Editorial: Rittenhouse and the rule of law

  • Kyle Rittenhouse is seen running down the street the night he shot three people at a protest in Kenosha.

    Kyle Rittenhouse is seen running down the street the night he shot three people at a protest in Kenosha. Video frame grab courtesy of Brendan Gutenschwager

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 11/20/2021 9:17 AM

Immediately after the deadly gunfire exploded during Kenosha's street protests 15 months ago, the factions in America's polarization seized on the shocking violence.

Overnight, Kyle Rittenhouse was demonized as a vigilante by many on the left, lionized as a hero by many on the right. There seemed to be no middle ground.

 

Unfortunately, that also is how much of the country greeted his acquittal Friday of the charges against him.

Look, truth be told, we sympathize with those who are saddened by the outcome. It does not seem to provide justice for shooting victims Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, both slain, and Gaige Grosskreutz, wounded.

And from the beginning, Rittenhouse's behavior, brandishing an AR-15 assault weapon amid protesters 20 miles from his Antioch home, struck us as teenage foolishness or appalling recklessness or both.

But we learned long ago to be cautious about judging trial verdicts. It is exceedingly rare that we challenge them. We always have believed that it is difficult from the outside to see the nuance in testimony that a jury sees from the inside. We're less absolutist about that given the advent of trial video, but the sentiment still holds largely true.

Our courts, like all human endeavors, are imperfect and they certainly have on occasion committed horrible injustices. But they are a bedrock of democracy and we undermine the vital rule of law if we disrespect their aspirations to fairness and justice.

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It is intrinsically unhealthy to embrace or decry verdicts based on our politics, self-interest or sound-bite impressions. And politicians, pundits and activists do the country a disservice when they engage in armchair declarations, often spreading misinformation as they do.

What is clear from the testimony is that the case was more opaque than initial characterizations suggested.

We should all learn from that.

We should all learn not to leap to conclusions.

What the trial also made clear, no matter whether you saw Rittenhouse as innocent or guilty, is the stark complicity of Open Carry.

Thank goodness we don't have it in Illinois.

It is hard to imagine any of this heartbreaking tragedy occurring if Rittenhouse had not been walking down the street with an intimidating weapon of war. Everything that took place came in response to that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As to the verdicts, if you were disappointed in them, don't blame or disparage the court or the jury.

Those disappointed in the outcome need understand: If there was a failing, it was in the laws, not in the judgments of whether they were broken. Wisconsin allows Open Carry, and its loose self-defense law allows someone displaying an assault rifle to claim self-defense if that person uses it against someone who feels threatened by the same weapon and tries to take it away.

It's not the courts any critic should find disappointing, but the laws. And the laws can be changed.

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