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Kenosha responds to the Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty verdict

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Acquitted on all counts - Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty today in Kenosha, Wis. He collapsed onto the defense table in the courtroom as the verdict was read. He was facing life in prison for shooting and killing two men and wounding another during racial justice protests that turned violent in August 2020. Rittenhouse said he went to Kenosha to help as a medic and when he fired the shots from his AR-15-style rifle, he was acting in self-defense.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Well, the acquittal of Rittenhouse on all counts against him is now reverberating throughout Kenosha, Wis. It's a city of about 100,000 people along the shores of Lake Michigan; around halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee. Joining us now from Kenosha is NPR's David Schaper.

Hi, David.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So first of all, how have the families of the people that Rittenhouse shot - how have they been reacting to this verdict?

SCHAPER: Well, you know, we haven't heard from the family of Joseph Rosenbaum yet. He was the first man killed by Rittenhouse that night. But the parents of Anthony Huber put out a statement, and they say they're just heartbroken and angry that there was no justice today for their son or for Rittenhouse's two other victims, Rosenbaum and Gaige Grosskreutz, who was wounded in the shootings.

They said they did not attend the trial because they could not bear to watch video of their son's murder, but they said that they hoped the trial would give them closure and that did not happen. The statement goes on to say today's verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered their son. It sends an unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street.

CHANG: Well, a lot of people around the country have been watching this trial very, very closely. Yes, there have been, you know, both Rittenhouse supporters and those who wanted him convicted today at the courthouse. And I know that you've had a chance to talk with several of them. Tell us what you've been hearing.

SCHAPER: Well, you know, many people here were just shocked and stunned and angered by the acquittal. And I think one of the reasons was because the longer the jury took to deliberate - they deliberated, you know, 3 1/2 days - they thought that they might be leaning towards a conviction. But that ultimately didn't happen. And others celebrated that - the jury's verdict. Among the latter who celebrated is 60-year-old Tom Heineman. He lives in nearby Racine, Wis.

TOM HEINEMAN: It's so great that this ended with an acquittal instead of a mistrial or a hung jury because there's such a finality for Kyle and there's such a finality for everybody.

SCHAPER: You know, Heineman was among those people who applaud the jury for finding Rittenhouse acted legally and in self-defense when he fired on the protesters that night last August. Feeling very differently, though, is Justin Blake, uncle of Jacob Blake, the man who was shot and paralyzed - shot by police and paralyzed. That's the shooting that sparked all those demonstrations, and he calls this a tragic day.

JUSTIN BLAKE: Man, it shows you that this was a total mockery of what justice should be. There's no way he should be going home. Our personal opinion is he should have been going to jail.

CHANG: David, what about elsewhere in the community around Kenosha? I mean, what seems to be the mood around town at the moment?

SCHAPER: Well, you know, there's been a lot of tension around this trial, and some people have been on edge. Among those who is quite upset by the not-guilty verdict, is Tanya McLean, who is part of a group called Leaders of Kenosha.

TANYA MCLEAN: I'm sad. I'm disheartened. I feel extremely unsafe in this town outside of my small community of Black and brown people. I don't feel safe; traumatized that you can just gun people down in the streets and it's OK.

CHANG: All right. That is NPR's David Schaper in Kenosha, Wis., with reaction from all around the community to the acquittal on all counts for Kyle Rittenhouse.

Thank you, David.

SCHAPER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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