Rittenhouse protest
Mayor Daniel Biss makes closing remarks at the November 21 Evanston Community Lament Rally protesting the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

A Community Lament Rally, led by seven Evanston faith leaders, was held at Fountain Square at 1 p.m. Sunday after a jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse on November 19 of intentional homicide, reckless homicide, attempted intentional homicide and reckless endangerment. 

The November 21 Evanston rally was organized by Reverend Dr. Michael Nabors, Senior Pastor at Second Baptist Church and president of the Evanston/North Shore Branch of the NAACP. The Evanston clergy, together with Mayor Daniel Biss, spoke out against the verdict, saying it is a symptom of pervasive racial disparity in the criminal justice system. 

“Pastor Michael Nabors pulled us together on Friday when we heard the verdict and decided that we needed to do something,” Rabbi Andrea London, Senior Rabbi at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue, told a reporter from the RoundTable. 

More than 75 people attended the rally. In opening remarks, Nabors said, “It is important for communities around the nation to gather together to show our concern and to have an opportunity to lament. … We are here today to say that our nation is moving in the wrong direction. We want to say that people of goodwill, of every color, of every creed, of every faith, can come together and turn this thing around. …

“Coming together means standing up. … Coming together means recognizing and realizing that we are able to do so many things together, but we cannot do anything if we are apart and divided. We are together in Evanston … and we are anticipating that we can be a role model for the rest of the nation. This is a rally that talks about ‘No justice, no peace.’” 

The crowd echoed speakers at intervals during the rally, chanting, “No justice, no peace.” 

Rittenhouse, then 17 years old, traveled from Illinois to Wisconsin with an AR-15-style rifle on August 25, 2020, and fatally shot two demonstrators and wounded a third during protests that followed the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake Jr.

Reaction to Rittenhouse’s self-defense argument and his subsequent acquittal was sharply divided, with many Americans on opposite ends of the spectrum on gun rights and the debate over whether there is a duty to retreat before using deadly force. An overarching question for some was this: Would the same verdict have been afforded to a defendant of color? 

In an interview with the RoundTable, Kelly Akuffo and Kimberly Mehta said they thought it was important to bring their children to the Evanston rally. 

Kelly Akuffo (second from left) and Kimberly Mehta (second from right) and their children wait for speakers to begin at the Community Lament Rally at Fountain Square. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

“I wanted to bring my kids to the rally because it’s important for them to be raised in the world, knowing what goes on politically – grassroots level stuff – and going to events that are safe, where people have a voice that is not censored. It’s important to be here, face to face,” said Mehta, a resident of Vernon Hills who said she learned about the rally from her friend Kelly. 

“I just feel it is sad that, had it been a different child who committed this crime, the verdict would have been different. I have children that don’t look like [Kyle Rittenhouse]. And it’s very frustrating to me that, had it been my son who did something like that, it would look very different than Kyle doing what he did. … I wanted [my children] to be here to see that there is a group of people that don’t all look like each other who support what is going on here [at the rally]. 

“This is a big deal … for our kids, for our kids’ kids. What’s going on with our law system? Why is this acceptable? … At the end of the day, whatever [Rittenhouse] was protecting … he only got away with this because of a certain way that he looks,” said Akuffo. 

From left: Speakers Rabbi Rachel Weiss, the Rev. Eileen Wiviott, the Rev. Martha Holmes, the Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors, Rabbi Andrea London, the Rev. Michael Kirby, Pastor Grace Imathiu. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

In addition to Nabors, London and Biss, speakers included Senior Pastor Michael Kirby, Northminster Presbyterian Church; Senior Pastor Grace Imathiu, First United Methodist Church; Senior Rabbi Rachel Weiss, JRC Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation; the Reverend Martha Holmes, Senior Pastor at Bethany Baptist Church of Christ; and the Reverend Eileen Wiviott, Senior Minister at Unitarian Church of Evanston. Excerpts from their remarks appear below: 

“In some Christian traditions, today is Reign of Christ Sunday, the declaration that the God of hope – the God that makes a way where there was no way – is ultimately in charge. But today, it’s even harder to hear the voice of the maker of the stars. … Three men participate in the murder of a curious jogger who never posed a threat to them, and argue, just because they feared him – without any factual justification – they had the right to decide to take his life. Why? Because they’re white, because they’re privileged, because they’re men of means, they get to decide who lives and who dies?” asked Kirby, referring to the three men charged in Georgia with killing Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020. 

Like the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery, Rittenhouse acted as “a self-appointed vigilante” when he took the lives of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, Kirby said. 

“We gather together today because we know that what’s going on in our society is wrong. We will not tolerate that this is the justice system, that these are the laws, and this is the society we are living in in our country today. We are angry, and we are scared. But we are also resolved. We are resolved to work together to ensure that there will be equity in this country for all people, regardless of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their economic status or any other way that is used to discriminate against people,” said London. 

“On Friday I was afraid in a different way than I was afraid when Jacob Blake was shot seven times [by police]. On Friday, I became afraid of a 17-year-old white boy. It was as though he had been given permission to walk in and shoot you and me, and take the law into his own hands,” said Imathiu. 

“I want to speak about a congregation of adults who, for the most part, are white … about the fact that much of the crowd gathered here today is white, and to say that our outrage and our sadness is one thing – and it cannot compare to the outrage and sadness and fear and violation that Black and brown community members have faced – not just this weekend, not just this year, not just this century – but for millennia,” said Weiss. 

“I am as outraged and grieved in my spirit as each of you are, that we are again standing here in protest of yet another egregious decision and action that seemingly condones vigilante behavior and allows a person to carry a gun, and to willfully take lives, under the guise that they fear for their own life,” said Holmes. 

“But more than that. … I’m encouraged. And I encourage you with the words from first Timothy 7 that says ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind. And as we continue to stand our moral ground, we must do so in the power of the Spirit, with love and not hatred, and with a sound mind that is clear about the need to denounce, to challenge, and change laws and systems, and persons who sit in positions of power… that are unqualified to interpret or execute the letter and the heart of the law.” 

“This week is Thanksgiving week … and we need to be grateful. But we also need to be honest and truthful about the beginnings of this nation – built on slavery, genocide … and the lifting up of property as more valuable than human lives,”’ said Wiviott. 

In closing remarks, Biss noted that many Americans questioned the decisions made by the jurors. He said that “the jury is part of a system” – one that is not set up to fully consider the role of race in how things unfold in the justice system. “The system told us that killing as an armed vigilante is OK” for certain Americans. 

“We need to think about the entire system, from soup to nuts. We need to fundamentally transform it. … One thing that needs to be said clearly, is that Kyle Rittenhouse would not have gone free if his skin wasn’t white,” Biss said.

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.