Monday, November 15, 2021

Kyle Rittenhouse, regardless of his trial outcome, is a symbol of a society that says its fine for a teen boy to strap an AR-15 to his chest and walk into a melee

Kyle Rittenhouse

Closing arguments in the murder trial of Kenosha, WI, shooter Kyle Rittenhouse are expected to begin today. At least one legal analyst has suggested a not-guilty verdict is likely because of the judge's one-sided rulings in favor of the defense -- plus his generally belligerent demeanor toward the prosecution. To be sure, Rittenhouse faces several lesser charges and could be found guilty on one or more of those. Regardless of what the court finds, a broader story is playing out here -- and what it says about America in 2021 is not pretty, a Salon columnist says. Writes Heather Digby Parton, under the headline "Beneath the Rittenhouse trial: Grim truths about the state of America":

The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who brought an illegally obtained AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to a chaotic street protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and shot three people, killing two of them, has the country riveted this week. The judge and the prosecutor have been at each other's throats, the top prosecution witnesses turned out to be more helpful for the defense, and defense attorneys unexpectedly put the baby-faced Rittenhouse on the stand, where he breathlessly sobbed like a toddler. Meanwhile, the judge got a phone call as he sat at the bench, revealing his ring tone to be Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," an unofficial Republican theme song. So the trial has been both dramatic and bizarre in equal measure.

The case is important for many reasons having to do with policing, guns, politics and the growing acceptance of right-wing vigilantism in America. Rittenhouse has somehow become a symbol of all those issues, with the country split down the middle on whether he should be condemned for carrying an illegally obtained assault weapon (which he may have transported across state lines from his home in Illinois) and killing people, or should be viewed as a hero for standing up to the left-wing mob and defending himself when challenged. His childlike demeanor confuses the issue even more. How could such an innocent-looking boy have done either of those things?

That Rittenhouse took the stand in his own defense was perhaps the trial's most riveting moment. But his statements from the stand, Parton writes, were a mixed bag:

The facts of the case are well known, so I won't go into it in detail. Suffice it to say that Rittenhouse fashioned himself as a "medic" (a role for which he was entirely untrained) as well as a sort of adjunct militia member, protecting private property and supporting the police when he drove into Kenosha that night and ostentatiously patrolled the streets with his long gun. He was confronted by Joseph Rosenbaum, an ex-convict with a history of mental illness who threw a bag of toiletries at him. Rittenhouse fired his gun, mortally wounding Rosenbaum. He called a friend and said, "I just killed somebody," as he jogged away from the scene. 

Rittenhouse was chased by several people, including one man who tried to hit him with a high kick. Rittenhouse fired at that person but missed. Another protester, Anthony Huber, attempted to bring him down with a skateboard and Rittenhouse shot and killed him too. Gaige Grosskreutz, an armed protester and trained paramedic who also chased Rittenhouse, testified that the two men aimed their guns at each other and Rittenhouse shot him as well, wounding him in the arm. Then Rittenhouse simply walked away from this bloody scene, walking right past police lines, and went home. He turned himself in the next morning. At no point did the self-styled medic try to help any of the people he shot.

Rittenhouse already is seen as a hero by many on the right, and his shooting spree could turn out to be a good career move, Parton writes:

This could be the beginning of a very successful career for young Rittenhouse. He's already shown that he has an instinct for it. After his arraignment and not-guilty plea he was seen numerous times wearing a "Free as Fuck" T-shirt in public, accompanied by his mother and greeted with cheers from his MAGAworld fans.

This sort of vigilantism is routinely celebrated on the right these days. From the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida to the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers now unfolding in Georgia, they have lined up in support for citizens who take the law into their own hands — as long as the targets are left-wing protesters and Black people. They aren't so keen when the shoe is on the other foot.

You may recall another very similar case in Portland, Oregon, last year when Michael Reinoehl, an armed antifa supporter, got into a beef with Aaron Danielson, a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer. In this case, the leftist shot and killed the MAGA supporter and Trump, according to his own account of events on Fox News, personally ordered U.S. marshals to hunt Reinoehl down. . . . 

