Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

In Harm's Way

The New York Times has a good factual piece up tracing the movements of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who shot three people during rioting in Kenosha, WI. It's worth reading the whole thing, and there are of course more details which may become clear later (or may not -- how much clarity will come up even in court trying to interview a lot of highly involved people who were running around a chaotic scene late at night is questionable.) Something in it that will seem to confirm the instincts of many on the right is that in both shooting incidents, Rittenhouse fired only after fleeing first and being in attacked. 

But I think there's a wider point that people whose sense of basic civic order has been outraged by week after week of televised looting and arson and violence need to keep in mind: a key element of social order is that citizens have the right to defend their own property and neighborhoods and neighbors, and that civil authorities are supposed to fulfill their duties by doing this for citizens in a restrained, orderly, and well-trained fashion. For roving groups of self-appointed people to travel off to some other community where there's civil disorder, and try to impose their own order is not a help. It is putting themselves and others in harms way.

Even if it's true that Rittenhouse was defending himself in each case that he fired his rifle, he had no business being out in the streets thirty miles from home, across state lines, carrying a weapon. In times like these it's understandable and even virtuous for people to defend their own neighborhoods, but vigilante tourism is nearly as bad for society as riot tourism.

It's in the nature of a seventeen year old male to want to have a cause to go take action for. That's why societies throughout history have found it easy to use young men about that age as soldiers.

But even though it's good to want to guard civil order, civil order is not guarded when self appointed people arm themselves and go looking for trouble. Trouble should never be looked for. Just as George Zimmerman was wrong to follow and confront Trayvon Martin rather than leaving the civil authorities to follow up on his 911 call, armed citizens should not be setting off on their own to try to enforce order on the streets. Arming yourself and then actively putting yourself into a dangerous situation where you may think you need to use a weapon to defend yourself is not something citizens should be doing.  If your own neighborhood is under threat, then it's just to use force to protect your life and home or business. If your neighborhood is not under threat, then the best thing to do is stay home and be grateful that you are not facing that danger.  Going off to find somewhere where there is danger is the wrong thing to do.  

So however eager those of us on the right may have been to see someone bring some order back to riot-torn streets, Rittenhouse's actions are not ones that should be celebrated.  Freelance order from out of town vigilantes is not order at all, it's just a different kind of chaos.


Wayne Johnson said...

A couple of points:

The biggest mistake Rittenhouse made was being present at the rioting, I agree.

Despite this fact, I do not think he lost his right to defend himself when attacked. All indications are that he did not fire until he had no other alternative.

I think he may be guilty of poor judgement and carrying a firearm in violation of state laws (based on age). He does not appear to be guilty of murder.

I would also argue that if they are choosing to try him as an adult, the state should lose the ability to charge him with carrying a weapon as a minor. Trying someone as an adult for an action that is only a crime because he is not an adult is the height of irony.


Bellomy said...

I'll agree to acknowledge that he shouldn't have been there if everyone else agrees that somebody else should have and - much more importantly - that the kid is not a murderer, should not have been charged, and in the incident in question did nothing wrong.

A discussion that pivots if he should have been there at all doesn't help us figure out if the people involved are being treated righteously, right?

Darwin said...


Yeah, I think it would have been fair to hit him with weapons charges (he's not old enough to legally open carry in Wisconsin) and breaking curfew. I can't imagine the homicide charge is going to stick. The charge document itself lays out how each time he fired was in self defense: twice on people actively trying to pull his rifle away from him and once on a guy charging at him with a drawn handgun.


The civil authorities do have a duty to enforce order, and I think there's a strong case to be made that in many cases they've struck the wrong balance between not wanting to have to use too much force against rioters and preserving life and property from assault.

I'm 100% in support of local people protecting their own neighborhoods by force when necessary. But with the national mood on both extremes seemingly inching towards wanting full on civil war, I think that people traveling to look for trouble in order to fight on the right side of it are doing something really, really dangerous and destructive.

DP said...

No, he had no business being there patrolling the streets with a gun. If he'd stuck to painting over the graffiti, he'd have done more good.

And I really don't understand the prosecutorial mindset that goes for the overcharge in situations where the facts support self-defense. It's what doomed the Zimmerman prosecution, and it's more than faintly ludicrous here.

Bellomy said...

Okay. But it was still straightforward self-defense.

Nate Winchester said...

Actually as details comes out it looks like he broke no laws as there's an allowance for open carry of long guns for kids his age.

2nd of all, as some have pointed out, the drive for Kyle was 20 minutes.


I haven't been to WI, but here in KY 20 minutes is practically neighbors. I have friends and family that live in towns further away than that. So when you say
"a key element of social order is that citizens have the right to defend their own property and neighborhoods and neighbors, and that civil authorities are supposed to fulfill their duties by doing this for citizens in a restrained, orderly, and well-trained fashion"

Well... where is the boundary there? Are we being strict about town lines? If a road divides Springfield from Shelbyville and a riot is happening over there in Shelbyville, is your calculus that I can't cross the street to aid them since it's technically not happening in "my" community? (though it's ironic you then go on to bring up George Zimmerman who was defending his own community)

I'm still thinking on a lot of the valid points you bring up, though I wonder - would it be wrong for Kyle to go to Kenosha if it was being hit with a natural disaster?

What if it was being attacked? (Say we're in Red Dawn and it's the Russians)

I think things may be more complicated than you realize.