Measuring America in Our Dumbfoundedness

Struck dumb with astonishment and surprise is the definition and, at the moment, Kyle Rittenhouse is the subject to which the adjective refers. The verdict leaves many of us dumbfounded but not for the first or last time, as well as in many variations.

Justice rides an increasingly lame horse in America.

And the reasons for a trip to the blacksmith are there to be seen.

In 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck bought a cup of takeout coffee at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Albuquerque and spilled it on her lap. She sued McDonald’s and a jury awarded her nearly $3 million in punitive damages for the burns she suffered.

Seems a bit much. In earlier times, an apology, another cup of coffee and perhaps a free Big Mac might have sufficed.

And then there’s O.J. Simpson, the football star who murdered his wife in 1994 and got off scot-free. The ‘90s seem to be emblematic of an ever increasingly limping horse of justice. “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.” Obviously Simpson learned an important message from the experience.

He was arrested In 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and charged with the felonies of armed robbery and kidnapping. Convicted and sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment, with a minimum of nine years without parole, he served his sentence, granted parole on July 20, 2017, and was released on that date.

Rittenhouse is different, but not much

Looking for reasons for what this not-yet-adult had in mind when he took off from Illinois to Wisconsin with an automatic weapon he was not of age to own, I guess we might look to former Kenosha alderman Kevin Mathewson.

He lit a fuse when he summoned “patriots willing to take up arms and defend our city from the evil thugs

Words have consequences. Later in the day, Mathewson, an assault-style rifle visibly strapped around his chest, posted a 15-second clip of civilians gathered near the courthouse. In all, his Facebook posting garnered 5,000 responses, 1,000 of whom said they would come to Kenosha and one of whom was Kyle Rittenhouse.

Although our young hero got off with killing two men and wounding a third, there is a federal law against ‘inciting to riot’ and both Mathewson and Rittenhouse may well be guilty of that. Unless, of course, Kenosha and the DC riot of January 6th are just the Blue Plate Special on the menu for these times.

In response to times of civil unrest in the 1960s, Congress enacted the Federal Anti-Riot Act. This law makes it a five-year felony to travel between states or use a type of interstate commerce (such as mail, phone, wireless communications, or broadcast), intending to: incite a riot, participate in or carry on a riot, or commit an act of violence in furtherance of a riot.

A riot means a public disturbance involving three or more persons whose actions or threats represent an immediate danger to persons or property. I guess the Kenosha event was a textbook description of that circumstance.

So, further indictments?

Possibly on the case for incitement to riot and quite probably and individually from Rittenhouse’s three victims. That circumstance is not uncommon when victims or their families fail to find justice in not guilty verdicts for those who take the lives of others.

As we know, one cannot be charged again for the same crime. But he or she can be charged for the violating of one’s civil rights, one of which is the right to life. Such was the O.J. Simpson case:

Finally, 32 months after the double murders, the Simpson case was over. The truth was outed. Twelve jurors who understood that their responsibility was to justice and not to settling past personal grievances with the Los Angeles Police Department combed through the evidence during their deliberations, discussed it among themselves for five days, asked for read-backs and video playbacks, and came up with the verdict that the evidence has always pointed to: they found Orenthal James Simpson liable for the deaths of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman. They punished him accordingly, to the tune of $33.5 million in damages.

Of course, Kyle doesn’t have $33.5 million, but a hundred thousand or so and a five-year prison term would give him time to reflect.

How did we get to not guilty on all counts?

(Guardian UK) Under Wisconsin’s self-defense statutes, Rittenhouse was allowed to use deadly force, even if he provoked the 25 August attack, if he “reasonably believed” it was necessary to prevent his own death. Even though he traveled to the city and walked into a chaotic scene with a killing machine.

Kyle Rittenhouse is accused of killing two men and injuring another during anti-racism protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. “A belief may be reasonable even though mistaken,” the jury instructions read. “In determining whether the defendant’s beliefs were reasonable, the standard is what a person of ordinate intelligence and prudence would have believed in the defendant’s position.”

Reasonable, even though mistaken. Interesting. “I was not going 100mph in that 50mph zone, officer.” “Oh, terribly sorry then, on your way, sir.”

I do understand fears. I am not very fond of mobs, particularly those where large groups of armed men have differing political opinions. Thus, I avoid such places, but I am not a socially inept seventeen-rear-old with identity issues. I flatly deny that Kyle Rittenhouse represents “what a person of ordinate intelligence and prudence would have believed in the defendant’s position.”

America is angry at the moment

And the reason for our anger is that nothing seems to fit our diminishing understanding of social, political, or economic ethical standards.

  • We somehow accept CEOs earning 600 times worker-salaries.
  • Faced with banks that fail and fail and fail without recourse, we citizens pay their debts and send them off to fail again.
  • Republican or democrat, liberal or conservative, our government has become unable to function.
  • One-third of the population no longer believes Joe Biden was legally and fairly elected president.
  • Although 70% of Americans are desperate for gun-control, the nation is awash with guns, openly carried on the streets.

There are people it makes good sense to fear, including those lingering near cash-stations, cleaning their fingernails with switch-blades and a hat pulled low. But we have come to fear and distrust our neighbors because, suddenly there are more of the bastards and we didn’t grow up with any of them.

Kyle Rittenhouse was just another kid next door.



Image Credit: NBC News

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