Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse signalled the “dangerous path” the United States treads on gun rights, as prominent US sports figures commented on the verdict reached by a jury on Friday in a politically divisive trial.
Rittenhouse, 18, shot dead two men during racial justice protests in Wisconsin last year. He was found not guilty of reckless and intentional homicide and other charges stemming from the shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Kerr, who has been outspoken on social justice issues, said the verdict raised concerns.
“We are seemingly alright with a teenager’s right to take an AR-15 (weapon) to an area where there is civil unrest,” he said before the Warriors faced the Detroit Pistons on Friday.
“That’s really scary and concerning,” he said. “This is America, and we’re treading down a dangerous path.”
The case drew national attention because it arose from the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that swept the country last year and featured a controversial mix of guns, racial tensions and vigilantism.
Civil unrest erupted in Kenosha, a city of 100,000 on the shores of Lake Michigan, in August 2020 after a white policeman shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back several times during an arrest, leaving him paralyzed.
The National Basketball Social Justice Coalition, formed by the NBA and the NBA Players’ Association in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, said in the wake of the Rittenhouse verdict that the body remained committed to preserving the right to peaceful protest.
“Our thoughts are with the families of those whose lives were taken in this tragedy,” coalition executive director James Cadogan said.
“The right to peacefully protest is a bedrock of our democracy and the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition remains committed to preserving that right for all,” Cadogan said.
“Any forms of vigilantism in our society are unacceptable.”
For many athletes of color, the verdict represented a US justice system weighted against minorities.
“We just witnessed a system built on white supremacy validate the terroristic acts of a white supremacist,” tweeted Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and social activist who initiated the national anthem protests that roiled the NFL.
“This only further validates the need to abolish our current system. White supremacy cannot be reformed.”
Bubba Wallace, the only black driver in the top flight of hugely popular NASCAR stock car racing, said he thought the verdict would have been different had Rittenhouse been Black.
“Ha, let the boy be black and it would’ve been life, hell he would’ve had his life taken before the bullshit trial… sad,” he said.