What If Your Kid Did It?

Kyle Rittenhouse Discovers that His Grasp Exceeds His Reach

I remember exactly where I was when the O.J. Simpson verdict came down: watching the proceedings on a small television in a room full of activists and lawyers at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) in our offices on F Street in downtown DC. None of us was surprised. We were more familiar with the shoddy, incompetent, underfunded, or overwhelmed defense typical of the poor and marginalized in our country. O.J., on the other hand, had the Dream Team. Simpson’s acquittal had more to do with celebrity than race, because, as Chris Rock put it so eloquently at the time, O.J. , minus the fame, would be known as “Orenthal, the bus-driving murderer.”

Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who took an assault style weapon, a bandolier, and a first aid kit to a volatile protest (well, the “after party” of a protest), became a right wing cause cèlébre after killing two people and wounding a third. Not an actual celebrity, mind you, but a placeholder. Rittenhouse hasn’t broken any athletic records or invented anything or created something incredible. He’s not even an Influencer; he’s famous for shooting and killing two human beings and nearly blowing another’s arm off. He’s a celebrity for carrying and using a gun. Famous like a school shooter, only a shooter that rallied enough like-minded folks to raise $2 million in defense funds, and a shooter who was acquitted today of all charges.

I watched a lot of Rittenhouse’s trial. Enough to think neither the defense nor the prosecution (or the judge, whoa, Nellie!) counts as any kind of dream team. But the law in Wisconsin allows self defense to be exculpatory if the person who kills believed their life was in imminent danger in the moment. Rittenhouse claimed he was afraid the first person he shot, Joseph Rosenbaum, was going to kill him with a bag of psych meds and maybe take his gun away or whatever, and the prosecution could not prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. I wonder…if Rosenbaum had managed to disarm Rittenhouse and shoot him, wouldn’t Rosenbaum be entitled to claim self-defense for protecting himself against an armed assailant? The footage is unclear, after all. Who started it?! It all gets so murky when everybody’s white.

The next two people Rittenhouse shot were among the group chasing him, because they believed him to be an active shooter (correct) fleeing the scene with an AR-style weapon in his hands. “Do whatever you can to stop the shooter,” is what the Workplace Violence training at my job says to do if running away or hiding from an active shooter isn’t feasible: Attack with whatever’s on hand, like a stapler or some scissors… or a skateboard. And because he was being chased by people crying “shooter!” and such, Rittenhouse thought his life was in danger, so he shot his very lethal weapon at the people trying to disarm him.

I can well imagine that Rittenhouse was in fear for his life. He’d just shot a guy and was running from the scene (as one does), but not before calling his friend (not the cops or an ambulance or his mommy) to declare that he’d shot a guy. And now people were chasing him! Imagine — a dude with a semi-automatic, fleeing the scene of the shooting he just did. Gee, it’s so HARD TO TELL WHO THE GOOD GUY WITH THE GUN IS, WHAT WITH ALL THE FUCKING GUNS. So, yes, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of murder today.

Now, one might wish that the person responsible for the completely avoidable death of two people and the maiming of another face some consequences for his (again, utterly avoidable) actions. Perhaps a couple of civil trials will put some of that sweet, sweet Second Amendment cash to productive use, but a non-insignificant number of people are thrilled with this verdict. THRILLED. Like “bring your Glock to work day” thrilled. There will be much sick-making rejoicing among that crowd, but those folks will eventually move on from Kyle Rittenhouse to the next — and there will be a next — junior citizen ranger, and another one after that.

Seems like a good time to mention that there are still people on death row in this country for crimes they committed as juveniles.

I used to table for the NCADP in some pretty hostile environments. At Madison Square Garden, for instance, we were at a concert that drew quite a few police officers. More than one of them stopped at our table, got an inch from my face and asked whether I’d still be against the death penalty if I were, say, raped and murdered. My answer was always, “what if your kid was the one that did it? How much would you ‘gladly pull the switch’ then?”

Honestly. How would you feel if your child proved capable of killing another human being? If your child did something so reckless, so stupid as to bring a loaded weapon to what they expected to be a riot? Where everyone else is stupid and reckless? When Wendy Rittenhouse learned what her child had done, she immediately (and rightly) took him to the police station to turn himself in, which Kyle Rittenhouse, to his credit, did. She was at his side during the whole trial, terrified.

Because he did it. Kyle Rittenhouse killed two people and permanently maimed another. He will remember the fear and the sound and the blood and the pain and the deaths he caused long after Ricky Schroder and Tucker Carlson and the Proud Boys and their band of merry pranksters have moved on. Wendy Rittenhouse and her daughters will also remember, as will the families of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and the living Gaige Grosskreutz.

Meanwhile, Matt Gaetz says he’s open to having Kyle Rittenhouse as an intern. But that’s probably so he can meet girls.

I hate this place.

By the way…