Like most of us I’ve been monitoring the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, WI. This afternoon the jury released their verdict finding the now 18-year-old Rittenhouse innocent of all five charges by virtue of self-defense. This included a charge of second-degree murder. Rittenhouse shot and killed two other white men and injured a third amidst overnight protests in Kenosha in August of 2020. The protests were in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, by local police who were responding to a domestic disturbance at Mr. Blake’s home. Truth be told, these events are complex and difficult to understand fully even before the filter of race was overlaid onto them.
I thought the treatment of the verdict by David French in today’s Atlantic Monthly was nuanced and helpful. There are no heroes here in this ordeal. Instead we see a confused 17-year-old making some bad decisions after another young man was arrested and shot after himself making some bad decisions.
What continues to surprise me here is that very few folks seem concerned about the fact that this 17-year-old boy was able to gain access easily to an AR-15 military style assault rifle and then use that gun as he attended a protest. (It turns out Rittenhouse had a 20-year-old friend who bought the gun for him and stored it at his parents’ house). Regardless of ideology or political affiliation, I don’t think any 17-year-old should be walking around at night with a firearm and 30 rounds of ammunition. I think that is a recipe for a tragic loss of life and making a bad situation worse than it already was.
Lest we forget, we live in a nation more awash in firearms than any in the world and this has profound impacts on our people and country: 106 people are shot in the US on average every day of the year, including 22 children (aged 17 and younger). As a person of faith who takes the teachings of Jesus seriously, I think this is a major issue; one that doesn’t seem to be part of the debates about this verdict right now. This is in addition to the challenges we face as we come to terms with our nation’s history of racism. One can’t help wonder if this trial would have proceeded in the same way were a young African-American man accused of shooting and killing two people. I am reminded of the line from one of Emerson’s essays: “Ye shall have joy or ye shall have power, but ye shall not have them both.”
I hope and pray that this verdict will not be used by extremist groups on the left or right to justify further polarization and agitation. What we share in common is so much greater than what divides us.