Las Vegas Sun

November 29, 2021

Currently: 78° — Complete forecast

Where I Stand:

Kenosha verdict won’t answer why such behavior is allowed


Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP, Pool

Kyle Rittenhouse, center, enters the courtroom after a break at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. Rittenhouse is accused of killing two people and wounding a third during a protest over police brutality in Kenosha, last year.

This is not just a jury question of guilt or innocence. It is a whole lot more.

I blocked some time out of my busy COVID calendar to watch some of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial taking place in Wisconsin. The then 17-year-old boy, now 18, is charged with the killing of two people who were protesting police violence in the streets of Kenosha in August 2020, and injuring a third.

The defendant has pleaded not guilty, claiming self defense. The trial prosecutor is not allowed to call the two dead people “victims” — the judge says that’s a loaded word. Attorneys for the fellow who loaded the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle — the defendant — can call the victims “rioters and looters” — which are also loaded words. But the prosecutor, the person who charged the teenager with murdering two human beings, has to find another word.

OK, the law can be confusing to the average person, and some judges just add to the perplexities of a complicated murder trial. In the end, the jury in Wisconsin will do its best to sort through the evidence in an effort to find justice. That’s how the system — however imperfect it is — works.

But, whether young Kyle is found guilty of murdering two looters, rioters or victims, or not guilty by reason of self-defense is not the only question hanging in the balance of this trial.

There is a broader, societal question that all Americans need to answer in their own deliberations of what is right or wrong about our country and this judicial undertaking now underway.

You see, throughout this trial it has been apparent that most people have glossed over a question that is badly in need of an answer. It is:

What is a 17-year old boy doing with a semi-automatic AR-15 military-style rifle and why does society (read that his parents, friends, others adults in his presence and the police) allow him to strap that rifle across his body and march right into a protest against police brutality in the middle of Kenosha where emotions are high, flames of burning buildings even higher, and who knows how high many of the participants on both sides of the street might be?

Why does society — or at least a significant part of the public — encourage young boys with live weapons to act like police officers and why do the police think it’s OK to encourage them to do so?

We have all seen too many westerns where one side with guns faces off against another side with guns. Nothing good ever happens.

But we are no longer in the Wild West and this is not a movie. It is real life. And death.

And it isn’t just happening in Kenosha. States across the country are creating laws that allow citizens to put themselves, their friends and neighbors and others in similar positions: People with guns facing off against people with guns.

And what is a police officer to do besides duck for cover?

If ever there were a time in this country when elected and community leaders need to step up and to quote Mr. Shakespeare, cry “Hold, enough,” now is that time.

This isn’t about the Second Amendment right to bear arms or the First Amendment right to assemble. Those aren’t going anywhere.

This is all about the right of Americans to secure the blessings of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

If we can’t say as a country that it is wrong for 17-year-olds (or anyone else for that matter who isn’t a police officer) to be strapping on semi-automatic weapons and marching into the flames of heated protest marches (what could possibly go wrong?) then the basic promise of America will go away.

History is littered with the remains of once great societies that grew too lazy or too complacent to stand up for right and against wrong.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.