The Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict Makes Us All Less Safe
Jurors take their own decisions. Their verdicts may have wide-ranging consequences in certain cases.
Kyle Rittenhouse’s case is an example of one such case. He was acquitted by a Wisconsin jury of the charges against him in connection to August 2020’s conduct on Kenosha streets that resulted in two deaths and one injury. Some observers find the verdict absurd. If you look at the case in a wider context, it seems absurd that a teenager can escape criminal responsibility after traveling from one state to another, causing civil unrest and violating a curfew that is specifically intended to prevent people from walking on streets. He also allegedly carries an assault weapon which causes serious harm.
Rittenhouse stated that he was there to protect private property. The property owner, however, testified Rittenhouse did not request his assistance. Rittenhouse claimed that Rittenhouse went to unrest scenes to render medical aid to injured people, even though Rittenhouse had never been trained as a doctor and was not qualified to do so. Since he was not an official of the government, Rittenhouse did not wear a uniform or badge. Instead, he was wearing a backwards baseball hat and openly carrying a weapon or war. People saw him and assumed that he was an active gunman. They attacked him in order to defend themselves from any future threats of gunfire. People ended up dying as a result.
But juries don’t look at the big picture. Juries are told by Judges to concentrate only on facts that they hear, ignore the media and disregard any evidence not admitted. The details are important to juries. It is the prosecution’s responsibility to prove each element of any charged offense beyond reasonable doubt. The prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that a defendant didn’t act in self defense if he or she claims self-defense. Rittenhouse was one example. The process of proving a negative is difficult. Jurors were shown video of events that occurred in the case. They slowed it down frame-by-frame, asking the jury to consider not the big picture of Rittenhouse’s outrageously poor judgment in bringing an AR-15 to a scene of chaos, but his conduct and mental state in the precise moments that the shots were fired.
Sometimes victims of crime feel less protections than those who are being tried. However, this is not true. That’s because our Constitution requires the government to provide due process to one who is charged with a crime and facing loss of liberty. As we saw in this case, the judge would not even permit the decedents to be referred to as “victims.” Though Judge Schroeder received some criticism for that ruling, it is a common practice in a criminal case because the term “victim” carries with it the suggestion that the defendant is guilty. The system is based on the belief that 10 guilty persons should be freed and one innocent person should be tried. These protections can sometimes leave us feeling like a serious injustice has been done.
And while the big picture is not the jury’s concern, this case will have repercussions outside of the courtroom. Rittenhouse is likely to be the face of right-wing politicians and extremists. Rep. Matt Gaetz already said that Rittenhouse would be a great congressional intern. It is likely that Rittenhouse will attend the State of the Union Address. Why has a kid in Kenosha become such a cause celebré?
It is all part of larger culture conflicts that are currently raging in our country. Rittenhouse claimed he was attracted to Kenosha because he wanted to defend the city. What is the threat? The threat? While this trial was ongoing, another trial was occurring in Georgia, involving homicide charges against white men who were conducting a “citizen’s arrest” when they killed Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, because they suspected him of trespassing in a home under construction. If the defendants in these cases had been Black, it is easy to see how their experiences with the criminal justice system might have been different.
Now, cynical politicians are going to use the verdict to divide our nation. This verdict will be used by cynical politicians to ignore the narrow view jurors have of a case, and to send a bigger message to society about vigilante justice. To advance their political agendas, political opportunists can use the case to race-bait and fear-mongering. This case will be used by them to support irresponsible assault weapon use under the Second Amendment banner. We are less secure when those without any law enforcement experience, training or oversight feel free to make their own laws.