The Trial of the Citizen

· Political

High-tech and low-tech lynchings in America still happen.

It is imperative to the interests of justice, racial harmony, and the rule of law in America that Kyle Rittenhouse be acquitted of all homicide charges, and that Travis and Gregory McMichael (and Roddie Bryan) be convicted of all respective charges for what they did to Ahmaud Arbery.

In addition to its continuous economic, social, and political reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic and the reactions thereto, one of the defining features of the Year of Our Lord 2021 has been the public’s self-held breath during murder trials  that relate to high-profile killings in the previous year.  And it is perhaps providence that following the conviction of Officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis for the killing of George Floyd (which in my view was the correct verdict, despite a compromised trial that warrants a mulligan due to the failure to fully sequester that jury), now the country nervously awaits the outcome of two more trials occurring simultaneously.  One of the victims was chased and managed to shoot back.  The other victim was chased, couldn’t shoot back, and was killed.

The hearings about Rittenhouse and Arbery are not only connected by time, but also by theme.  On trial in both cases are the rights and standing of the citizen.

On August 25, 2020, in one of the last chapters of the reign of terror that took place all summer long, the city of Kenosha, WI was set ablaze with malice and fury by people who delighted in the opportunistic chaos that legitimate protests provide them.  This was not only predictable; it was permitted.  Vandalism, arson, looting, mobbing, terrorizing, and flagrant violations of citywide and statewide policy mandates were not only given effective local legal sanction, but were also actively supported by the national legacy media, its partisan affiliates, and mainstream corporate culture.  It was also given the blessing by the President of the United States Donald Trump, who tweeted angrily about it but made absolutely no meaningful effort to stop it – hoping perhaps that the public outcry against the damage would fuel his ambitions for a second term.

Adjusted for inflation, the riots that took place throughout the summer of 2020 committed more damage to property than William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea in 1864 during the (first) American Civil War.  The political leadership of the United States and of the respectively affected cities abandoned its responsibilities to the public, the media openly defenestrated all pretense of objectivity or ethical journalism in attempting to report the unrest, and this reality was taken advantage of by pent-up, frustrated, and confined lunatics who were not deterred from doing so.  The violence, not just the demonstrations, were openly celebrated in academia and by the elite.  As a result of this, the American public spent the summer of 2020 and the rest of the year terrified of where the next eruption would happen regardless of whether there might even be justifiable cause for protest.  Businesses that had barely survived lockdowns and the curtailing of movement and consumption suddenly now also had to reckon with the wanton destruction caused by these forces.  The debris, the broken glass, the jetsam from all this fun were barreled into American streets and city blocks for everyone to see, obstructing traffic and warranting massive and expensive cleanup efforts.  Those citizens directly in the affected areas or in the crosshairs of the agitation were forced to defend themselves and their property if they could.  And since it is still an American characteristic to step up and look out for their fellow citizens caught in a sudden tragedy, some people helped.  Kyle Rittenhouse was one of them.

It is clear from the video footage, the credible testimony, and the facts unearthed by responsible reporting on the case, that Rittenhouse, whatever else he may be or whatever other issues he might have, was not in Kenosha that night to harm anyone.  He was simply there to do his part to clean up the graffiti, extinguish fires, offer medical aid, and, with the rifle he lawfully carried, deter further harm or destruction to his assigned neighborhood.  It may be the case that he now regrets being there.  He shouldn’t.  It may be the case that his presence in the city did not actually make a difference.  We will never know, but based on what we do know as to what else happened there and what also happened in Portland and so many other cities across the country all summer long, it is far more likely that Kenosha, and the good people who live there, needed him and were lucky to have had him there, and that there are businesses and even people who have him to thank for the fact that they were still standing afterwards.

But the only reason Rittenhouse himself is standing trial today is because he had that rifle.

