Kyle Rittenhouse — the American teenager who killed two Black Lives Matter demonstrators and injured another one— has been found not guilty by a jury. Prior to the trial, left-wing media — and even then-candidate Joe Biden— ceaselessly portrayed Rittenhouse as a white supremacist vigilante who went from one state (Illinois) to another (Wisconsin) on a mission to execute peaceful demonstrators.
As the trial developed, we learned the truth. Rittenhouse had been viciously attacked by the three demonstrators— one of whom had a criminal history— and he acted in self-defense. He has never had any association with white supremacist groups, and although he did go from one state to another, the travel distance was only 20 miles, as he had family connections in both places. Furthermore, he did not violate any law by having possession of a weapon because Wisconsin allows people to carry long-barreled weapons.
Apart from a completely unwarranted obsession with race, this case has once again opened the debate about gun rights and self-defense laws in the United States.
I, for one, do not think it is a good idea to allow an immature young man to walk around with a semiautomatic rifle — as Rittenhouse did that night. Neither do I see much merit in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. And I believe so-called “stand-your-ground laws” need some reform.
But let’s not lose sight of the most important fact: like it or not, those laws are in the books.
This prompts an important question: should unjust laws be obeyed? Ever since Plato’s Crito, this has been a major dilemma amongst ethicists. Famously — as portrayed in Crito — Socrates refused to escape his death sentence, because he acknowledged that, although that sentence was unjust, citizens must obey the law (even if it is unjust).
Many other commentators, myself included, believe Socrates had the wrong approach. There is no moral duty to obey every unjust law. I certainly would have appreciated it if an SS agent helped someone escape after having violated one of the oppressive Nuremberg Laws.
And indeed, in the United States, there is a long tradition of jury nullification. This happens when jurors believe that a defendant is guilty of the charges, but nevertheless acquit him or her, because the concerned law is very unjust to begin with.
Jury nullification may be a moral procedure, but only insofar as it is used to acquit, never to convict. As the old Latin jurists would have it: in dubio, pro reo (in doubt, for the accused). If a defendant acted under the law, and that law is unjust, the defendant must still be acquitted. Perhaps that should serve as an occasion to begin a conversation and reform the unjust law in the future. But again, the defendant must walk.
Black Lives Matter and left-wing media do not like stand-your-ground laws or the Second Amendment, and their reasons may very well be legitimate.
But harassing a young man who acted in accordance with the law is wrong. As even CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin acknowledged, Rittenhouse may be an idiot, but he is not on trial for that. In Toobin’s words, “this is a tough case for the prosecution because it does seem like he has a plausible case of self-defense… If it were illegal to be an idiot, the prisons would be even more crowded than they are now.”
A functioning democracy such as the United States offers plenty of civil routes for legal changes to be enacted. If you don’t like a particular law, you must attempt to change the law, and you may even try to acquit people charged under unjust laws.
But, if you take action hoping to get someone convicted because you believe his or her behavior is abhorrent —even though it is still legal—, then you have lost your moral standing. In fact, there is a name for those who prefer to bypass legal procedures and harass people, all in the name of morality: vigilantes.
Precisely for that reason, the vigilante in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial was not the defendant— who, again, acted in self-defense under the existing laws. The real vigilante was the left-wing media. The Don Lemons and Joy Reids of the world were the ones who didn’t care about legal procedures, and in their dissatisfaction with the current laws, were lusting for blood.
In today’s world, those vigilantes are far more dangerous than the very few weirdos wearing KKK hoods in some remote rural area.