The jury was right to acquit Kyle Rittenhouse. The Right is wrong to make him a hero. To do so may create more chaos and destroy what all responsible people want—public safety and the rule of law.
The Rittenhouse jury was presented with two competing narratives. The prosecutors argued that Rittenhouse was a troublemaker who provoked the violence which culminated in his shooting of 3, killing 2 and wounding 1. They claimed he could not assert self-defense as a legitimate response to the violence he allegedly provoked.
But Rittenhouse’s lawyers asserted that Rittenhouse’s victims were responsible for the violence. They presented evidence—videos, eyewitness accounts, and testimony from Rittenhouse’s surviving victim, that Rittenhouse’s first victim attacked Rittenhouse first, that Rittenhouse’s second victim hit Rittenhouse with a skateboard, and that Rittenhouse’s third (and surviving) victim had pointed a gun at Rittenhouse before Rittenhouse shot him. Indeed, testimony of the third victim’s gun being aimed at Rittenhouse came from the third victim himself.
The jury concluded that the defense narrative and the evidence in support of it were compelling enough to justify Rittenhouse’s acquittal. This makes sense. After all, our legal system concedes (in theory, at least) to defendants the presumption of innocence unless/until guilt is proven, and requires prosecutors to prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense’s narrative at the very least raised in the minds of the jurors sufficient doubt about Rittenhouse’s guilt and thereby makes his acquittal defensible. As President Biden correctly said of Rittenhouse’s acquittal, “The jury system works, and we have to abide by it.”
But while we must abide by the verdict, we should not make Kyle Rittenhouse a hero or role model, as many on the Right seem to want to do: TV commentators are seeking out Rittenhouse for interviews. A congressman may offer Rittenhouse an internship. Other activists are encouraging Rittenhouse to go on speaking tours, or sue the mainstream news media for libel and slander for underreporting his side of the story.
Of course, Rittenhouse and his allies are well within their First Amendment rights to pursue whatever legal courses of action they choose. But as conservative political commentator David French wrote in The Atlantic at Legal Self-Defense Does Not Make Kyle Rittenhouse a Hero – The Atlantic before the conclusion of the Rittenhouse case:
“When you turn a foolish young man into a hero, you’ll see more foolish young men try to emulate his example. And although the state should not permit rioters to run rampant in America’s streets, random groups of armed Americans are utterly incapable of imposing order themselves, and any effort to do so can lead to greater death and carnage.
“He left a trail of bodies on the ground, and two of the people he shot were acting on the belief that Rittenhouse himself was an active shooter. He had, after all, just killed a man.
“If the jury acquits Rittenhouse, it will not be a miscarriage of justice. The law gives even foolish men the right to defend their lives. But an acquittal does not make a foolish man a hero. A political movement that turns a deadly and ineffective vigilante into a role model is a movement that is courting more violence and encouraging more young men to recklessly brandish weapons in dangerous places, and that will spill more blood in America’s streets.”
Yet if vigilantism is dangerous, it is inevitable as well, should the legitimate forces of law and order fail to discharge their responsibilities. In the last few years we’ve seen police shootings, at least some of which justified outrage, if not riots. And we’ve also seen the abject failure of governments to effectively respond to violence either with more effective reforms in policing or more vigorous reaction to threats to public safety.
The police shooting of Jacob Blake, which touched off the Kenosha riots to which Rittenhouse was responding, seems irresponsible and horrific. But he was wielding a knife at the officer who shot him, and one who is not in danger should be very careful in questioning the actions of those responding to danger. What reforms are needed here?
More clear, however, is the utter irresponsibility of Wisconsin’s Governor, Democrat Tony Evers, in his initial responses to the shooting as well. His inflammatory statements in response to the police shooting of Blake, his refusal to send more than a token contingent of National Guardsmen to assist in the restoration of law and order in Kenosha, his rejection of offers of federal assistance, and his rejection of pleas from Kenosha business and political leaders for more assistance helped make a bad situation worse and set the stage for the arrival of Kyle Rittenhouse and other armed vigilantes. You can read more about Evers’s initial dereliction of duty at https://www.wsj.com/articles/has-tony-evers-learned-his-lesson-wisconsin-kenosha-national-guard-kyle-rittenhouse-trial-verdict-11637189602.
The preservation of safety and the rule of law cannot proceed if vigilantism runs rampant. All responsible citizens must support ways and means to enhance simultaneously government procedures to preserve people’s legitimate rights while combating those who would threaten the public order. How one can do so is highly debatable and not necessarily obvious. But a society based on the rule of law, with laws developed and implemented to guarantee the safety of all law abiding citizens is preferable to what may evolve from the lionization and glorification of Kyle Rittenhouse who, one hopes will enjoy the freedom to which he is entitled in the obscurity from which he came.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.