NEW YORK – United Methodist Women, the largest denominational organization for women, today lamented the not guilty verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who was accused of murdering two people and injuring a third during protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
The organization’s General Secretary and CEO Harriett Jane Olson issued the following statement: “United Methodist Women is deeply troubled by the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in the fatal shooting trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the dangerous nod to vigilantism that it portends. The exoneration of a then 17-year-old who illegally purchased a semiautomatic weapon because it was “cool” and carried it across state lines on a vigilante mission that resulted in the shooting deaths of two of men and the wounding of a third gives a greenlight to other misguided vigilantes to do likewise.
Vigilante “justice” is neither new or just, as our nation’s long history of lynching Black and other marginalized people shamefully proved.
This verdict, along with new laws in Florida, Iowa, and Oklahoma providing protections to drivers who run into protestors marching in public streets, encourage vigilantism against protestors and pose a great threat to the future of peaceful protests.
This verdict sends a message that anyone exercising their constitutional right to assemble and peacefully protest cannot assume they will have the protection of state governments.
The verdict also demonstrates that “self-defense” is a legal right of the privileged and is not evenly applied, particularly in cases involving women domestic violence survivors, Black people, and other communities of color.
It did not apply to Marissa Alexander who fired a warning shot into the ceiling to ward off her abuser spouse. Nor did it apply to unarmed Trayvon Martin, shot dead at 17 while fighting off an armed George Zimmerman, 28, who continued to follow and intimidate Martin after 911 operators instructed him to leave the child alone. We also align with The Sentencing Project director Amy Fettig’s assessment of Rittenhouse wrongly being tried as an adult, stating, “His age didn’t protect him from entering the adult system, but his Whiteness protected him from its consequences.” The biblical prophets call on us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8), and so we speak out. We also pray:
- For the still-mourning families of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, the men young Rittenhouse killed during protests against the police shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake.
- For Jacob Blake who was shot unjustly shot in the back by police in front of his children. We know that Rittenhouse’s trial likely stirred up painful emotions and we are lifting these families in continual prayer.
- For young vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse, who has killed human beings and whose actions should not be lauded.