Folk hero

David French on Kyle Rittenhouse and the self-defense defense:

The trial itself has not gone well for the prosecution, for reasons that relate to the nature of self-defense claims. Such claims are not assessed by means of sweeping inquiries into the wisdom of the actions that put the shooter into a dangerous place in a dangerous time. Instead, they produce a narrow inquiry into the events immediately preceding the shooting. The law allows even a foolish man to defend himself, even if his own foolishness put him in harm’s way.

But perhaps more so if he’s a white man, and a whole hell of a lot less so if he’s a black man. As for women, they don’t generally get the chance to self-defend.

The defense has presented evidence not only that Rittenhouse was attacked, but that there was reason to believe he acted—under Wisconsin law—to “prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself.” The jury will have to determine whether Rittenhouse’s belief was reasonable, and whether it was reasonable for each person he shot.

The narrow nature of the self-defense inquiry is one reason people can escape responsibility for killings that are deeply wrongful in every moral sense. Take, for instance, cases in which bad cops create danger and confusion through incompetence or excessive aggression, and then they respond to the danger or confusion they created by using deadly force.

Examples abound. Police gave confusing and conflicting instructions to Philando Castile before he was shot and killed, and to Daniel Shaver before he was gunned down in a hotel hallway. The killing of Breonna Taylor is another example—police used terrible tactics, but once an occupant of the home fired on them, a grand jury decided, they were legally entitled to fire back.

That’s a hard distinction to make – morally wrong but legally permissible. It’s a hard one to make and a harder one to accept. I understand it, I think, but by god it chafes.

But that brings us to the danger of Kyle Rittenhouse as a folk hero. It is one thing to argue that the law is on Rittenhouse’s side—and there is abundant evidence supporting his defense—but it is quite another to hail him as a model for civic resistance.

As seen in Kenosha, in anti-lockdown protests in Washington State, and in the riot in Charlottesville, one of the symbols of the American hard right is the “patriot” openly carrying an AR-15 or similar weapon. The “gun picture” is a common pose for populist politicians. Mark and Patricia McCloskey leveraged their clumsy and dangerous brandishing of weapons at Black Lives Matter protesters into an appearance at the Republican National Convention.

And Lauren Boebert’s pro-gun antics got her elected to Congress.

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