(Trends Wide) — Three days after his acquittal in a polarized case in Wisconsin, Kyle Rittenhouse is now the adolescent face of a nation divided over the nature of justice, the social role of guns and violence in political discourse.
Seeing 18-year-old Rittenhouse walking free Friday after shooting two men to death and wounding another last year in riots sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, sparked a new debate on state laws. about self-defense and the concept of vigilantism.
The political fallout from the case is already shaking a tense political environment ahead of the 2022 elections and even the 2024 presidential race.
The Democratic candidate for governor of Texas, Beto O’Rourke, said Sunday on Trends Wide’s “State of Union” program, for example, that the incident in the city of Kenosha shows that Americans should not be allowed to wear ” weapons designed for the battlefield. ” Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump, who appears to be preparing another run for the White House, has been praising Rittenhouse, who inserted himself into a volatile situation, as the “poster boy” of the right to self-defense.
The debate on Sunday talk shows and elsewhere about Rittenhouse came hours before a pickup truck crashed into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, injuring more than 20 people. Authorities said several people died. Police have not released details on the motives for the attack so far, but said they had a person of interest in custody. After the tragedy, politicians on both sides of the spectrum expressed their condolences and offered prayers for the dead and first responders.
The Rittenhouse Affair: Polarization and Guns in America
The extreme politicization of the Rittenhouse case has only increased since he was found not guilty of first-degree manslaughter and four other felony counts on Friday. The jury was required to make its evaluation not on the basis of political considerations, but on the more limited issues of Wisconsin law and the evidence and video testimony presented at trial. He appears to have accepted Rittenhouse’s testimony that he shot after feeling that his own life was threatened during clashes with two white men who were killed and one who was wounded and who was acting in accordance with his right to self-defense.
For the jury system to survive, verdicts must be respected by those who disagree with them, something President Joe Biden affirmed Friday, saying, “I agree with what the jury has concluded.” That, however, hasn’t stopped an explosion of political backlash since Rittenhouse left court that is sure to get even more controversial as conservative media make him a hero, like Fox News’s Tucker Carlson securing exclusive access to him. and members of his defense team during the trial for an upcoming documentary.
Democratic politicians, including Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and members of Congress, have registered various levels of disappointment with the verdict, although some refrained from criticizing the jury outright. Others have been much more frank.
New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called for a federal review of the verdict, tweeting: “Justice cannot tolerate armed people crossing state lines in search of trouble while people participate in protected protests. for the First Amendment. ” Rittenhouse, however, did not cross state lines with the weapon, according to testimony at trial.
Gun control groups and civil rights activists have warned that the outcome of the case could trigger an outbreak of vigilantism, from Americans choosing to take their vision of justice into their own hands and enforce their will with firearms from a way that could unleash anarchy and threaten the First Amendment right to protest. And some prominent black leaders have questioned whether a black defendant in Rittenhouse’s shoes would have received similar treatment or even lived to have his day in court after a history of police shootings of black men.
An immediate test for O’Rourke’s gun campaign
O’Rourke’s new campaign, who came within three points of defeating Republican Senator Ted Cruz in 2018 and mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, to cause a new uproar over gun control.
In a Democratic debate in September 2019, the former congressman said, “Hell yeah, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” and called for a government buyback plan for such weapons after a mass shooting in the West Texas that killed 7 people and injured 22 others.
“Yes, I still hold this point of view,” O’Rourke told Trends Wide’s Dana Bash on Sunday, trying to turn the conversation to his claim that the trucking laws, which were signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, they would make the lives of state troopers more difficult. O’Rourke’s position leads him into a direct confrontation with the Republican ruler, who has presided over a loosening of gun restrictions in a state that is already heavily pro-gun. Rittenhouse’s verdict, however, effectively accelerated scrutiny of O’Rourke’s position just days after he announced his candidacy for governor of the state.
“This whole tragedy shows that we must not allow our fellow Americans to possess and use weapons that were originally designed for use on the battlefield,” he said. “That AR-15, that AK-47 has a single solitary purpose, and it is to kill people in the most effective, efficient way, in the greatest number of people and in the shortest time possible. We saw it in Kenosha. We saw it in El Paso, Texas, where 23 people were killed by someone with an AK-47 in a matter of minutes. This is insane. “
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican increasingly critical of Trump’s electoral lies and who could run for president in 2024, made a contrary case, choosing not to comment on the issue of guns, but on what he sees. like the politicization of the government of a case by the left.
“Justice was served … and the jury system works,” Christie said on Fox News Sunday. “I think these left-wing people are just trying to keep tearing our country apart for political gain. Anyone watching the videos of this could realize that it was an act of self-defense. Anyone who knows the law would know,” Christie said.
The former New Jersey governor said he hoped Rittenhouse could move on and live his life and “not become a political symbol for anyone.”
Given Rittenhouse’s cooperation with the Fox News behind-the-scenes documentary, even as the trial was unfolding, and the way he’s turning into a heroic figure on the right, that possibility already seems to have disappeared just three days after his. absolution.