Kyle Rittenhouse deserves the best defense money can buy. He shot three men in Kenosha, Wisconsin, not because he wanted to but because he had to. He is, for all intents and purposes, a standup citizen with aspirations of being a great public servant. I hope he still manages to become one after all of this.
That said, the Rittenhouse situation shouldn’t be a situation at all.
I’ve gone into detail about what Rittenhouse faced that night, so I’m going to skip the details and get down to the point.
The fact that Rittenhouse was there in the first place isn’t a good thing. Not necessarily on Rittenhouse’s part, though. He felt he needed to be there. Looking at the teenager’s history, he’s clearly a believer in public service and holds police and firefighters in high esteem. This isn’t a bad thing, but it answers the question on both sides about why Rittenhouse felt he should be in that Kenosha warzone.
Rittenhouse’s inner voice that tells him to act for the good of his fellow Americans was likely pretty loud in his ears and, combined with the impetuousness of youth, he set out to put himself into harm’s way for the people of Kenosha. Being the person he is, he even gave medical aid to the people who were there supporting the riots.
His ideological stances and opposition to the mob eventually lead to him killing two people and injuring a third. Despite the fact that this happened, it doesn’t make Rittenhouse the bad guy in the story. Yes, two people are dead, but that’s not Rittenhouse’s fault, it’s theirs.
Arguments against that very point have arisen. Some say that Rittenhouse shouldn’t have put himself in the position to have to kill someone in the first place. He showed up with a gun and began doing things that could only upset the rioters. In a way, Rittenhouse was inviting violent conflict even if he wasn’t actively seeking it out.
Tim Carney at the Washington Examiner put it like this:
This isn’t a new story. In my family, we have a word for it: a “Plaxident.” It’s in honor of former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who in 2008 shot himself in the leg. Burress was walking up a narrow, dark stairwell with a drink in his hand when he tripped and fell. His gun came sliding out of his belt, and he tried to grab it. Then, bam.
Yes, anyone could slip on a stairwell. Trying to grab the falling gun might or might not have been rational. But showing up at a night club with a gun in your belt was the real error. So the accidental discharge wasn’t an accident: It was a Plaxident. If your kid breaks a window explaining that his grip slipped on the fastball he was throwing, the relevant question isn’t how his grip slipped but why he was throwing a baseball inside.
Rittenhouse’s error had far graver consequences.
Catholic teaching includes a concept called the “near occasion of sin.” Sometimes, the biggest mistake we make is putting ourselves in a terrible position. And in Catholic teaching, that prudential mistake is a moral error — a sin.
It’s a solid point to consider, but not one I entirely agree with. Rittenhouse definitely put himself into a position where he would have been forced to kill people. He brought a gun to a riot and began attempting to limit the damage the riot was trying to cause. That the teenager had a hand in developing what happened that night is a fact that cannot be denied.
Where I tend to diverge with arguments like the one above is a moral question. Is it wrong to go to a place where evil is flourishing and stand between it and innocent people? Is it wrong to show up to a lawless place and inject order?
There are different schools of thought on this with all sorts of variables and nuances to consider to be sure, but what I want to focus on is Rittenhouse’s situation in particular. If the kid had gone there with the intent to shoot someone and took an active part in arranging for things to happen that would facilitate homicide then yes, I believe that would have been wrong.
But that’s not what happened. Rittenhouse clearly reacted to the situation with self-defense after going there to assist people, not play the part of vigilante. Vigilante actions would mean actively seeking out “justice” against those committing injustices. All evidence so far points to Rittenhouse being there to help defend locations and assist where he can.
The rioters, who were clearly there to do wrong in the first place, could have left Rittenhouse alone. It would have been wise of them to do so given the fact that he was armed. Yet, they didn’t. They attacked Rittenhouse who was then forced to defend himself. They didn’t have to, but they did. The risk of death was their choice, not Rittenhouse’s. Rittenhouse attempted to prevent their deaths by retreating every single time. He was trying to show them mercy as he was in the position of a death dealer but the rioters rejected that and came after him.
The teen fired his weapon out of necessity, not vengeance. It was the rioter’s decisions that lead to their deaths.
The teenager is not to blame for the deaths despite the fact that he was there any more than officers who are forced to shoot attackers are to blame. Yes, it’s true that Rittenhouse could have stayed home and none of this wouldn’t have happened, but it’s also true that his being there wasn’t a moral wrong and the events that led to the shooting weren’t the kid’s fault.
Being there as a defensive measure will definitely invite retaliation from those on the offensive, but again, the option to attack is not on the defenders, it’s on the attackers.
Were the Koreans on the rooftops during the LA riots wrong to be there? We largely agree that they were perfectly in their right and their threatening posture paid off. The Korean businesses were spared the destruction the rest of the city suffered.
Rittenhouse’s situation differs slightly but not enough to be considered wrong. He was there doing what Americans do and was doing so legally.
If you ask me, the real blame for Rittenhouse’s fateful night doesn’t rest on the kid and while the protesters have the blame to take, I wouldn’t put the lion’s share of it on them.
The riot shouldn’t have been going in the first place, and it wouldn’t have happened if the leaders in control of these cities and states would do what they’re supposed to do and protect the citizenry. They aren’t. They’re allowing this burning, pillaging, and murdering to happen.
If there wasn’t a riot, there wouldn’t be a Rittenhouse, but if you allow your streets to be terrorized and destroyed, a Rittenhouse is bound to arrive.