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Biden says 'we have to abide' by Rittenhouse verdict

The president said he hadn't watched the trial and that, "I stand by what the jury has concluded."
Image: Joe Biden
President Joe Biden walks to speak with reporters as he returns to the White House on Nov. 19, 2021, in Washington.Alex Brandon / AP

President Joe Biden told reporters Friday that "the jury system works" after he was asked about Kyle Rittenhouse being found not guilty on all charges stemming from a pair of fatal shootings in Wisconsin last year.

Biden was asked whether he stood by his "past comments equating him to white supremacy," referring to a post by Biden on Twitter in 2020 criticizing his opponent for not condemning white supremacy that included a video that had an image of Rittenhouse.

"I stand by what the jury has concluded," Biden said.

Biden, who was returning to White House after completing his physical Friday morning, told reporters he had not watched the trial and had just learned of the verdict, but "the jury system works and we have to abide by it."

In a longer statement issued by the White House a short time later, 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."

He added that "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."

Rittenhouse, 18, had been charged with reckless homicide in the slaying of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and intentional homicide in the death of Anthony Huber, 26, on Aug. 25, 2020, during protests over the shooting days earlier of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white Kenosha police officer.

The case had become politicized shortly after Rittenhouse's arrest, as he was hailed as a hero in the right-wing media for taking action against protesters. Liberals have pointed to the case — where a white shooter was able to turn himself in to stand trial — as an example of the stark racial inequities in the justice system.

"What we are witnessing is a system functioning as designed and protecting those it was designed for," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted after the verdict. "My heart still breaks for the communities and families whose grief now compounds, and the countless others who will be denied and deprived in similar scenes across the country," she wrote.

Vice president Kamala Harris tweeted Friday that the "verdict speaks for itself," but also suggested bias in the justice system.

"I've spent a majority of my career working to make our criminal justice system more equitable," said Harris, a former prosecutor. "It’s clear, there’s still a lot more work to do."

Rittenhouse's case also became a political issue during the 2020 presidential race, with then-President Donald Trump expressing sympathy for the teen.

Biden's campaign used an image of Rittenhouse in a video centered around Trump's debate answer about whether he would condemn white supremacists and militia groups who were getting violent at protests.

Rittenhouse's mother Wendy Rittenhouse said the video "defamed" her son. “He is not a white supremacist. He is not a racist,” she told Fox News last week.

The judge presiding over the case, Bruce Schroeder, had urged jurors to put their personal politics aside ahead of deliberations, telling them to "pay no heed to the opinions of anyone, even the president of the United States, or the president before him."

Trump celebrated the verdict in a statement. "Congratulations to Kyle Rittenhouse for being found INNOCENT of all charges. It’s called being found NOT GUILTY," Trump said.

There were opposing views on what the verdict meant for America's gun culture. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, tweeted that Rittenhouse "used an assault weapon to kill two people. This is not justice. If there was any question about why we need strong gun safety laws, this is your answer. This should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. We have a lot of work to do."

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., noted the verdict in an Instagram story, and told his "friends" that "you have a right to defend yourselves. Be armed, be dangerous, and be moral."

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., hailed the jury's finding and called for peace in his state.

“I believe justice has been served in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. I hope everyone can accept the verdict, remain peaceful, and let the community of Kenosha heal and rebuild,” Johnson said in a statement.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., called the verdict an opportunity for Rittenhouse "to turn his life around. I would certainly hope he does not become a prop for those who would like to abuse him for political gain then throw him out. I believe in redemption."