According to this rundown of the events by the New York Times, it's clear that Reinoehl was unarmed at the time of his death and that marshals opened fire without warning as he walked to his car. It was an extrajudicial execution, apparently ordered by the president of the United States.

As for Rittenhouse, why was a 17-year-old boy walking down a street -- in a city where he did not live, for a protest over issues that did not involve him -- with a deadly weapon strapped to his chest (with his finger on the trigger, and the safety deactivated)? Was it because our society sends the message that he could do it -- no prob? Parton says the answer is yes -- that Rittenhouse, in so many words, felt entitled to act like a mini Charles Bronson:

It may be that Kyle Rittenhouse will be seen in the eyes of the law to have fired in self-defense. After all, he's being tried for murder, not for being a reckless fool who should never have carried a firearm anywhere near the melee that night. Many of the TV lawyers analyzing the case believe the prosecution has not made the case for a homicide conviction. If that's the way things play out, that won't be the fault of the lawyers, the judge or the jury. It will be the direct result of laws that allow teenage boys to wander the streets with loaded assault weapons slung over their shoulders, as if that were perfectly reasonable in a civilized society.

Vigilantism, extrajudicial killings by federal authorities, violent insurrections, threats and harassment of public officials, and rejection of election results and the democratic process are all hallmarks of authoritarian movements. Coddling the gun fetishists and allowing right-wing extremism to fester over many years has brought us to the point when we must ask ourselves if we're no longer a country where politics is war by other means — it's just plain old war.


Anonymous said...

I fear there will be unrest over this, no matter the verdict.

legalschnauzer said...

I share your concerns. I look for violence and injuries. Hopefully, no more deaths.

Anonymous said...

I notice in the photo that Rittenhouse has his trigger finger straight out, as if he's ready to fire at any moment. I assume that means the safety was off. And there is no one around him in the photo. This guy came ready to kill.

legalschnauzer said...

I ran a slightly different photo with Friday's post, but it shows the same thing.

legalschnauzer said...

Here is key quote from Friday's post -- the worrds of a law prof who is a former judge, prosecutor and defense attorney:

“photos show Rittenhouse walking with his gun strapped over his shoulder with his finger on the trigger and safety in the off position before any of the shootings happened. Rittenhouse said he feared individuals were going to steal his gun. But his actions, including having the gun strapped to his body, with his finger on the trigger, and the gun’s safety not activated, indicate he was prepared to kill and open to the opportunity to kill.”

legalschnauzer said...

Rittenhouse said he was afraid someone would steal his gun, but it was strapped to his chest. No way someone could steal it, so that statement is baloney.

Anonymous said...

If Rittenhouse was so afraid his precious gun would be stolen, he shouldn't have taken it out in public. Two people would still be alive, and one would still have a useful right arm.

legalschnauzer said...

CNN: Judge dismisses weapons charge in Kyle Rittenhouse trial ahead of closing arguments

Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a misdemeanor weapons charge against Kyle Rittenhouse on Monday prior to the start of closing arguments in his homicide trial.
The charge, possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18, was punishable by up to nine months in prison and a $10,000 fine. Rittenhouse now faces five felony charges and, if convicted on the most serious charge, could face a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Closing arguments will be given for up to five hours Monday. Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder will issue jury instructions and then the jury of eight men and 10 women will be narrowed to 12 people by a drawing of names before deliberations begin.

legalschnauzer said...

500 National Guard Troops On Standby Amid Rittenhouse Closing Arguments

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has ordered 500 National Guard troops to be on standby outside the Kenosha County Courthouse as a verdict is expected to soon be reached in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial on Monday (November 15), CNN reports.

The polarizing trial has already had several notable incidents take place inside the courtroom last week and Gov. Evers is bracing for a strong reaction to a verdict.

"The Kenosha community has been strong, resilient, and has come together through incredibly difficult times these past two years, and that healing is still ongoing," Evers said in a statement obtained by CNN on Friday (November 12). "I urge folks who are otherwise not from the area to please respect the community by reconsidering any plans to travel there and encourage those who might choose to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights to do so safely and peacefully."

Anonymous said...

Isn't it a federal crime to take an unlawfully obtained weapon across straight lines?

legalschnauzer said...

