Kyle Rittenhouse did nothing wrong in law, but this does not mean he did the right thing in going armed to Kenosha. Much of the right is celebrating him as a patriot for taking arms against a sea of troubles, and as a poster child for the Second Amendment. He is neither. He is a liability for both of those causes.
The right to bear arms is just that: a legal right. Choosing to bear them publicly is another matter: an ethical choice. Rittenhouse’s defense was that he was legally innocent because he was ethically innocent. Despite growing up with guns, he seems to have been unaware of the adult commonplace about bearing them: if you produce a weapon, you should be prepared to use it.
It is clear from Rittenhouse’s testimony that he had not thought through the possible consequences of going armed into a riot. It is also clear that the law should never need to be enforced by seventeen-year-old amateurs. In Kenosha and elsewhere in the summer of 2020, the professionals failed to maintain order when, as often happens, protests turn into riots. If you permit riots, you will get militias and vigilantism.
An alliance comprising “activists,” most of the media and every single Democrat, including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, gave local politicians and police commanders a choice: denounce Black Lives Matter and be called a racist, or take a knee. This gave looting and rioting a gloss of rough justice, and it signaled to law enforcement that their political masters would not support them in enforcing the law.
The reactions of the media and senior Democrats, the president included, to Rittenhouse’s acquittal show similar contempt for the facts and the law. Joe Biden says he’s “angry,” but the verdict must stand. Kamala Harris says “there’s still a lot more work to do” to “make our justice system more equitable.” If the president of the United States is in possession of information that would have changed the jury’s minds, he should produce it. If the vice president believes that the job of the justice system is to produce “equitable” outcomes, she should not be in office. Justice is supposed to be blind, not dumb.
Incidentally, on the day that Rittenhouse got the headlines, a Florida court acquitted Andrew Coffee IV, a young black man, of a charge of murdering his girlfriend and three counts of attempting to murder law enforcement officers during a drug raid in Florida in 2017. Again, justice was blind — and even, it would appear, equitable.
I agree with my colleague Amber Athey that the jury was right to uphold the Second Amendment and the right to self-defense. But I cannot agree that the verdict means the jury agreed that Rittenhouse “was justified in using a firearm to protect his own life from a child molester and a domestic abuser.” The judge had issued a pretrial ruling that forbade Rittenhouse’s lawyers from telling the jury about the depravity of Rittenhouse’s assailants, Joseph Rosenbaum, a convicted child molester, and Anthony Huber, a convicted domestic abuser. If it can be shown that the jury knew of this extraneous information, then there are grounds for a retrial.
The media had already tried and convicted Rittenhouse of murder and the motive of white supremacism, and some of them continue to defame Rittenhouse after his acquittal.
He should sue them — especially the ones who defamed after the verdict. There is a low comedy to the unreal fanaticism of, say, The Independent, a British website, reporting that Rittenhouse was cleared of shooting “three black men.” But it is slanderous, and perhaps incitement too, for Megan Hunt of the Nebraska Senate to call Rittenhouse “a white supremacist murderer” on Twitter.
Again, the exercise of rights requires the exercise of the moral sense. Our media and politicians incite against not just their enemies but even against the law itself. The Rittenhouse case, from the stunted ethical sense of Rittenhouse to the failure to keep order in Kenosha to the elaborate immorality of a partisan media and the vice president, is a dismal chapter. And that is why, though justice eventually worked as it should, there will be no end to the story of the unraveling of the law in America, and the peace with it.