The headline alongside Saturday’s front-page New York Times “news analysis,” “How the Acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse Shows the Burden for the Prosecution in Self-Defense Cases,” demonstrated the Times joining the rest of the press in lamenting the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse of homicide charges during anti-police riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August 2020.
While the paper's news account of the acquittal was fairly straightforward, the analysis by Shaila Dewan and Mitch Smith betrayed bias and a worrying shakiness over the very concept of self-defense, at least when it involves anti-left movers like Kyle Rittenhouse with a gun. The paper’s chosen sources showed bias against guns, Rittenhouse, and the very concept of self-defense, a regret apparently shared by Dewan and Smith.
For many Americans, the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse on all charges on Friday was a vindication of an innocent, if not heroic, teenager with good intentions. For others, it was a brutal disappointment, further evidence that the courts give white men a pass for their actions.
But for legal scholars, it was not a surprise. Once Mr. Rittenhouse claimed that he had acted in self-defense when he shot three men, killing two, during unrest following the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis., the onus was on the prosecution to prove otherwise.
The basic right of self-defense was denigrated into one aspect of unfortunate legal morass:
The acquittal points to the wide berth the legal system gives to defendants who say they acted out of fear, even if others around them were also afraid.
At each step, the reporters took pains to suggest Rittenhouse was somehow responsible for being set upon by the rioters he killed in self-defense (each of whom had criminal records, one of which was carrying a handgun):
Self-defense laws typically do not require someone to have good judgment and tend to consider only the moments leading up to the violence, not whether the person willingly entered a turbulent situation or contributed to the chaos.
The reasonable fear standard for self-defense has given rise to concerns that it is affected by the same racial bias that permeates the justice system. A mountain of social science research shows that Black people, men in particular, are more likely to be seen as threatening.
The Times allowed criminal justice professor Kami Chavis to offer racially loaded hypotheticals without rebuttal. “If we change the race, the age, the victims, if we change some of these dynamics we very well could have had a different result,” he said.
The reporters threw around inaccurate gun terminology to scare its liberal readership, while neutrally revealing that Rittenhouse was in fact acting in self-defense, liberal lies notwithstanding:
Mr. Rittenhouse went to downtown Kenosha with a military-style assault rifle slung to his chest, saying he wanted to protect property and volunteer as a medic, though he was only 17 years old and not a certified E.M.T.
During the unrest he was pursued by a man, Joseph Rosenbaum, who Mr. Rittenhouse said he feared would wrest control of his gun. Mr. Rittenhouse shot and killed him. That, according to evidence presented at the trial, caused members of the crowd to perceive Mr. Rittenhouse as a dangerous aggressor.
One man, Anthony Huber, used a skateboard as a weapon against him. Mr. Rittenhouse shot and killed him before facing off with a third man, Gaige Grosskreutz, who had pulled out a handgun. Mr. Rittenhouse wounded him in the arm.
They also quoted Nick Suplina, senior vice president for Law & Policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. Even the theoretically pro-acquittal voices were hedged and reluctant to concede Rittenhouse was in the right:
Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who now teaches at Marquette University Law School, said the trial was an instance in which many people’s opinions about what was morally acceptable clashed with the jury’s interpretation of what the law allowed.