So what kind of a blogger on current affairs-type stuff would I be if I didn’t weigh in on the Kyle Rittenhouse trial? I did hesitate briefly out of concern that I might have to violate one of the main rules I try to follow when deciding what to post: making sure that I add something meaningful to what’s already been said. But then I realized that, of all things, a story from my college days might shed some light on how ludicrous the charges – not all the important but legally extraneous matters that have been brought, but the actual charges given the jury – have been from the start.
I’m presenting the story in condensed form, but it starts in the lobby of Princeton University’s Firestone Library, sometime near week-night closing time for the regular facility (around midnight, as I recall), where and when groups of friends typically gathered to figure out if they’ll do anything after studying – or just to gather briefly. So I’m there with one of my groups and an additional friend (we’ll call him “X”) walks over to join us and proceeds to point to a female student standing across the lobby – no doubt waiting for some of her own friends to show up.
“You see that girl?” he asks while pointing. “She’s been following me.”
Whereupon one of us responded, “X, how could she be following you? She got here before you.”
Replied X, without missing a beat, “She’s been following me in reverse.”
Although the rest of our group kept insisting that, at least based on her behavior that night, the female student in question could have been following X only if she arrived in that lobby after him – and that, if anything, the follower would logically have been him – X stuck to his guns.
The tale is relevant to the Rittenhouse trial because the charges deliberated upon by the jury centered on whether Rittenhouse used deadly force unlawfully that night in Kenosha, Wisconsin, or whether the gun shots he fired were legal because they were acts of self-defense. In that state, and apparently in the nation generally, the prosecution needs to present evidence establishing certain kinds of facts about the circumstances of the relevant sequence of events and about defendants’ frames of mind in order to prove criminal or civil liability. And especially whenever life and death or other serious stakes are involved, we should want justice to proceed methodically.
But not all facts are created equal, and to me, the one piece of evidence that cleared Rittenhouse all along – and that in fact justifies doubt about whether charges should have been brought at all – is that he was running away from his eventual victims (along with the complete lack of evidence that any prior violent acts by him caused their pursuit).
After all, someone fleeing others is clearly afraid of them. It’s true that Rittenhouse testified that he knew his first victim and original pursuer, Joseph Rosenbaum, was unarmed. He also, however, said under oath that Rosenbaum “was chasing me, I was alone, he threatened to kill me earlier that night.”
And here’s where I believe my college story adds a new insight to the Rittenhouse verdict debate: Claiming that firing at a pursuer with arguably murderous intent doesn’t qualify as self-defense is akin to X’s claim that the woman who arrived in the library lobby after him was a “reverse follower.” Meaning that convicting Rittenhouse would have amounted to deciding that he was a “reverse aggressor.” And it would have been just as obviously – though not at all humorously – absurd.