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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/24/21

Making Sense of the Rittenhouse Trial (almost)

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Last week I got into an argument with a friend about the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. Even though my friend self-identifies as liberal, he's quite a bit further to the right than I am, We don't see eye to eye on many issues, the Rittenhouse trial included.

Rittenhouse, of course, was the 18-year-old who stood trial for killing two men and wounding another at a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 20th, 2020. The trial ended last Friday with Rittenhouse found innocent of all charges leveled against him.

My friend had agreed with me that as a 17-year-old, Rittenhouse had no business inserting himself into the chaotic protests that turned into riots that night in Kenosha. We also agreed that despite its being legal, carrying an AR-15 into such a volatile situation should not be permitted to anyone - especially to a callow teenager. In my friend's eyes, Rittenhouse certainly was no hero.

Yet, the trial verdict, he maintained, was correct. He said according to Wisconsin law, Rittenhouse's life had been credibly threatened by the ones he shot. Besides, his attackers were related to Antifa and Black Lives Matter (BLM) -- Marxist groups that routinely engage in riots, while condoning arson, vandalism, and other forms of property destruction.

In an act of political cowardice, local leaders, my friend insisted, had ordered the police to stand down as what CNN shamelessly called the "mostly peaceful protests" turned violent. That's why business owners welcomed the aid of civilians like Rittenhouse to defend their threatened shops and stores.

Finally, according to my friend, the Rittenhouse trial had been falsely racialized by a coordinated mainstream media (MSM) effort. The whole incident, he said, had nothing to do with allegations of racism, especially since all four of the victims (Rittenhouse included) were white

I disagreed with many of the positions just reviewed - especially with the justification of the jury's final verdict. After all, influenced by the prevailing MSM narrative, I was under the impression that Rittenhouse had gratuitously traveled all the way from Illinois with his assault weapon. I thought he had not only purchased his gun illegally but had broken the law by crossing state lines with it. I also thought Rittenhouse had chased down his victims and that after shooting them, he was simply allowed to go free by smiling police officers in riot gear.

My initial bone of contention with the jury's verdict also involved the behavior of the presiding judge, Bruce Schroeder, At every turn he gave strong evidence of favoring Rittenhouse. For instance, the judge forbade prosecutors from referring to the ones Rittenhouse had killed as "victims." However, they could be identified, he said, as "looters," "rioters," and "arsonists." Dismayingly, Schroeder had also disallowed charges that the teenager's possession of an assault rifle was illegal.

My argument with my friend caused me to do further research. To my surprise, I discovered he was right in much of what he said, and that under Wisconsin law Rittenhouse was indeed within his legal rights to shoot his victims in self-defense.

Still, however, I found myself disturbed by the entire affair and what it reveals about the law, the right to bear arms, and especially about the prejudices of the mainstream media.

Let me try to explain by first setting the general context of the Rittenhouse trial along with a brief review of the laws especially relevant to the case. I'll then recount the sequence of events on the night of August 20th, 2020, as supported by video evidence. Finally, I'll draw those conclusions I promised concerning what I think the Rittenhouse trial tells us about the current state of our country's culture -- and about me.

Context and Law

In order to understand the Rittenhouse trial, it helps, I think, to review its highly charged racial context as well as the legal elements that often went largely unreported in the MSM. The important factors include the following:

  1. A long history of police violence directed specifically against black communities across the country.
  2. The longstanding conviction within those communities (and outside them) that the resulting police shootings, arrests, convictions, and imprisonments are far out-of-proportion to the size of black populations in the United States
  3. The August 23rd paralyzation of African American Jacob Blake by a white Kenosha police officer who shot Blake seven times in the back in the proximate presence of Blake's three small children
  4. The subsequent demonstrations in Kenosha and across the country
  5. The participation of the Black Lives Matter organization in those demonstrations. (BLM is a broad-based movement encompassing many different philosophies and strategies all intent on responding defensively to police violence.)
  6. The fact that many BLM members and sympathizers are white and that historically the law has treated such people in the same way it treats black people. (This suggests that the white skin color of Rittenhouse's victims by no means removes racism from the story's equation.)
  7. Wisconsin gun law that allows underaged children to legally carry long barreled rifles
  8. Wisconsin self-defense law that presumes innocence on the part of those claiming its protection, while placing a high-bar burden of proof on those contradicting self-defense claims.
  9. The widely shared impression of prejudice given by the judge presiding over the Rittenhouse trial

The Sequence of Events

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program. His latest book is (more...)
 

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7 people are discussing this page, with 12 comments  Post Comment


Mike Rivage-Seul

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  New Content

Be sure to watch the Jimmy Dore video I link in my article. As Dore puts it so well, the MSM lies to us about EVERYTHING. It cannot be trusted.

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 24, 2021 at 6:00:02 AM

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Dorothy Lebovitz

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Reply to Mike Rivage-Seul:   New Content

Jimmy Dore a pot smoking comedian working out of his garage, seems to get it RIGHT a lot more than anything you'd see on the BoobTube! MSNBC, CNN, PBS, FOX & FSTV(sadly even Amy Goodman has gone Corp.) using the same false talking points to manufacture distraction & division between the people. Divide and Conquer, Bread and Circus, so the serfs won't even realize the 1% is picking your pockets, removing your Constitutional Rights and control your thoughts. Has anyone seen this covered in Talking Points Memo or do they only cover FOX's talking points?

