Yesterday, criminal defendant Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges in a high-profile case stemming from the August 2020 riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse was a 17-year-old from Illinois who traveled to Kenosha with an AR-15 assault rifle with the stated intention of trying to protect life and property during the riots. Protesters started a fight with him, and he shot three people in self-defense as found by the jury — two of whom died of their injuries. Rittenhouse had been charged with intentional homicide.
Both the left and the right have made the case political. “Lock up Kyle Rittenhouse and throw away the key,” tweeted Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a prominent progressive Democrat from New York, last week. When the verdict didn’t go the way liberals hoped for, many Democratic politicians expressed outrage. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example, called the verdict “disgusting” and a victory for “violent extremism from within our own nation.” Some, such as Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, condemned the entire judicial system as systemically racist: “The judge. The jury. The defendant. It’s white supremacy in action.”
Meanwhile, on the right, Kyle Rittenhouse has been lionized as a hero. “Be armed, be dangerous, be moral,” said Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a Republican of North Carolina, who publicly offered him an internship. Apparently, some Republicans believe it’s moral for teenagers to show up armed at a riot, adding to the mayhem and death through their provocative presence, rather than letting the police do their job.
America is a first-class, highly developed nation because we reject mob violence and vigilante justice. Despite the extremists on both sides, most Americans believe the police should keep law and order, and that the courts should determine whether somebody has committed a crime and deserves punishment.
Third-world countries, by contrast, are places where riots are common, the police often fail to keep order, the courts are politically rigged, and armed vigilantes and gangs of political extremists mete out “justice” upon their enemies in the streets — sometimes leading to civil war.
America has been able to maintain our high state of civilization because most of us support law enforcement and the judicial system. We don’t want to empower ordinary people to play police officer and brandish assault rifles during a riot, in a misguided belief that this will improve, rather than worsen, the situation. We also don’t want the opinions of woke politicians and social justice warriors to override the carefully considered legal decisions of a unanimous jury. America has strong institutions to maintain order, justice, and the rule of law — and these institutions deserve to be defended.
Sadly, in Kenosha in the summer of 2020, the police did not have the resources they needed to prevent terrible riots. “Racial justice” protesters committed so much arson and other acts of violence that over 100 cars were burned, 40 buildings were destroyed, and 100 buildings were damaged. The Kenosha Area Business Alliance estimated over $50 million in damages to private property in the city, plus $2 million in city property.
If the police had been stronger, better funded, and more quickly and decisively backed up by an overwhelming presence of the National Guard, these terrible things wouldn’t have happened. Vigilantes such as Kyle Rittenhouse wouldn’t have felt the need to show up with a gun, and the two people he killed during the mayhem wouldn’t be dead.
Some conservatives have advocated for more vigilante justice when riots happen. Some liberals have advocated for defunding the police and delegitimizing our judicial system — itself a dangerous form of vigilante justice, as law professor Jonathan Turley wisely points out.
But the real lessons of the Kyle Rittenhouse case are that we need stronger police, more respect for the courts, and less support for people on both sides of the political divide who seem to want to stir up trouble. Riots should never be allowed to occur in the United States of America, period. So there should be no need for anyone like Rittenhouse to take matters into his own hands and do what he did, ever again. Nor should there be outrage when a jury deliberates carefully and finds — unanimously — that the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s irresponsible conduct in Kenosha rose to the level of murder.
If we want to be a great nation, we’ll look beyond the overly politicized arguments in this case and focus on strengthening the institutions that make America great — such as the very police and courts that so many Americans fail to appreciate.