An intelligent observer could probably have guessed that Kyle Rittenhouse was going to be found innocent when the prosecution decided to focus on his fondness for violent video games. Whatever your legal competence, this is not a tactic you resort to if you have a solid case.
In the heat of the summer of 2020 left-wing activists had filed the word “complex” away
Let us return to the beginning of this squalid tale. Facts must be established before judgements can be made. In August 2020, police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin were called to the home of a woman who reported that her boyfriend, Jacob Blake, had entered her home without permission. Mr Blake had a warrant out for his arrest, based on charges of sexually assaulting this woman. When the officers arrived, according to their testimony, Blake was putting a child into a car and a woman was heard to cry, “He’s got my kid. He’s got my keys.” Believing that a kidnap was in progress, the officers attempted to tase Blake, but it was ineffective. Blake allegedly fought the officers (though his lawyers deny this) and then walked towards the car, holding a knife. According to the police, Blake turned towards the officers, at which point one of them shot him seven times. He survived.
Whether or not the officer’s decision was defensible, it was clearly a complex situation (unlike, say, the outrageous shootings of Philando Castile or Daniel Shaver). In the heat of the summer of 2020, though, left-wing activists had filed the word “complex” away. For them, it was just another case of the police callously murdering an innocent black man. They descended on Kenosha — many of them holding riotous intentions.
A lot of demonstrators were peaceful. Others, though, torched businesses. Some were violent towards people. An old man tried to defend a shop where he worked and had his jaw broken by a rioter. In response, many citizens appointed themselves defenders of law and order, guarding businesses as protests continued. One was Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, twenty miles from Kenosha.
Rittenhouse was a young man with energetic aspirations towards being a pillar of his community. A police cadet and trained lifeguard, he wanted to put his law and order values and medical skills to good use. He asked an older friend of his to buy him a rifle and turned up in Kenosha with his weapon and his medical kit.
Rittenhouse was seen and even interviewed as he guarded buildings and provided medical care on the night of August 25th. (Foolishly, he claimed to be an EMT, which he was not.) Rittenhouse was also present when a protestor named Joseph Rosenbaum allegedly confronted the militia and told them that if he caught any of them by themselves he would kill them. Eccentrically, for a white Black Lives Matter activist, he was also filmed repeatedly saying what others of his ilk might have more decorously styled as “the n-word” instead.
Later, Rittenhouse was indeed alone. He encountered Rosenbaum and another man, Joshua Ziminski. What happened next is disputed but what we know is that Rosenbaum chased him into a car dealership. Ziminski fired his gun into the air, at which point Rittenhouse spun around and pointed his weapon at Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum reached for the gun and Rittenhouse shot him four times. Rosenbaum died.
Protestors chased Rittenhouse as he fled towards police cars. One of them, Anthony Huber, attacked him with a skateboard and Rittenhouse shot and killed him as well. Another, Gaige Grosskreutz, pointed his gun at Rittenhouse, who shot him, blowing off his bicep.
The prosecution tried to portray Rittenhouse as being a man who sought violence. The judge refused to allow them to present as evidence two videos, one of which allegedly showed Rittenhouse punching a girl in the middle of a brawl and one which allegedly records him saying, as he watches the looting of a shop, that if he had a gun he would “start shooting at them”. On the other hand, the judge also refused to give Rittenhouse’s lawyers permission to use as evidence the fact that Rosenbaum was a convicted child molester and Huber had been convicted of strangulation, suffocation and false imprisonment.
Rittenhouse was fortunate not to be prosecuted for possession of a firearm at his age. In Wisconsin, apparently, the law decrees that 17-year-olds can carry weapons if the barrels are longer than sixteen inches. (Four years before they can drink. Curious.) If it was indeed his voice on the video outside the pharmacy it would be hard to argue that he has never had a thought of vigilantism. On the other hand, if you believe that he set out to kill people in August 2020 you also have to believe that by coincidence he was threatened, pursued and attacked by hostile men who were attempting to seize his gun.
You cannot create a violent situation and be surprised when it ends in violence
Left-wing responses have been shell-shocked. The author Umar Haique claims that Rittenhouse’s acquittal represents “an open license to kill Black people and Jews” (all the people Rittenhouse shot were white but never mind). The journalist Paul Mason calls it “a key stage in the fascist progress.” For the record, I am firmly against killing people, and I think that teenagers should be at home studying and not wandering around the streets with a rifle. But a lot of mainstream commentators defended the violence that drew men like Rittenhouse into Kenosha. Kellie Carter Jackson, assistant professor of Africana studies at Wellesley College, hailed “the utility of riotous rebellion” in the Atlantic. A branch of Hachette Book Group published a book named In Defense of Looting, for which you had to pay money to buy.
You cannot create a violent situation and be surprised when it ends in violence. Had Joseph Rosenbaum not pursued Rittenhouse for no good reason, he and Huber would be alive, and had some people not decided to respond to the complicated circumstances of Jacob Blake’s shooting with the destruction of random properties, Kyle Rittenhouse would never have gone to Kenosha.
I have to say to Kyle, though, that sharks are circling — not just leftists out for revenge but right-wing opportunities who will want turn an eighteen-year-old who has been through an immense amount of trauma into a figurehead. Focus on yourself — and, perhaps, the occasional defamation suit.
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