To many of us, the jury verdict that acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges was not a surprise. We live in an America where many of have come to expect that this is how the system works: a white man armed with an AR-15 rifle can cross state lines to a town not his own, kill two people and shoot two others on video during a protest to end police violence and abuse of Black people, and can do so with literal impunity.
The verdict means we must work harder than ever to transform our justice system to a system truly equitable for all—one that is restructured to account for and make amends for this country’s racism, past and present.
But while not a surprise, this tragic outcome also shook us to the core, because it represents more than another deadly instance of modern white vigilantism, and violence against people of color and those who support the movement for Black Lives, that can be traced back to the Tulsa massacre and the slave patrols.
It is a stark reminder that we live in a world where simply speaking out and assembling for our most fundamental rights—to vote, to be safe and healthy, to be seen and treated as human—emboldens people who feel threatened by this work to harm us.
We see this verdict as part of increasingly strong forces in this country rooted in white supremacy that violently threaten history teachers, Black people helping neighbors and community members to vote, and elected officials trying to fairly and properly count ballots, for simply doing their jobs.
We must give one another time, grace, and support to mourn, feel paralyzed and overwhelmed; and we must be clear-eyed about the dangerous time we are in as people and as a country and democracy.
But then we must press onward, stay together, and utilize our collective and best efforts and all viable pathways to continue the fight for the multicultural democracy that we envision and that must be.