Virginia Lt. Gov.-elect Winsome Sears said Sunday that it is time to “stop picking at” America’s racial scabs after a jury returned a verdict of not guilty against Kyle Rittenhouse, who was accused of murder for fatally shooting two men and injuring a third during racial justice riots last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Mrs. Sears, a conservative Republican who is the first Black woman to win a statewide election in Virginia, called for healing and for politicians and the news media to stop pitting Americans against each other.
“The media are complicit in this,” Mrs. Sears said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Can we allow this scab to finally heal? Can we stop picking at the wounds?” she added.
“You know what I think? I think we should let the American justice system speak for itself, and I am going to quote our current president, President Biden, and he said it is time to move on,” she said.
Her comments followed post-acquittal protests across the country, including in Kenosha, where residents held a prayer vigil.
Anger spilled into the streets of Portland, Oregon, where protesters hurled “urine, alcoholic beverages, water bottles and batteries” at police officers and vandalized property, according to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office declared it a riot after the gate to the Justice Center detention area was damaged.
For his part, Mr. Biden told reporters: “I stand by what the jury has concluded.” He later released a statement saying he is committed “to do everything in my power to ensure that every American is treated equally, with fairness and dignity, under the law.”
“While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken,” the president said.
Vice President Kamala Harris said the “verdict speaks for itself.”
“I’ve spent a majority of my career working to make our criminal justice system more equitable,” Ms. Harris tweeted. “It’s clear, there’s still a lot more work to do.”
Acquitted on Friday, Mr. Rittenhouse had testified that he fired his rifle in self-defense during an August 2020 riot in Kenosha that erupted after a White police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, when police responded to a 911 call for a domestic disturbance. Mr. Blake was left paralyzed.
Mr. Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, had traveled from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to the protests to protect businesses. He was armed with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle.
He shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 27. Mr. Rittenhouse is White, like the men he shot.
Rosenbaum chased Mr. Rittenhouse and grabbed for the rifle when Mr. Rittenhouse shot him, according to evidence at the trial.
Mr. Rittenhouse fled and was pursued by Huber and Mr. Grosskreutz. Huber struck Mr. Rittenhouse with a skateboard, and Mr. Grosskreutz pointed a Glock pistol at Mr. Rittenhouse, according to testimony.
The case became a flashpoint in an emotional debate over race and gun rights. The 18-year-old has been hailed as a hero by some on the right and demonized as a wayward vigilante by some on the left.
Mr. Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all five charges brought against him.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that it is “hard to reconcile the verdict with the experience that many African Americans have faced over several decades.”
“We have far too many individuals sitting in jail for crimes they didn’t commit or overcharged for crimes that were committed,” Mr. Johnson said, referring to Black inmates. “Here you have a 17-year-old who illegally purchased a gun, traveled across state lines to protect property that was not his, for owners who did not invite him, and he put himself in harm’s way based on the rhetoric that he’s seen on social media platforms.
“This trial for us is a warning shot that vigilante justice is allowed in this country or in particular communities,” he said.
In Washington, reaction split along party lines as to whether the Rittenhouse verdict was a triumph of justice or White supremacy.
On the Republican side, some of the party’s outspoken members cheered Mr. Rittenhouse walking out of the courtroom as a free man.
“Those who help, protect, and defend are the good guys,” tweeted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican. “Kyle is one of the good ones.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Republican, said Mr. Rittenhouse “didn’t provoke what was happening to him” and he “responded in self-defense.”
“I think justice was done, but the rhetoric surrounding it probably on both sides isn’t appropriate,” Mr. Cramer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Democrats saw the verdict as confirmation of America’s systemic racism.
Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, a Black Lives Matter activist, said the verdict was “White supremacy in action.”
“This system isn’t built to hold White supremacists accountable,” said Ms. Bush, a member of the House’s “Squad” of far-left lawmakers. “It’s why Black and brown folks are brutalized and put in cages, while White supremacists murderers walk free.”
Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York said Mr. Rittenhouse “is living proof that White tears can still forestall justice.”
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat running for governor in Texas, said the Rittenhouse case shows why “we should not allow our fellow Americans to own and use weapons that were originally designed for battlefield use.”
“That AR-15, that AK-47 has one, single solitary purpose, and that is killing people as effectively, as efficiently, in as great a number, in as little time as possible,” Mr. O’Rourke said in a separate interview on the same CNN show as Mrs. Sears. “We saw that in Kenosha.”
Other Democrats were less critical.
“I can’t imagine the pain the families have gone through that have lost loved ones in this instance,” Sen. John Tester of Montana, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Nonetheless, I think we need to respect what the jury has done here and respect the decision.”
Mrs. Sears agreed. Saying America needs to turn the page, she said she takes inspiration from “a Jewish politician, King David” and recited Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in peace and harmony.’’
“Let’s just all get along like Rodney King said,” Mrs. Sears said, “and by the way, can we have a media that tries to find the good among us, instead of dividing us? Because the media are complicit in this.”
• Joseph Clark contributed to this report.