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Charging Kyle Rittenhouse with first-degree murder is facially absurd​

The facts of the case simply don't fit that charge

Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Kyle Rittenhouse should not have been patrolling the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Tuesday night. Whatever failures might have existed on the part of state and local government (and there appear to have been many), the idea of a 17-year-old with a loaded rifle being dropped into that powder keg can only happen when some horribly bad judgment has occurred.

I say this as a gun owner and Second Amendment supporter who took his son to the shooting range at that same age and taught him how to properly handle a firearm: I don't know what Kyle Rittenhouse's family or home situation is like, or how exactly he came to be where he was on that fateful night, but it's disappointing (to say the least) that no one in his life prevented him from being there. I'm sure, at this point, that Rittenhouse himself would agree.

However, two narratives about the situation are emerging, neither of which appears to be supported by even a sliver of evidence: First, that Rittenhouse is a white supremacist, and second, that he is a murderer.

To the first point, the media began to paint Rittenhouse as a white supremacist almost immediately based on no evidence at all, and continued slandering him as one throughout the day.

Just for the record, Rittenhouse's social media is NOT full of misogyny and white supremacy. The New York Times searched it exhaustively and found that "multiple posts on his social media accounts proclaim support for pro-police causes like the Blue Lives Matter movement and Humanize the Badge, a nonprofit that he ran a Facebook fund-raiser for on his 16th birthday."

This does not count as support for white supremacy to anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex. I suppose that more evidence might emerge on that score, but the evidence that Rittenhouse was involved with real white supremacy, as opposed to fake white supremacy that has been invented by the professional victim class of liberal American politics does not yet exist.

More importantly, there appears to be no evidence at all that Rittenhouse is guilty of murder, much less first-degree murder. I spent a substantial portion of Wednesday viewing numerous upsetting videos of Rittenhouse's deadly encounters with Kenosha rioters, and in every single one of those videos, Rittenhouse is clearly trying to extricate himself from danger brought on by a mob that appeared hell bent on doing him harm.

The New York Times, which is hardly sympathetic to what Rittenhouse was unwisely attempting to do, put an extraordinary amount of work into tracking Rittenhouse's movements on that Tuesday night, and the resulting breakdown is damning to the prosecutors and media figures who have branded this teenager as a racist murderer.

The Times notes, among other things, that Rittenhouse was seen on social media video throughout the night mostly staying in the area of a Kenosha car dealership — but not the same one where the first shooting occurred. The Times also noted that he was captured in multiple videos offering medical assistance to protesters who were affected by pepper spray that police used in the area. He was then seen passing out water bottles to police and talking to officers in the area. He left that dealership, and police prevented him from returning.

According to the Times, "Six minutes later footage shows Mr. Rittenhouse being chased by an unknown group of people into the parking lot of another dealership several bocks away."

One of those people, we know from video, was the first person who was shot by Rittenhouse. That person has been identified by police as Joseph Rosenbaum, a white registered sex offender who was convicted of a sex crime with a minor and who was seen on video using the N-word near black militia members and taunting them to "shoot me, n***a." At this point, Rosenbaum is the only person involved in this story who is confirmed to have done anything that might get a person justifiably branded as a white supremacist.

As the Times notes, while Rittenhouse was being pursued by the visibly hostile and aggressive Rosenbaum, "an unknown gunman fires into the air, though it's unclear why. The weapon's muzzle flash appears in footage filmed at the scene. Mr. Rittenhouse turns toward the sound of the gunfire as another pursuer [Rosenbaum] lunges toward him from the same direction. Mr. Rittenhouse then fires four times, and appears to shoot the man in the head."

Not mentioned by the Times: Video also shows Rosenbaum throwing a bag filled with unknown objects as he chases Rittenhouse into the parking lot.

Get it? Rittenhouse was being chased by a group of angry adults who were throwing things at him, and he hears a nearby gunshot. For all he knows, the shot might have been intended for him. As Rittenhouse was looking around attempting to locate the source of the sound, Rosenbaum charged him.

If you, as a prosecuting attorney, are aware of these facts and come away with the conclusion that a first-degree murder charge is warranted, then you need to turn in your law license. Putting aside Rittenhouse's clearly viable claim to self-defense, the facts of the case simply don't fit that charge.

The Times notes that after Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum, he "seems to make a phone call and then flees the scene." We don't know this yet but I would bet a significant amount of money that if Rittenhouse did, in fact, make a phone call, it was to 911 to report the shooting. And he fled the scene because, as noted by the Times and seen in multiple videos, the mob began to chase him further after the shooting. The Times notes that as he was trying to escape, Rittenhouse tripped and fell to the ground.

According to the Times, Rittenhouse then "fir[ed] four shots as three people rush[ed] toward him. One person appear[ed] to be hit in the chest[.]" Not mentioned by the Times is the perhaps relevant fact that the person in question was caught on photo trying to use Rittenhouse's head as a softball, with his skateboard as a bat. The omission is bizarre because even a Getty photographer happened to catch this attack literally as it happened.

Protests in Wisconsin aftermath of Kenosha shooting Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Additionally, the Times notes that the other individual who was shot by Rittenhouse was "carrying a handgun," but omits the detail, carried in several videos, that the gun was also loaded.

So, to review, Rittenhouse was chased by an angry mob that was throwing unidentified objects at him into an abandoned car parking lot at night, and then was charged by a clearly hostile adult right after he heard a nearby gunshot. When he tried to leave the situation, he was chased again by an even larger mob, one of whom had a loaded handgun, and was hit in the face by a large adult with a skateboard.

As the Times notes, Rittenhouse then noted the presence of police nearby, and began walking toward them with his hands up in a clear attempt to surrender to the police (and likely avail himself of some safety from the mob that was chasing him). The police, however, drove past him without stopping, so Rittenhouse fled. I would submit that these are not the actions of either a first-degree murderer or someone who intended to flee the scene of a shooting, but rather someone who was in legitimate and reasonable fear for their life and trying to survive in a chaotic situation.

In spite of the plethora of videos and photographs featuring Rittenhouse and his activities on that night, there are still some details we don't know. And I wouldn't necessarily rule out all criminal charges until all the facts are in. But first-degree murder is a facially preposterous charge based on what we know already, and the district attorneys who brought those charges should be ashamed.

One last thing…
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