KENOSHA, Wis. (CNS) -- A local Unitarian Universalist pastor and the head of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which includes Kenosha, issued statements urging calm in the days ahead after a jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse Nov. 19 of all charges against him.
Rittenhouse was found not guilty on charges of reckless homicide, intentional homicide and attempted intentional homicide after he shot two men and wounded a third with his AR-15-style rifle during a night of protest and civil unrest in Kenosha in August 2020 over the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer.
The Rev. Monica Cummings led an evening prayer vigil Nov. 19 and urged the Kenosha community to "begin the long process of healing."
In his statement, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki invited people to join him in praying for and promoting peace.
"During times like these with severe division among people and the potential for social unrest, it is important for us to remember Jesus' commandment to love one another," he said. "As Americans, we rely upon the rule of law and our justice system, which ensures the rights of all our citizens.
"We need to remember that every individual is made in the image and likeness of God, and, therefore, we need to follow the two great commandments -- love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. By doing this, we recognize the human dignity in every person and treat each other with respect and love."
Rittenhouse's defense attorneys successfully argued that the teen had acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded a third man.
Johnny Zokovitch, executive director of Pax Christi USA, accused Rittenhouse of having trafficked "in armed intimidation and deadly violence ... in support of extremist views which threaten and demean the lives of Black and Brown sisters and brothers."
He said the jury's acquittal "sends the message" these actions can be done "without accountability and justice."
"What we are witnessing is another revelation of how our systems transparently protect white privilege, exacerbate our nation’s addiction to guns and gun culture, and foster a culture of violence," he said in a Nov. 19 statement.
"Such messages are in utter conflict with what our faith tells us about our responsibilities to one another, about caring for and protecting the dignity of every human being," Zokovitch added.
Joan F. Neal, deputy executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby Network, echoed the same opinion, saying: "This decision is a travesty and does not bode well for racial justice in our country unless accountability measures are put in place as soon as possible."
In a statement issued after the verdict was handed down, President Joe Biden said the nation "must acknowledge that the jury has spoken," even if their decision left "many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included."
"I ran on a promise to bring Americans together, because I believe that what unites us is far greater than what divides us," said Biden, who on the campaign trail in 2020 labeled Rittenhouse a "white supremacist."
"I know that we’re not going to heal our country’s wounds overnight," he added, "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."
Demonstrators had gathered around the Kenosha courthouse during the trial, and Wisconsin dispatched 500 National Guard troops as a precaution to ensure public safety during the conclusion of the trial.
Hundreds of police officers from Kenosha and nearby communities were on hand in anticipation of violence after the verdict was delivered.
News reports said there was relative calm the evening of the verdict and through the Nov. 20-21 weekend.
The Washington Post reported that demonstrations took place in several cities across the U.S., including downtown Portland, Oregon, where police declared the protest a riot after a group of 200 people broke windows, threw objects at police and threatened to burn down the city's Justice Center.