'The jury has spoken': Joe Biden reacts to Kyle Rittenhouse clearance over Kenosha killings

ITV News Correspondent Robert Moore reports on the polarising verdict and what it means for the US

Joe Biden has stood by the not-guilty verdict of Kyle Rittenhouse, the American teenager who was cleared of homicide and all other charges after he claimed self-defence in the killing of two men during racial justice protests.

The 18-year-old was charged with homicide, attempted homicide and recklessly endangering safety for killing two men and wounding a third with a semi-automatic rifle in Kenosha in 2020.

The teenager could have been handed life in prison if found guilty of the most serious charge against him, first-degree intentional homicide.

But on Friday, the former police youth cadet was acquitted of all charges after pleading self-defence in the shootings that became a flashpoint in the nation’s debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice.

How has the United States reacted to the verdict?

In a statement issued on Friday, the US president waded into controversial political terrain as he acknowledged that the verdict would anger many Americans, but urged for the law to be respected and for frustration not to morph into violence.

"While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken," he said.

"I know that we’re not going to heal our country’s wounds overnight, but I remain steadfast in my commitment to do everything in my power to ensure that 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."

Joe Biden suggested that the jury system of trial in the US works and must be respected. Credit: AP

The jury, which appeared to be overwhelmingly white, came back with its verdict after close to three-and-a-half days of deliberation.

Rittenhouse was 17 when he went from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha after businesses in the city were ransacked and burned over the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer.

Carrying a weapon that authorities said was illegally purchased for the underage Rittenhouse, he joined other armed citizens in what he said was an effort to protect property and provide medical aid.

Bystander and drone video captured most of the frenzied chain of events that followed: Rittenhouse killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, then shot to death protester Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded demonstrator Gaige Grosskreutz, now 28.

Prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as a “wannabe soldier” who had gone looking for trouble that night and was responsible for creating a dangerous situation in the first place by pointing his rifle at demonstrators.

But the teenager testified: “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself.”

Breaking into sobs at one point, he told the jury he opened fire after Rosenbaum chased him and made a grab for his gun.

Last week, the trial had to be suspended for ten minutes after the teenager wept

He said he was afraid his rifle was going to be wrested away and used to kill him.

Huber was then killed after hitting Rittenhouse in the head or neck with a skateboard, and Grosskreutz was shot after pointing a gun of his own at Rittenhouse.

The bloodshed in Kenosha took place during a summer of sometimes-violent protests set off across the US by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other cases involving the police use of force against Black people.

While some Americans condemned Rittenhouse as a vigilante, some on the right hailed him as a hero who exercised his Second Amendment gun rights and tried to put a stop to lawlessness.

Democratic Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. Credit: AP

Democratic Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, who announced last week that 500 National Guard members stood ready in case of trouble after the verdict, pleaded for calm.

In Friday's statement, Mr Biden offered his support for the state.

"The White House and Federal authorities have been in contact with Governor Evers’s office to prepare for any outcome in this case, and I have spoken with the Governor this afternoon and offered support and any assistance needed to ensure public safety," he said.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, who is Black and a Democratic candidate for the Senate, denounced the outcome.

He, like many civil rights activists, saw a racial double standard at work in the case.