Philadelphians grieve Rittenhouse verdict — and share thoughts on fixing a ‘broken’ system

Kyle Rittenhouse enters the courtroom to hear the verdicts in his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Rittenhouse has been acquitted of all charges after pleading self-defense in the deadly Kenosha shootings that became a flashpoint in the nation’s debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice. The jury came back with its verdict afer close to 3 1/2 days of deliberation

Kyle Rittenhouse enters the courtroom to hear the verdicts in his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. (Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP, Pool)

Go to jury duty and vote for judges.

That’s the advice Andre D. Carroll, 30, offered his fellow Black Americans in the hours after the murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse ended with the white 18-year-old found not guilty of all charges.

Like many others across the city, state, and nation, the Northwest Philadelphia man saw the verdict as emblematic of a racist system. And for him, one way to fight that system is to disrupt it. From the inside.

“We do not see the same consideration placed on Black and brown bodies by judges and juries,” Carroll said. “But by having judges and juries who look like me, that could change.”

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Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, is one of many people saying they’re disappointed by the verdict, but not surprised.

“What I mean by that is a system that is built on white supremacy does what it can to protect itself and those who exemplify and perpetuate white supremacy,” he said.

To him, Rittenhouse’s courtroom victory demonstrated the racism embedded in the criminal justice system.

“Kyle Rittenhouse was not held responsible for the egregious injury of one person and death of two others,” he said. “To me, that reflects that the system is broken, but it produced the outcome that it was designed to produce.”

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Shuford said the verdict underscores a need for reform of policing and the judicial system.

“I think the system needs to be revamped from top to bottom,” he said. “Serious police reform needs to happen such that the police are not, in fact, encouraging white supremacist vigilantes to undermine the First Amendment rights of legitimate protesters. I think the police need to engage differently with communities of color.”

Many said the verdict could set a dangerous precedent and embolden white supremacists and others to act violently without fear of consequences.

“I think it sends the wrong message, which is that race matters and the criminal justice system. Young white men can be armed to the teeth, can provoke and kill people with impunity,” Shuford said. “I think another message is that some lives matter in America, and some lives do not.”

Susan Liebell teaches public law at St. Joseph’s University. She said she’s not happy about the outcome either – and that it’s a result of the current laws of Wisconsin.

“Rittenhouse could say, I was in fear of great bodily harm, … and what the State of Wisconsin had to do was disprove that beyond a reasonable doubt,” Liebell said. That’s very, very difficult to do.”

Rittenhouse, she said, would have had a harder time defending himself in Pennsylvania, where the stand-your-ground law requires people to retreat if feeling threatened in a public place, unless the assailant has a deadly weapon.

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