Taking on the hot takes on the Rittenhouse acquittal

Don't encourage the gun lovers by saying it's now open season on protesters!

11-24-21 (issue No. 11)

An early issue this week:

  • A last (I hope) set of ruminations on the Rittenhouse case

  • A look ahead to The Game on Saturday

  • Dissents to my speech on cancel culture

  • Mary Schmich on Thanksgiving and terrible things

  • A great Thanksgiving song they no longer sing at my elementary school

& more

Mail to: Eric Zorn @ substack

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Some takes on the hot takes on the Rittenhouse verdict

It is impossible to imagine the right embracing the cause of a young Black man who brought a semiautomatic rifle to, say, a “Stop the Steal” rally and ended up killing two people and blowing the arm off another. — Paul Butler in the Washington Post

True. But it’s equally difficult to imagine the left heaping contempt on such a person, mocking his claims of self defense, convicting him of murder in their court of opinion even prior to trial and angrily despairing at his acquittal.

The way so many people looked — and still look — at this case through their red or blue-colored classes is discouraging. The jury was asked to rule on Kyle Rittenhouse’s claim that he acted in lawful self defense when he was being attacked and fired his gun during street protests in Kenosha last summer.

They were not asked for their views on the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake several days earlier that touched off the destructive protests. They weren’t asked if they agreed with Wisconsin’s permissive gun laws or the state’s thresholds for self defense. They weren’t asked if they liked Rittenhouse’s politics or if they approved of his decision to volunteer as an armed guard and amateur medic that night.

Your strong feelings about those topics and other tangential matters involved in this story should not skew your view on the narrow question of whether the jury got it right.

Only in America can a 17-year-old grab an assault weapon, provoke a fight, kill two people, injure another and pay no consequences. — Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.

I am among those who consider the open carry of firearms by civilians to be a provocative act. I would vote to ban it in urban settings, particularly during times of unrest and tumult.

But I don’t think I or anyone else should therefore have license to attack someone simply for carrying a gun, which seems to be Horwitz’s view. His tendentious summary of the case, like so many, seems designed to inflame rather than enlighten.

Similarly, consider these quotes snipped from my Twitter feed: “I definitely thought it was illegal to hunt and kill humans for sport, but I guess what do I know?” “The Kyle Rittenhouse verdict just declared open season on left-wing protesters.” “Cool that we allow 17-year-old boys to run around our streets deciding who lives and dies.” “According to Judge Bruce Schroeder, double murder is a victimless crime.”

OK, these are just folks venting on social media. But consider this from a speech by a leading civil-rights figure:

The Rittenhouse decision jeopardized every freedom fighter. Everyone who’s a demonstrator can be killed by a right-winger without justification. — Rev. Jesse Jackson

This is irresponsible nonsense that will serve only to heighten tensions at protests and make violent clashes more likely. The Rittenhouse decision was based on a complex and chaotic sequence of events and required Rittenhouse to show considerable justification for his acts.

If anything, it’s a cautionary tale for demonstrators and freedom fighters that tells them to think twice about initiating attacks on counter demonstrators who are or might be armed. Summaries like Jackson’s and the “it’s open season on protesters!” bleating stand to convince demonstrators and freedom fighters to attack before being attacked.

I understand the “poetic truth” of the Rittenhouse verdict — that it feels like a victory for right-wing gun enthusiasts and white supremacists, and a loss for the forces of social justice who are fighting for racial equity.

It ain’t so. But all this garment rending and fear mongering risks making it so.

Wailing that it’s now OK for cop wannabes to shoot protesters for no reason stands only to increase the chances that some cop wannabes will think that’s true. Instead, the reminder should go out that even though Rittenhouse was under direct attack when he shot, he came damn close to having to spend years, if not the rest of his life, in prison. Tweak a few of the variables in what happened and he’d be wearing an orange jumpsuit today.

And if Wisconsin didn’t allowing for the open carry of military-style rifles during times of unrest, we’d never have heard the name Kyle Rittenhouse. Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber would be alive today. Gaige Grosskreutz would not have a maimed right arm.

A University of Illinois Chicago/YouGov survey of 1,500 Americans earlier this year found just 20% of respondents believe it’s appropriate to bring firearms to protests. Your move, lawmakers.

