If you’ve been living under a rock, a jury of 12 men and women returned a non guilty verdict for Kyle Rittenhouse on multiple felony charges, including reckless homicide. Rittenhouse shot three men, killing two in the process. Rittenhouse, an 18 year old from Antioch, Illinois, traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin with an AR-15 rifle because he believed it was his ‘job’ to guard buildings and offer medical assistance to protestors there. (Protests, riots, and general civil unrest occurred in Kenosha when a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a black resident who suffered paralysis from the waist down.)
Rittenhouse and his legal team never contested he shot these men, but they successfully argued he acted in self defense. The acquittal provoked the ire of a large number of Americans, who see Rittenhouse as an exemplar of white privilege, conservative rage, and a flawed justice system. There’s quite a bit worth exploring in this acquittal, but the legal aspect isn’t really what I want to explore in this post.
I never believed the odds of a conviction were high for Rittenhouse. Proving all the elements of any crime is difficult, and in such a politically charged case, I didn’t believe the prosecution had much of a chance considering Rittenhouse received more than $2 million for his legal defense through crowd sourcing. Yet, there are several aspects of this case worth mentioning.
Armed civilians shouldn’t be in the streets
Even if the letter of the law is on the side, Kyle Rittenhouse should not have been in Kenosha, with an AR-15, ‘defending’ the streets from protestors and rioters. At the time of the shooting, Rittenhouse was 17 years old. Who would believe that it was a good idea to arm a teenage boy with no formal training and place him in the middle of a riot?
Police officers and armed service personnel receive hundreds of hours of training and know how to appropriately respond in situations of protesters and riots. Even then, those trained officers of the law sometimes make mistakes. Untrained teenage boys make foolish decisions in high pressure situations, and he probably responded how most children would. This is precisely why a child should not be in the midst of potentially dangerous situations. Arming this boy only heightened the possibility of danger.
Situations where armed civilians shoot at one another only make it more difficult for police officers to do their job. In the darkness of night, a situation like Kenosha means police have a more difficult time distinguishing between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’
Bits and pieces of information about Rittenhouse which have surfaced also show a teenager searching for a sense of belonging and purpose. He dropped out of high school, didn’t make it through a local police cadet program, and made several posts on social media expressing an admiration for police and guns. He bounced around a few jobs, but somehow believed he had a duty to act as though he was law enforcement. Rittenhouse told interviewers (prior to the shooting), “Part of my job also is to protect people. If someone is hurt, I’m running into harm’s way.” While we might want to admire the gusto of this teenager, his words represent a false bravado that an adult should have stopped. Rittenhouse is fortunate that he couldn’t be convicted of irresponsibility or stupidity, because there’s no doubt he’s guilty of those.
Politicians are using Rittenhouse
Since Rittenhouse’s acquittal last week, three members of Congress have offered the teenage boy an internship opportunity. Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-GA 1), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC 11), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ 4) made such offers in the wake of the trial and when we look at the three people making the offers, it becomes easier to see that these three clowns are offering gestures not for the benefit of any person other than themselves.
Not so incidentally, each of these three members of Congress is dealing with a number of controversies which consistently embarrass their constituents and the nation. Gaetz is facing a federal investigation into allegations of sex trafficking and inappropriate sexual contact with a minor. Cawthorn is a freshman Congressman from North Carolina who faces allegations of sexual harassment from numerous women at his alma mater, Patrick Henry College. A group of 10 students co-wrote the statement which was signed by more than 150 additional alums. Gosar might be the biggest mess of the three, with numerous ties to alt-right entities such as the Proud Boys and the now infamous Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. Gosar’s recent shenanigans include having someone on his team create an animated video of a character made to look like him killing a character who looked like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY 14). This earned him an official censure from the House of Representatives.
Why do these issues of these three Congressman matter? Because offering Kyle Rittenhouse an internship distracts their constituents from important matters while throwing the ‘red meat’ to the die-hard conservatives in their districts. They hope these outlandish offers receive more media coverage than their problems. Voters have short memories and the further these problems are from the limelight, the better odds of incumbents maintaining political office.
The offers of internships or interviews on national news media will dry up as the news cycle turns over. These members of government will move on to the next symbol of gun rights they can use. What will Rittenhouse be left with?
This will follow Rittenhouse forever
Though not criminally guilty, Kyle Rittenhouse must now live with the fact that he killed two people. I know that many people will point out that the two men Rittenhouse shot were convicted criminals. We should never construe that fact as somehow justification for shooting and killing people. One the underlying concepts of Western civilization is the idea that all human life has meaning. Of course, we love to say that until we have to include people who have committed crimes in the past.
Unfortunately, American popular culture glorifies violence to the point where virtually no one discusses the psychological damage done to men and women when they take the life of another human being. A recent study of the impact of police officers who use lethal force in the line of duty showed symptoms of PTSD and increased severity of depression. What type of impact will this have on a teenager? According to Kyle Rittenhouse’s mother, her son already has nightmares pertaining to the shooting. Life is difficult for any of us, but now Rittenhouse must deal with added pressure at an age that is not properly equipped to handle this stress.
The prospects of a normal future in terms of employment or merely functioning in day to day life have become impossible. Rittenhouse will always vacillate between the people who want to view him as some pro-gun heroic icon and individuals who hate him for what he did. Who will want to hire him that is not simultaneously using him? Where can he go in this country where he won’t be recognized or immediately doxxed? The trajectory of his entire life changed for the worse and regardless of who you are, I would think there’s just a touch of pity for him.