Rudinsky’s Rambles: Defending self defense

Claire Rudinsky, Features Editor

On cue, immediately following the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse came the (dare I say overdramatic) social media posts that harangued the decision and drew hasty comparisons between his case and a myriad of others. I have heard a lot of people express heavy disapproval over the outcome of his case and claim that it shows how our justice system truly is irrevocably broken. I disagree. I think that the justice system worked exactly how it was supposed to, by ignoring the political pressures from both the right and the left and focusing on Wisconsin law.  

Where most people focus their anger is on the fact that he was able to bring and carry a semi-automatic rifle out in public and still win a case based on an argument of self defense. Personally, I think that the whole situation got out of hand. First off, public safety should never be left wholly in the hands of vigilantes – there is a reason why we have the police, and it’s to prevent under-trained and under-prepared people from taking justice into their own hands. Collectively, we have to create a trusting relationship with the police in order to convince people to give up their individual ability to personally protect themselves and their property. If there was not a perceived threat against the community due to the increasingly violent protests, Rittenhouse and the rest of the people “defending” Kenoshan businesses would not even have been there with their weapons, avoiding this whole problem. 

However, if we accept that he had a right to be there with his weapon, which is true in Wisconsin due to some (arguably poorly written) laws regarding hunting, then his self defense argument stands. He did not intentionally aggravate or attack any of the victims; in fact, as the crowd of protesters came towards him he attempted to remove himself from the situation. He was chased by the three victims, one of whom had previously threatened his life and another who had a handgun. It was only after a gunshot from an unidentified third party occured that he used his weapon and killed the first victim. Once again Rittenhouse tried to leave the area, but he was followed by several others and eventually fell, at which point he shot the second two victims as they advanced towards him.

Try and imagine you are in his situation – alone, surrounded by protestors of the opposite political belief in an increasingly hostile environment. Many of us are his age or even younger. What do you do when you’re scared? The first thing I reach for is some form of power that I can use to protect myself. If I had been in Kyle Rittenhouse’s situation, who am I to say I wouldn’t have done the exact same thing? It’s easy to argue in the aftermath of alternatives and de-escalation, but it is in a split second moment of chaos and terror that he had to make his decision. 

Afterwards, he walked towards the police cars with his hands up, although the police cars then moved to the scene of the crime to try to provide medical assistance to the victims. He turned himself in at the police station in his hometown after attempting to in Kenosha but being told to “go home” by the officers. In no way did he resist arrest or attempt to cover up what he had done. 

Of course there were comparisons drawn to the countless Black men and boys who had been killed by police over the past few years, and many argued that Rittenhouse survived only because he is white. I would simply point out that these are different situations. Rittenhouse was never in a hostile situation with the police; he walked towards them purposefully, with his hands up, which is entirely separate from an instance where the police are following someone because they think they are dangerous or a suspect. Yes, racial bias is a problem within the police force that can be deadly, but in this case the police were more focused on the immediate victims than the perpetrator and that’s why they disregarded Rittenhouse. 

The ability to use weapons in self defense is protected in the Second Amendment, and while the larger situation was not ideal, if you get down in the details of Rittenhouse’s case, I believe that justice was served. I don’t deny that the justice system has problems, but I don’t think the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse was one of them.