Joe Biden admitted he shared anger at the acquittal of a teenager who shot and killed two men during race riots but the president appealed for calm.
Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, convinced a jury he was acting in self-defence when he fatally wounded Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and injured Gaige Grosskreutz, 28, in August last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The incident happened during violent protests over the shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer. Rittenhouse and the men he shot are all white but the issue of race ran through the case as Rittenhouse had armed himself with an assault rifle to allegedly protect property during riots sparked by the shooting.
The not guilty verdict was condemned by anti-racist campaigners yesterday who said a black defendant would not have been acquitted and claiming it gave a green-light to right-wing vigilantes.
There was rioting in Portland, Oregon, on Friday evening after the verdict while Chicago, Oakland and New York witnessed protests.
Biden said: “While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken. I ran on a promise to bring Americans together.
“I remain steadfast in my commitment to do everything in my power to ensure every American is treated equally, with fairness and dignity, under the law.
“I urge everyone to express their views peacefully, consistent with the rule of law. Violence and destruction of property have no place in our democracy.”
He said federal authorities have been in contact with officials in Wisconsin to offer any support required to ensure public safety.
Vice President Kamala Harris added the verdict spoke for itself and said there was still a lot more work to do to make the criminal justice system more equitable.
There are also concerns about the legal precedence it could set for future cases. California’s Governor Gavin Newsom wrote: “America today: you can break the law, carry around weapons built for the military, shoot and kill people, and get away with it.”
Lawyers representing Rosenbaum’s estate and Grosskreutz asked for “peace from everyone hurting”, adding in a statement that what was needed was justice, not more violence.
Huber’s family said the verdict “sends the 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.”
Several Republican politicians said after the verdict they’d consider offering Rittenhouse a congressional internship. One, North Carolina Congressman Madison Cawthorn, said: “You have a right to defend yourself, be armed, be dangerous and be moral.”
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