After Rosenbaum was shot ...Rittenhouse did not stick around to surrender himself to the police, but instead continued to wander with his gun aimed at other protesters. Because Rittenhouse was an active shooter, then… those who were seeking to disarm him—including (Anthony) Huber who attacked Rittenhouse with a skateboard and (Gaige) Grosskreutz who approached him with a gun—(were) heroes trying to save lives. — Jeremy Stahl, Slate

Rittenhouse did not wander about pointing his gun at other protesters. He sensed the agitation in the crowd about what he’d done and began hustling toward the line of police several blocks away, his back toward other protesters. Stahl, who posted this essay after the verdict, notes that the Department of Homeland Security defines “active shooter” as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

But Rittenhouse was, in fact, a fleeing shooter, running away from an incident that his pursuers had not witnessed and that was later ruled an act of self defense. Their desire to make sure he didn’t get away while confusion still reigned was understandable but didn’t give them the right or even the reason to attack him. It seems that many who decry vigilantism also want at the same time to twist the details of this story to make these particular vigilantes into heroes.

In 1967, when the (Black) Panthers showed up armed at the California State Legislature, a largely white place of power, the public was aghast.

Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan said: “I don’t think that loaded guns is the way to solve a problem that should be solved between people of good will. And anyone who would approve of this kind of demonstration must be out of their mind.”

The California Legislature passed, and Reagan signed, the Mulford Act, which banned the open carry of firearms in the state. The N.R.A. supported the measure. The bill’s author, Don Mulford, said at the time, “We’ve got to protect society from nuts with guns.”

Whether a vigilante is viewed as radical or righteous is often a condition of the skin they’re in— Charles Blow, New York Times

This bit of history bears repeating, and it’s a reminder that those who are seeing in this story evidence of racism and racial disparities in our society aren’t wrong. It’s a fair conjecture that if Kyle Rittenhouse had been Black he wouldn’t have had as well-funded a defense or been afforded the same presumption of innocence from a Kenosha County jury as a white Kyle Rittenhouse received.

That is our national shame. But we don’t expiate it by giving a white defendant an unfair trial based on inadmissible evidence and farfetched interpretations of the law. We begin to expiate it by demanding that everyone get a good defense and a full presumption of innocence.

In the end, as I’ve argued now to the point of tedium, this trial was narrowly and appropriately focused on a confusing, chaotic and deeply regrettable couple of minutes. Rittenhouse was a naive young man with a hero complex who was in way over his head. He had every right to be on the streets of Kenosha that night but should not have gone.

The Tribune’s Stacy St. Clair, who covered the trial, appeared on Tuesday’s episode of Slate’s “What Next” podcast and noted that before the shootings, a bystander reportedly yelled at Rittenhouse, “You think you’re in a movie?”

St. Clair said:

I think that’s the best description of what I’ve seen of Kyle Rittenhouse’s behavior that night. He’s trying to provide medical services that he’s not really qualified to to provide. He’s running around with a fire extinguisher, trying to put out fires. He’s speaking in police vernacular on these videos. When other people were running away, he was going to be running into danger and he had this vision of himself that did not match the reality of the situation and ultimately, people died because of it.

His acquittal vindicates his actions under the law, but not his overall judgment. The threshold for use of deadly force in self defense remains high and is not easily crossed.

The left should not despair, the right should not exult.

Go Blue!

A few years ago I wrote an email to my former college roommates containing the rueful line, “Boys, we’re now a basketball school.”

The Michigan hoops program was ascendant, and the storied football program was mired in mediocrity. This year promised more of the same, with the sports cognoscenti predicting at least a four-loss season for football team and a possibly a Final Four appearance for the basketball team.

Well, the football team is 10-1 and will play rival Ohio State (also 10-1) Saturday for a berth in the Big 10 championship game and a possible spot in the four-team Bowl Championship Series.

The basketball team has been underwhelming to say the least, looking sloppy and off the mark in early season losses to Seton Hall and Arizona. It’s not even December yet, so the hugely talented Wolverines still might get it together for a nice run in the NCAA tournament. But right now they look like they’ll be lucky to get an invitation to the also-ran National Invitational Tournament. They shot 1 for 14 on three pointers in Sunday night’s 18-point loss to Arizona and went 3 for 15 from behind the arc in stumbling down the stretch against Seton Hall on Nov. 15.

No. 2 Ohio State looked unbeatable last Saturday in demolishing Michigan State, but they also looked unbeatable in 1969 when they were ranked No. 1 and 12th ranked Michigan beat them 24-12.

