Systemic Racism Pervasive throughout Kyle Rittenhouse Case, Says National Legal Aid & Defender Association

Black, Brown People Routinely Denied Basic Humanities Extended to Rittenhouse

WASHINGTON – In response to the verdict of Kyle Rittenhouse, who was cleared Friday of all five charges, related to the killings of two people at a protest against police violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020, including first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree recklessly endangering safety, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association issued the following statement:

“While we will not comment on the verdict decided by a jury in this case, it is important to use this moment to shine a spotlight on the core disparities in how the criminal legal system treats people based on race and resources.

“In August 2020, a 29-year old Black man named Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. After a summer during which an estimated 20 million Americans took part in protests against racism and to demand that Black Lives Matter, people across the United States were rightly appalled by yet another example of law enforcement brutality against a person of color. In Kenosha, many joined in protest against the shooting, and against the regularity and impunity with which police exercise violence against Black Americans.

“The treatment of Rittenhouse and his conduct by the legal system reinforces the very reason for the Black Lives Matter protest that was taking place at the time of this incident in Kenosha. Rittenhouse is just one example of a white person arrested safely by police after having killed multiple people, while the lives of Black people are taken for actions like selling cigarettes or allegedly using counterfeit bills.

“The treatment of Rittenhouse in this case clearly depicts the two systems of justice that are rendered in America based on race and access to resources. Before his trial, Rittenhouse was released on bail, an option routinely denied or inaccessible to the clients represented by public defenders every day. He was treated with sympathy and respect; Jacob Blake was shackled in the hospital after being paralyzed by police. That disparity is demonstrative of how the policies and practices of our courts, prisons, and law enforcement agencies are often designed to dehumanize the low-income people and people of color that encounter them.

“The National Legal Aid & Defender Association is committed to, and demands equal treatment, equal access and equal justice. The first step to reaching this is to build resources and capacity within our client communities, and within the civil legal aid and public defender programs that comprise our membership to advance anti-racist practices aimed at dismantling racial inequities in America. We must do better as a society to bring about true equity and justice.”

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The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), founded in 1911, is America’s oldest and largest nonprofit association devoted to excellence in the delivery of legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. NLADA has pioneered access to justice at the national, state and local levels, playing a leadership role in the creation of public defender systems and other important institutions from The Sentencing Project to the Legal Services Corporation. A leader in the development of national standards for civil legal aid and public defense, NLADA also provides advocacy, training and technical assistance for equal justice advocates across the country.

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