Kyle Rittenhouse and the failure of the American state
Kyle Rittenhouse is innocent. We knew that anyway, but the simple fact of something being true in no way guarantees that the legal system will recognise it. In this case, we are fortunate that law and reality have decided to agree with one another. Kyle Rittenhouse is innocent, but the state remains on trial.
There will be a great deal of commentary after the Rittenhouse trial about ‘what this verdict says about America’. You can see the first green shoots beginning to emerge even now; news outlets are talking about the ‘racial justice protests’ in Kenosha and how the verdict demonstrates the fundamental racial inequities of American society, or even how failing gun laws allowed this to happen. These are the wrong issues to focus on.
When the state abandons its responsibilities, people get hurt. Some people are hurt when their businesses are burned down, or when protests get a little too ‘mostly peaceful’. And some people are hurt when the people they’re attacking fight back.
The entire point of providing a police force is to stop this from happening. This should never have happened in a functioning state. The police should not back away from policing riots because the press repeatedly tell them that they’re morally justified, or because Twitter users insist that shops have insurance, or that it’s okay to ‘want nice things’ and loot them. They should not leave businesses to burn or people to be assaulted, because when they do this people will naturally take the law into their own hands. And they will not be wholly unjustified in doing so.
The deal is very simple. The state provides protection, and in return it receives a monopoly on the legitimate use of force and the generous funding of the taxpayer. When it decides in its infinite majesty to withhold this protection based on arbitrary political motivations, ordinary citizens are forced to once again defend life and property – even if they are horrendously ill equipped to do so.
Vigilante justice has a bad reputation because it is, by its nature, often unjust. It is not orderly, it is not predictable, it is based on the strength of feeling and decisions of individuals and mobs, and it is vastly inferior to an orderly and detached law enforcement agency doing its job consistently. But when criminal activity goes unpunished and unpoliced, we consistently see people attempt to defend their own. Vigilantism historically occurs where central law enforcement is weak, and in America the cheapest form of self-protection is the firearm. It is no coincidence that when crime rates go up, gun sales rise also. When the state decided it could not properly protect Kenosha, it created the conditions for everything that followed.
America stands at a crossroads. There’s nothing special about that; decisions are taken every day that could send the country drifting slowly onto a new path. But the verdict that has just been announced is the result, ultimately, of America experimenting with a new and interesting form of law unenforcement.
If unrest follows this verdict, it will clearly intimidate future juries. This violence started with the police failing to do their jobs; they should now remember that, and act appropriately.