We shall not speak of the last 16 iterations of The Game, of which Michigan has won just one.

Land of Linkin’


Dissenting views at last regarding my recent speech on the difficulty our society has in debating important issues (video link; prepared text link).

Ira P. — The views you've articulated in your writing about Adam Toledo are reasonable to me and others in our position (as well as many others who experience gun violence and crime in their communities), but they are highly offensive to others — not just disagreeable, but highly offensive.

You say that it's reasonable to reject opportunities for neo-Nazis and others with views outside the mainstream to spread their views, but what about, in the views of some, your views, meaning those who would in any way, shape, or form appear to justify the killing of a child by police? Or justify the use of gun violence risking death of civilians in any policing situation. To them, you are as offensive as a white supremacist.

You and I may disagree with that judgment, but it exists, and I can see that it's an understandable judgment if you're viewing the situation as one who values the life of a child above all things….

I'm not suggesting that you sit down and shut up, but I do suggest that maybe it's time for you to appreciate your privilege, appreciate how offensive your views could be to others … Unlike the blacklist victims of the 1950s and other times, you are not being denied your livelihood or your ability to contribute to society. You are not being censored or ridiculed. You still have your fans (including me). You will be fine.

I will be fine, yes, thanks, and I hope no one thinks I’m overplaying the victim card here. I thought my experience at DePaul — outlined in my speech and in Issue No. 4 of the Picayune Sentinel — was illustrative but not piteous.

Ideally police would never use deadly force against anyone, of course, but I do believe at times it’s justifiable — even when hindsight tells us it was unnecessary, as it was in the killing of Adam Toledo. I don’t think it’s important to re-litigate that for the purposes of this discussion other than to say that while I understand how my words can seem cold, I totally reject the view that my position is highly offensive and tantamount to white supremacy.

I don’t concede that, because certain people extrapolate poison from mainstream political positions, we should therefore defer to their demands for veto power over speech and to their outlandish characterizations. Referring to all those who disagree with your views of certain issues or situations as Nazi-adjacent is nonsense and should be widely rejected and condemned.

Joanie W. — There has been a huge change among intellectuals and educated people of what opinions are acceptable or mainstream. Such changes have caught some people by surprise, and resulted in the claim that “cancel culture” is a new and socially unhealthy phenomenon.

Let me illustrate in regard to an issue that hits close to home for me, a transgender woman. When I was a transgender girl in the late 1950s and 1960s, the condition of being transgender was considered a mental disorder. Society’s refusal to accept transgender people, society’s “othering” of transgender people caused me untold difficulties which I am still dealing with today. It wasn’t until 2012 that the American Psychiatric Association stopped listing the condition of being transgender as a mental disorder.

In your speech you suggest that the opinion that transgender school kids should be precluded from participating in scholastic sports consistent with their gender identity is a view that is mainstream and should not be canceled.

As someone who experienced being “othered” as a kid in elementary school in a way you never were, who understands in a very visceral way the effects of opinions “othering” transgender kids, I view the opinion that transgender kids should be required to participate in scholastic sports or teams that do not match their gender identity as wrong and destructive to a healthy, inclusive, functioning society.

I wrote about this issue earlier this year and concluded, “Creating reasonable, highly specific gender identity guidelines for sports is likely the key to winning the support of those who are sympathetic to trans rights but who are inclined to back the restrictive proposals based on a good faith interest in fairness in girls athletics.” I hear your point, but to me, denying that these arguments are often made in good faith and demanding they not be heard is not a winning strategy in the court of public opinion.

Rick G. — Can you define the boundary between who, where, and when a person should and should not be given a platform to speak? You suggested a person holding a majority opinion or an opinion held by a reasonable person should be given an opportunity to speak at a public forum.

I ask this question with the assumption that you do think that some people in some situations should not be given a platform.

For example, should a self identified white supremacist be given an opportunity to share their views at a university campus? Would you have endorsed an outspoken anti-gay activist in 1980 (their opinion would have been the majority view) to speak at a university?

Do you support the news media giving time/space to climate-change deniers an opportunity to be heard? Again assuming that you recognize that some portion of the audience will be attracted to their opinion.

If you answered, no, I would not allow that person to speak in that situation, then perhaps you see the shortcomings of your argument. Namely, being in the majority or believing that your opinion is reasonable or failing to recognize that time/attention-spans are limited is simplistic and may be counterproductive.