That rifle saved his life when a belligerent suicidal degenerate threw his toiletries at the back of his head and then bull rushed him to take it after another set of shots rang out.  It saved his life again a few minutes later when at least three people were chasing him; when they knocked him down, one of them kicked him in the face, another bashed him with a skateboard, and then the final one aimed a gun at Rittenhouse’s face while he was still on the ground.

It is unfathomable for people to consider this today, but a hundred years ago, families all over the country would have been proud to call kids like Kyle Rittenhouse their son.  If you don’t believe me, think about how many kids aged 14-17 blatantly lied about their age in order to enlist in the military to fight in the first and second World Wars.  Think about how many people committed suicide simply because they were told that they couldn’t do that, whether it was because of their health or their age.  At worst, kids like him would have been thought of as a mockingbird.  Our present is a more technologically advanced and far less ethically enlightened era.  Whether he wishes to or not, Kyle Rittenhouse represents the vigilant citizen and community servant.  The prosecution against him is a persecution of the individual and an act of lawfare against the right of self defense.

But a vigilant citizen is not the same thing as a vigilante.  That distinction has been lost in today’s partisan noise, and the Right is almost just as guilty of that as the Left.  Rittenhouse is a vigilant citizen who is lucky that one of the many life-saving supplies he was carrying on that fateful day was a gun.  Six months earlier, another citizen Ahmaud Arbery was killed in part because he was not.  Another reason he was killed, I have absolutely no doubt, is because he was black.

The biggest mistake Arbery made was not running as fast as Forrest Gump did.  But beyond that, he has the same arguments in his own favor Rittenhouse did.  Both he and Rittenhouse were chased through the streets.  Both of them were ambushed, set upon, and had guns pointed at them by angry white mobs who believed they had found the target they were looking for.  Both of them had a right to be where they were at the time that they were there, and neither of them instigated the confrontation that turned into blood.  When Arbery went for Travis McMichael’s firearm, that act was one of self defense, despite the way it turned out.  The McMichaels all but admitted that.

But what was even worse about the Arbery case is that after his broad daylight public lynching, the police department and DA offices effectively covered it up, or were in the process of attempting to cover it up, in part perhaps due to the fact that Gregory McMichael had been a longtime officer.  The Arbery family was denied justice until the video of the killing went viral, and national outcry followed.  The justification his killers used was that they were making a “citizen’s arrest.”  A grotesque reason; Arbery was a citizen too and his rights were trampled first by his neighbors who saw his race but did not see his humanity, and then by the greater community that very nearly concealed it.  And despite the egregious behavior of the McMichaels’ defense team thus far, it remains unclear that they will be convicted.

Although it is statistically overstated and unsupported by broad public facts, and although nearly every policy proposal by movements that stamp themselves on the issue is ridiculous, the fact that a killing like this could happen with impunity is something that should upset all of us.  Every now and then, a case arrives into the public eye where the injustice on display is so obvious that all efforts for justice must be spurred.  In my opinion, the police killing of Philando Castile was another such case, and the infuriating acquittal that followed it is one of many other reasons that demonstrations – even the kind that form crowds of such size and noise so cacophonous that other people can use the social chaos to destroy a city like Kenosha, or Portland, or Seattle, or Minneapolis, or New York, or Chicago, or St. Paul – are legitimate.  Understanding why people sometimes take to the street in protest, or kneel for the Anthem even when I strongly disagree with it and think people shouldn’t do that anyway, is just as essential to being a citizen as responding strongly to the fires and fallout.  The killing of Ahmaud Arbery was an act of vigilante injustice that required thorough prosecution, conviction, and sentencing.  And wanton destruction that erupts from or is enabled by legitimate demonstrations inspired by killings that, at first glance, look the same as his is also an injustice that, at least in Kenosha, required the kind of vigilant action that Kyle Rittenhouse volunteered to do.  These are not polar opposites that balance each other out.  They are the twin imperatives of law and citizenship.

Free Kyle Rittenhouse and lock up the McMichael crew.  Anything else makes lynching legal.

– Vivek

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