“Not Guilty, so sayeth we all” was the decision of the jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial and, as distasteful as it may be, we must accept the verdict. To paraphrase a quote (often attributed to Winston Churchill who actually said it but was quoting some other unknown orator)
“The Jury system is the worst form of Justice except for all the others that have been tried.”
Judgment by jury of our peers achieves a balance of power between the government’s obligation to enforce laws and the peoples’ right to be free from unfettered prosecutorial zealots. It is a costly but necessary price.
In the Rittenhouse case—if one read the jury instructions and understood the elements of self-defense embedded in the state law—the jury’s focus was narrowly defined. And, given this focus, the verdict almost inevitable.
What it leaves unanswered is why a seventeen-year-old boy—carrying a powerful semi-automatic rifle, with no formal law enforcement or military background to prepare himself for dealing with chaotic and dynamic situations—was in that situation in the first place.
It also calls into question the competency of his mother who allowed her son access to the weapon and, implicitly at least, encouraged him to place himself in a situation he was ill-equipped to handle.
If Mr. Rittenhouse aspires to be a law enforcer or protector of life and property, let him join the military or work towards becoming a police officer and prove his mettle to assume such a role. (Let’s hope he never does. Police departments are already dealing with a dearth of competent candidates and the last thing they need is someone joining the ranks who will likely put two notches on his gun when he gets it back . And he will get it back.)
Merely having the means (without the requisite skills or competence which is more than the ability to load, aim, and fire a weapon) to pretend to be an armed guardian angel is nothing more than delusional vigilantisms.
Here is what is clear and troubling. Mr. Rittenhouse had the right to defend himself in the face of perceived threats. Those who posed that threat—at the risk here of blaming the victims—put themselves in the situation and paid the price. What’s troubling is that there seems to be little or no consequences for Mr. Rittenhouse creating the situation in the first place.
Juries pass judgment, they do not dispense justice. Neither does Mr. Rittenhouse, who I fear we will hear about again, nor those who will be emboldened by the verdict and see it as an opportunity to emulate such behavior.
I fear we have opened a Pandora’s Box of vigilantism and are yet to find hope in the chaos.