So, while I agree that more thoughtful public discourse is useful and I do not want to see anyone shouted down, politely limiting access to public discourse may be an effective form of societal persuasion.

Rick and I went back and forth several times on this topic and an edited version of our exchange can be found here.

Send me Z-mail

Follow up on this, e-marketers

Several times a week I’ll get an email with the subject header that begins, “Follow up on …” some proposed business deal. Here’s how a recent one began:

Hi, I sent you an email a few days ago about Virtual assistance services and just wanted to follow up on the email I sent…

A quick search of the in-box and the trash shows, of course, that this person never sent a previous email. Just to mess with them I responded to the above with a line from Monty Python’s argument-clinic sketch: “I’ve told you once!”

Minced Words

This week’s early-release episode of the The Mincing Rascals podcast included discussions about the trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers and how it compares to the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, which ended Friday in an acquittal; the vehicular homicide in Waukesha; the uptick in mob shoplifting events and the future of Bears coach Matt Nagy.

Subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. Or bookmark this page.

Re: Tweets

This week’s nominees for Tweet of the Week:

  • If you are going to someone's house for Thanksgiving, compliment their baseboards. That is what they are spending today cleaning … @simoncholland

  • If any of you are going Black Friday shopping this week please try and be a decent human being and turn your phone horizontal before recording any fights … @GDUB18T

  • If I ever get a lower back tattoo it would be of something of great importance to me, like a sandwich … @adamgreattweet

  • Serial killers in the 70s had no idea that they were going around creating content… @MohanadElshieky

  • [throwing coin into fountain] I wish I was better with money … @chuuew

  • Sorry I yelled “Finish him!” at your son’s spelling bee … @Cpin42

  • People who say “You can’t argue with that” really don’t know me very well … @UnFitz

  • Are you telling me even the Pope was Kung Fu Fighting? … @BuckyIsotope

  • Horses will eat almost anything. Pizza, broccoli, peppermints. You know what they don’t like? The terrifying prison of consciousness … @Cpin42

  • No one is more full of crap than a parent who threatens to take away electronics for a week. .. @SladeWentworth

Click here to take the poll. For poll instructions and guidelines if you need them, click here.

Mary Schmich on terrible things & Thanksgiving

My former colleague Mary Schmich posts column-like thoughts most Tuesdays on Facebook. Here is this week’s offering:

A Thought for Thanksgiving.

I’ve written a lot of Thanksgiving columns in my life. About troublesome Thanksgiving guests. About venerated family holiday recipes, which didn’t exist in my family. About not procrastinating on thanking the people you love.

One of my favorites was a rhyming poem I wrote about the terrors of being stuck on some relative’s awful sofabed over the holidays; that one occasioned the president of a major sofabed company to write a letter to the Tribune’s editor denouncing me.

Of all those columns, one that remains especially meaningful to me is the one that eventually turned into the title of my column collection, “Even the Terrible Things Seem Beautiful to Me Now.”

It appeared on Nov. 21, 2010, a few months after my mother died. I can’t find the original link but am pasting it here, along with a photo I took of one of the roses my mother was looking at when she uttered that memorable line.

I hope you all have a good Thanksgiving, whatever that means to you. Thank you for making Facebook a friendly place to be.

Today’s Tune

When I attended Burns Park Elementary School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the 1960s, we sang the 1844 harvest hymn, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” to begin the pre-Thanksgiving assembly every year. It’s the perfect song for the holiday. Here it is if you don’t know it.

Come, ye thankful people, come

Raise the song of harvest home

All is safely gathered in

Ere the winter storms begin

The next four lines are too religious for use in today’s public schools:

God our Maker doth provide

For our wants to be supplied

Come to God's own temple, come

Raise the song of harvest home

The “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” tradition seems to have died sometime in the 1970s to judge from responses I got on the school’s alumni page on Facebook. When I checked in at my old school in 1993, an administrator told that song and the other standard from those assemblies, “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing” had been replaced by “Strut, Mr. Turkey” and other secular numbers.

Who’s that strutting ‘round lookin’ mighty perky?

Looks like it might be old Mr. Turkey.

Strut Mr. Turkey. That’s a fancy way to walk.

Strut Mr. Turkey. That’s a fancy way to walk.

I’m a big believer in keeping church and state separate, but I’m also a huge fan of religious music and wish that schools could incorporate it into choral programs in a non-proselytizing, fully contextualized way.

Have a perky Thanksgiving!

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