Good question.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like Rittenhouse was dead-solid guilty of that misdemeanor weapons charge. Wonder what the judgd's reasoning was?

legalschnauzer said...

Judges generally don't need to have reasons for what they do. This judge seems to want Rittenhouse to get off totally.

legalschnauzer said...

Great Tweet by Max Burns:

BREAKING: Judge in Kyle Rittenhouse case orders jury to weigh charge that Rittenhouse is an attractive and friendly young man who loves animals.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a misunderstanding of what it means to have ones finger on the trigger. To be on the trigger, a pad of a finger (usually the index finger) will be in direct contact with the trigger. AR rifles have a trigger guard. Proper gun safety is keeping your trigger finger outside the guard. When you hold an AR rifle, the lower 3 fingers and thumb grip the handle and your index finger is extended alongside the trigger guard. I question if there is a photo showing the safety off. The safety on an AR is on the left side of the weapon. Kyle's sling held the left side of his rifle against his body in every picture I have seen.

Kyle had as much right to be in that area as everyone else. In fact, he should have had more of a right to be there since the other people were actually rioting.

Has anyone read the code from the weapons charge? I would like to read it for myself.

legalschnauzer said...

You say the other people were actually rioting. You know that for sure? Perhaps many of them were simply protesting. Assuming they were rioting, what business is it of Kyle Rittenhouse to enforce laws, to keep order. What training or skill does he have in that field? Isn't that the job of professional officers?

legalschnauzer said...

Here is a right-wing perspective from the comments on Friday's post:

Roger, I think we are watching 2 different videos. Kyle was announcing his intention to go to the police and was not actively shooting, nor was he even pointing his gun at anyone. Once he was tripped, someone started hitting him with a skate board, which justifies deadly force. Then a second guy is holding his hands up, Kyle points the gun down, then guy then points the gun at Kyle, again justifying deadly force, so Kyle shoots him. Once the threat is over, he stops shooting. Thats not an active shooter.
Also, do we have access to the picture the professor spoke of, with Kyle holding a weapon off safe with his finger on the trigger?

@12:25 I'll ask you the same thing about Rosenbaum, Huber and Grosskreutz. Why were they in Kenosha? Kyle did nothing wrong when he extinguished the fire. It was only after being chased and hearing a gunshot that Kyle shot. Why was it Kyle's business, 'the on-the-go necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.'

legalschnauzer said...

Here is my response to the above comment:

@6:47 -- I'm not watching a video at all. I'm writing about the opinions of a law professor who is a former judge, prosecutor, defense attorney. I think he's an awfully strong source.

Rittenhouse already had shot three people, killing two, but he wasn't an active shooter? Not sure how you figure that. Deadly force is OK against a guy with a skateboard? Not sure about that. My guess is that Rosenbaum and Huber were there to protest, as they had every right to do. Grosskreutz, an actual medic, apparently was there to render aid to those who might need it. So, you are saying Kyle Rittenhouse gets to decide what is evil and who is supposed to die because of it? Sounds like you see him as a sort of God, a "Great Decider."

BTW, in the photo on this post, you can see Rittenhouse's index finger extended straight out toward what appears to be the trigger. I have no idea how an AR-15 is put together, so not sure about the safety. The prof. probably has access to better photos -- and full court testimony -- plus knowledge of how these guns work. I trust him as a source.

Anonymous said...

And to sum up the reason for the dismissal of the gun charge was that the " This section applies only to a person under 18 years of age who possesses or is armed with a rifle or a shotgun if the person is in violation of s. 941.28" that statute is Possession of short-barreled shotgun or short-barreled rifle. Since Kyle's gun was not a short barrelled rifle, that law doesn't apply.

legalschnauzer said...

I would say the prosecution made a powerful closing argument:

In closing arguments, prosecutor Thomas Binger said Mr. Rittenhouse was a “wannabe soldier” and was “looking for trouble that night.” Mr. Binger repeatedly showed the jury drone video that he said depicted Mr. Rittenhouse pointing the AR-style weapon at demonstrators.

“This is the provocation. This is what starts this incident,” the prosecutor declared.

He told the jury: “You lose the right to self-defense when you’re the one who brought the gun, when you are the one creating the danger, when you’re the one provoking other people.”