The Photo That Perfectly Explains the Folly of Key Prosecution Argument Against Rittenhouse

Mark Hertzberg/Pool Photo via AP

The prosecution in the Kyle Rittenhouse case has made some pretty wild and demonstrably false statements in their closing arguments, including the preposterous suggestion that once you’re carrying a gun you no longer have a right to claim self-defense.

One prosecution argument that has generated a lot of discussions revolves around the assertion by one of DA’s that if you’re not facing a threat from a person armed with a gun that you’re not in the type of danger that would require you to fire your gun at them in self-defense. Indeed, that was precisely the argument made yesterday by prosecutor James Kraus, that a skateboard – used against Rittenhouse by Anthony Huber, who Rittenhouse killed – should not be considered a deadly weapon.

In his comments, Kraus actually mocked the idea, suggesting parents would be surprised to know that one of their favorite gifts to get for their kids was a deadly weapon according to the defense:

Carried to its logical conclusion, it would almost seem that Kraus was effectively arguing that Gaige Grosskreutz, who blew up the prosecution’s case last week when he admitted under oath that Rittenhouse only fired his weapon at him after he pointed his gun at Rittenhouse, would have deserved to die because he was armed with a Glock. But they’ve previously argued in so many words that he was justified in pointing his Glock at Rittenhouse because there were reports purportedly swirling during the chaos that an active shooter was at large. So it’s like the prosecution is trying to have it both ways here.

But beyond that particular inconsistency, a larger issue looms with the argument that a person who is unarmed doesn’t present a strong enough threat to be able to justify using deadly force in the form of a loaded gun in self-defense. It’s an argument that has been insinuated repeatedly in “straight news” pieces where reporters are always quick to note that someone who was a shooting victim, especially in the case of an officer-involved shooting, was “unarmed.” The insinuation is clear. In the media’s mind, “unarmed” = “not a threat.”

This is such a dangerous argument that it defies logic. Our history is filled, chock full, of victims being in situations where someone who was not armed was overpowering or cornering them in ways they felt were threatening, and the victims felt they had no choice but to fire their guns at them to get them away from them.

Women who have been on the receiving end of someone attempting to sexually assault them have fired at their (sometimes unarmed) attackers. Men have faced off against violent attackers who broke into their homes, shooting them. In those situations, it doesn’t matter if the assailant was unarmed. It was his/her suspected intentions that mattered. If they were physically threatening that person, whether it be with a punch, a brick, or any object, it was still a threat and a person has the right to shoot in self-defense.

Our history is also filled with iconic examples of unarmed mobs doing great harm to a city and to people after being whipped into a frenzy. We saw numerous examples during last year’s violent Antifa/BLM-led riots, but perhaps the most iconic image of all in modern American history is this one of Los Angeles truck driver Reginald Denny, who was pulled out of his transfer truck during the 1992 L.A. riots and nearly beaten to death by four rioters who were upset with the acquittal verdict in the LAPD/Rodney King case:

Let’s take a look back at what happened:

Antoine Miller climbed up and opened the truck door, giving an unidentified man the chance to pull Denny out and throw him on the ground. Henry Watson stood on Denny’s neck to hold him down as a group of men surrounded him and Anthony Brown kicked him in the abdomen. As Watson walked away, two other unidentified men joined in the attack: one hurled a five-pound oxygenator stolen from Larry Tarvin’s truck at Denny’s head, and the other kicked him and hit him with a claw hammer. News footage showed Damian Williams throwing a cinder block at Denny’s head, then doing a football-style victory dance in the road and flashing gang signs at the Los Angeles News Service helicopter of Bob Tur (now Zoey Tur) and Marika Gerrard. After the beating ended, some men threw beer bottles at the unconscious body and a man searched Denny’s back pockets, taking his wallet. Tur and Gerrard reported that there was no police presence in the area.

Would Denny have been justified in shooting any of the unarmed men who assaulted him? Clearly, they presented a grave threat to Denny, even though none of them were armed with a gun.

The answer is yes, it would have been justifiable, just as it was justifiable for Rittenhouse to use his gun to defend himself in Kenosha last August.

The legal arguments made in courtrooms in these matters simply must be more precise, because even prosecutors know that a person has a right to defend themselves with deadly force if necessary, even against someone who is unarmed. That goes double for the media, who can help set the stage one way or another for a case in terms of public opinion as well as an actual court of law depending on how loosely or accurately they report on it.

Indicating that a person who was shot and injured or killed was “unarmed” tells us nothing as to if that person may have presented an actual threat. Instead of reporting so and so was “unarmed,” what we need to know are the events that led to the shooting, so we can form our own opinions as to whether or not we feel the end result was justified.

That shouldn’t be too much to ask, but apparently, it is.

Related: Jeffrey Toobin Wonders What Trial Would Be Like if Kyle Rittenhouse Were Black and I Have Thoughts