.

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"We know that if Kyle were a protester protecting other protesters from armed right wing vigilantes, that his trial would have been conducted in a different way," Ndege said. "We also know that the American legal and court system reacts to right wing militia types such as Ammon Bundy, (who co-organized two armed stand-offs with the federal government), on an entirely different plane than it reacts to the lives of people gunned down by the police.

"... Because on some level the system sees this armed reactionary demographic as a populace that they seek to recruit and placate to defend their interests in the war machines at home and abroad or to use as literal thugs if the system is threatened," Ndege said. "We saw this in the chummy cooperation if not outright collaboration with Kenosha and state police forces on the night that Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber lost their lives when they outright ignored Rittenhouse's attempt to surrender."

The Triad Abolition Project issued a statement Friday about Rittenhouse’s acquittal:

“White vigilante violence has always been an extension of the U.S. nation-state’s monopoly on violence as opposed to a contradiction,” the organization said. “The ultimate message is that white people don’t have to take the law into their own hands to protect private property — the law is already theirs to begin with.

“A nearly all-white jury handing Kyle Rittenhouse a ‘not guilty’ verdict perfectly illustrates a fundamental truth — that the criminal justice system in America is not broken,” the Triad Abolition Project said.

“It is functioning exactly as it was designed — to protect whiteness and promote white supremacy while neglecting, abusing and criminalizing Blackness,” the organization said. “This verdict emboldens white supremacists to act on their lust to harm and kill Blacks, knowing they will be protected, regardless of their heinous actions. This verdict is violence.”

Triad Abolition Project led a 49-day occupation of Bailey Park in downtown Winston-Salem last year over the death of John Neville. Five detention officers employed at the jail and a nurse are charged with involuntary manslaughter in Neville’s death.

Neville died on Dec. 4, 2019, days after being held in a prone restraint in a cell at the Forsyth County jail.

Al Jabbar, the president of the Winston-Salem chapter of the NAACP, reacted to Rittenhouse’s acquittal by reading a statement issued Friday by the NAACP at its Baltimore headquarters.

“The verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case is a travesty and failed to deliver justice on behalf of those who lost their lives as they peacefully assembled to protest against police brutality and violence,” Jabbar said.

“Rittenhouse’s decision to go to Kenosha and provoke protesters was unwarranted,” Jabbar said. “Moreover, the outcome of this case sets a dangerous precedent.

“We have seen the same outcome time and time again,” Jabbar said. “A justice system that presents different outcomes based on the race of the accused.”

Rittenhouse’s acquittal “is a reminder of the treacherous role that white supremacy and privilege play within our justice system,” Jabbar said. “In the midst of this disappointing verdict, we must continue to work to ensure that those who seek to harm progress do not find refuse for their illicit acts in a system meant to protect victims.”

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@jhintonWSJ

The New York Times and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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