Mr Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two men and wounded another amid protests and rioting over police conduct in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was found not guilty of homicide and other charges, in a deeply divisive case that ignited a national debate over vigilantism, gun rights and the definition of self-defence.
After about 26 hours of deliberation, a jury appeared to accept Mr Rittenhouse’s explanation that he had acted reasonably to defend himself in an unruly and turbulent scene in August 2020, days after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a black resident, during a summer of unrest following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Mr Rittenhouse sobbed and was held by his lawyers after a clerk read the jury’s verdict, acquitting him of all charges. After the shootings, Mr Rittenhouse was transformed from an unknown 17-year-old from rural Illinois into a national symbol. Some Americans were horrified by the images of a teenager toting a powerful semi-automatic rifle on a city street during racial justice demonstrations, a reminder of the extent of open carry laws in the United States.
Others saw a well-meaning young man who had gone to keep the peace and provide medical aid, a response to the sometimes destructive protests that had roiled US cities in the summer of 2020.
In Portland, the police declared a protest a riot, saying that demonstrators had been breaking windows and damaging doors of city facilities in the area around the Multnomah County Justice Center, which houses a jail and Portland’s police headquarters.
Other demonstrations around the country were peaceful. In Chicago, several dozen demonstrators gathered in downtown and marched in opposition to the verdict.
Outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, protesters trickled into the crowds arriving at the arena for the evening’s Nets game. Sean Stefanic of Brooklyn said he was there for the protest, not the game.
“The fact that we are not surprised by this is the reason I am here,” Stefanic, 37, said. “Because it is not surprising anymore, despite the past year, especially after the George Floyd tragedy.”
Saman Waquad, 38, of Woodside, Queens, said she worried the verdict would embolden counterprotesters to carry weapons.
“What does this mean for civil disobedience?” she asked. “Does it mean we cannot safely protest anymore?”
“I didn’t expect there to be full justice, but not guilty on all charges was a slap in the face,” she added. “If this was a black or brown kid, he or she would be dead right now.”
Ari Saffron, 23, of Queens, said the Rittenhouse trial had disillusioned him, exposing “that there is no such thing as an impartial justice system.”
By about 8pm, the crowd had grown to about 200 people when the protesters left the arena and began to march along Flatbush Avenue toward the Manhattan Bridge.
In Columbus, Ohio, about 100 protesters upset by the verdict marched and then gathered outside the statehouse, chanting “the whole damn system is guilty as hell” and “send that killer kid to jail,” according to video posted online by The Lantern, a student newspaper at Ohio State University. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times