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 24, 2021 at 4:55:45 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Reply to Dorothy Lebovitz:   New Content

Well said, Dorothy. I've been a bit disturbed as well by Amy's coverage of this issue and several others. I still consider her and Juan Gonzalez wonderful sources of information from the grassroots level. Still, I wonder about some indications of adopting the corporate line.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 27, 2021 at 9:26:37 AM

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Marta Steele

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Mike, Thanks for this intricate and hugely valuable dissection of what really happened on that hideous day of senseless murders. Were there no guns, no one would have died.

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 24, 2021 at 9:26:02 AM

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don curry

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Reply to Marta Steele:   New Content

"Were there no guns, no one would have died." There was a store owner that was beaten horribly and had his jaw broken by "protestors"when he attempted to protect his business.

Certainly, if the owners of the properties that were destroyed, and the residents of the neighborhoods that were rendered unlivable, did nothing but huddle in personal safety, meekly losing everything, then the only violence would be perpetrated by the "protestors."

Maybe there would have been no deaths, only the number of unlucky timid who were dragged out of their hidey-holes to be beaten and broken to balance the scales of justice for Jacob Blake.

Submitted on Thursday, Nov 25, 2021 at 12:16:27 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Reply to don curry:   New Content

Don, it seems that the police were "standing down," and had been ordered to do so. Isn't it at least ironic that so much is spent on policing, but then when they should be protecting the businesses you reference, they reduce themselves to passive observers? The whole incident makes evident the crying need for police reform.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 27, 2021 at 9:37:56 AM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Reply to Marta Steele:   New Content

It's so insane that participants in demonstrations should be allowed the carry guns and that those who bring guns should be allowed to claim self-defense when (after identification as an "active shooter") they fear that their weapons might be used against them.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 27, 2021 at 9:34:47 AM

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Meryl Ann Butler

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Thank you for these thoughtful words, Mike. I haven't looked into all the details as well as you have, but I trust and appreciate your analysis.

I do make an additional conclusion that seems to be so invisible when events of this nature are analyzed: testosterone and firearms are a lethal combination, and should not be allowed to mix. We should notice that few female perpetrators end up in the spotlight of events like this. I'm not saying none, but when we look at the assaults and murders with automatic weapons, whether they be in educational surroundings or protest type events, women are quite noticeably in the extremely small minority, (and pointing the finger at a lone female perpetrator or two does not change the overall pattern.)

What should we glean from this? Well, I propose that it would be an excellent experiment to put women in charge of this country for a couple of hundred years and see if they do any better!

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 24, 2021 at 10:23:46 AM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Reply to Meryl Ann Butler:   New Content

Meryl Ann, your comment needs no response. I so agree with you about women in charge. It's mind boggling that more than half the human race on principle has such little voice in decisions in general -- but especially about war, law enforcement, violence, and guns.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 27, 2021 at 9:30:59 AM

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John Zwiebel

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Even more specific to the Rittenhouse case, it seems that allowing individuals to create an unnecessarily dangerous situation and then to claim self-defense when the situation turns threatening against them personally is somehow contradictory.

Rittenhouse did not create the situation. Nor is he responsible for how White Supremacists have used him. He probably should not have allowed Trump to use him as a prop, but how many of us would turn down an invitation from an ex-President?

Something is basically wrong when millions of taxpayer dollars spent on a highly militarized police force cannot produce public servants capable of maintaining order and of protecting peaceful protestors. Something is wrong when the beneficiaries of such funding are reduced to dependence on armed vigilantes to do their work.

I find this paragraph to be very disturbing, especially when one acknowledges that it was the cops who started the entire problem. You can make an argument that the Blake shooting should never have happened, and I'll agree, but it did happen and it was the cops who were the problem. The order to "stand down" may have been appropriate with tensions running so high on all sides that I think a credible argument can be made that only a citizen self-protection force could prevent the violence from expanding even further than it did.

The videos of the cops doing patrols in unmarked vans after the Minneapolis riots should convince everyone that "defund the police" is the only way out of this mess. (But, yes, it is an unfortunate phrase.)

Finally, the judge had much more knowledge of the events of the day than we had. I can imagine him being angry that the case had even been brought forward. The MSM reports of the judge's ring-tone were just meant to inflame public opinion, something you admit the MSM did throughout these events.

Yellow-journalism is everywhere.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 27, 2021 at 11:57:34 AM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Reply to John Zwiebel:   New Content

John, I think we're in agreement about the police -- and also about the ringtone. Policing as practiced in the U.S. is generally in need of fundamental reform. Standard operating procedure for dealing with demonstrations has to be fundamentally rethought and accordingly revised. There's simply too much reliance on brute force or -- in this case, on turning law enforcement into passive observers. It's all so 20th century.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 27, 2021 at 1:06:01 PM

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David Wieland

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Reply to Mike Rivage-Seul:   New Content

I mostly agree with you, although, from what I can glean at a distance, policing issues vary across departments and are due as much to training, the nature of populations being policed (with high levels of gun ownership problematic in the U.S.), and lack of political will to take steps to improve policing rather than just reduce or disable it.

In Canada the police, although they prudently wear bulletproof vests, rarely need to anticipate being shot at. Still, the community anxiety raised through protests of the past few years has led to occasional over-caution and inadequate policing. That raises a different community anxiety. Principled police reform is justified (and even welcomed by many officers, I've read); simple defunding or de-policing without ensuring adequate substitution will only worsen problems.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 27, 2021 at 2:56:15 PM

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