Thursday, December 02, 2021

Rittenhouse and Recklessness

I am in regular contact with a person who holds very different views from me on the Rittenhouse case. 

I don't wanna get too deep into a debate with them on the topic, but I've been engaging the topic over the last month because it is something I think about a lot. 

I'm raising two boys, and Rittenhouse made the choices he did when he was just a kid (he's still a kid in my eyes). Even when a child is practicing self-defense, however, taking the lives of other people is bound to shake that child to their very core. It is not a situation I would ever want my boys to be in. 

That's my personal stake in the case. There are other reasons I care about the issues raised by the case, but youth violence and recklessness hit close to home.

Beyond that, I got a very well-balanced analysis of the case just before the jury started deliberating. After hearing it, I was expecting a not-guilty verdict. The analysis came from the New York Times podcast The Daily. The TV media reported something vastly different than what I learned from that podcast. Julie Bosman, the reporter, made it clear that Rittenhouse stayed overnight in Kenosha regularly - was staying with his best friend that night. She explained that the gun never crossed state lines. She explained why the gun charge got thrown out. Bosman also walked through the events of the entire day leading up to the deaths. The charges brought against Rittenhouse were never going to stick. 

But two people died, another was wounded, and Rittenhouse has to live with the knowledge that he has killed people. 

There is nothing to celebrate or honor. There are no heroes that emerged from these events. And I am troubled to see narratives that suggest otherwise.

Anyone who portrays Rittenhouse as a hero or as brave is promoting a message to my boys. It is a message I firmly reject and I will teach my boys to reject it as well. The message is that the threat of deadly violence is a legitimate response to property damage or political unrest. 

I know there are people who think it is appropriate to protect property with lethal force. I think those people are wrong. Even if the action is legal, it is morally wrong. I think people who disagree are greedy cowards. 

The only time I believe it is acceptable to kill someone is if you are protecting your life or the life of another. And admittedly, by that logic, Rittenhouse was justified in pulling the trigger. He was protecting his life.

But he should not have brought an assault rifle to a protest. He should not have waited until the protest ended and mostly provocateurs remained. It's legal what he did, sure, but it was reckless. It was foolish. 

It was the kind of recklessness I see in a lot of teenagers (drunk driving, vandalizing, drag racing, throwing rocks off a highway overpass, trying drugs, etc.). But teenagers normally don't have access to assault rifles. They shouldn't, legal or not. Someone in Rittenhouse's life needed to tell him, "You should not bring a gun to the protest. If things get out of hand, you don't have the training or the maturity to make good decisions. Leave the gun at home." 

But no one told him that. There were actually some adults who encouraged him, and that upsets me. They enabled Rittenhouse's recklessness. 

Imagine Rebel Without a Cause if Jim's dad had encouraged Jim to defend his honor and win the chickie run. The audience certainly would have seen Jim's dad as partially responsible for Buzz's death, because Jim's dad is an adult. We don't hold Jim fully responsible because he was a child. But adults encouraging reckless behavior are a very real danger to the kids who look up to them. 

Now, the people who confronted Rittenhouse were reckless as well. I'm not giving them a pass, but they were adults, and two of them are dead now. It feels wrong to do anything beyond acknowledging their recklessness.

I am trying to thread a needle here. I recognize the events from that night in Kenosha would have very different results if Rittenhouse had been there protecting the safety of the protesters or if his skin was a different color. I recognize that the anger of the protesters was legitimate and they were standing up for the safety of members of their community. Those issues are important. A lot of ink has been spilled addressing them, and we should not be done deliberating those issues. 

As we are able to gain perspective on these events, however, we should be able to have the conversation about youth violence and recklessness on its own. It is not more important than other issues the Rittenhouse case highlights, but it is not unimportant. 

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