Anyone paying attention to the Kyle Rittenhouse case should conclude that he was acting in self defense when he shot three people in Kenosha WI. He might be guilty of a gun charge and breaking curfew, but that is it.
People will often object that he had no business being in Kenosha during the riot, but that isn’t relevant to the law. Most of the time if you have to use violence to defend yourself it is because you had been doing something stupid. The law understands that. Being a dumbass doesn’t mean you have to lay down and die when someone attacks you.
But on a moral, not legal basis, did he really have no business in Kenosha on the night of the riot?
Lets imagine that the KKK is having a two night rally in your town. The first night of the rally somebody burned a cross in the yard of a Jewish family. The police are too busy to provide protection for every Jewish family so concerned citizens decide to arm themselves with baseball bats and shotguns and post guards on the lawns of the local Jewry to deter vandals.
Would you join the guards? I would if I knew some of the families or it was my town. If I didn’t know anyone involved I wouldn’t stick my neck out. If someone didn’t know the families or wasn’t from the town, but still wanted to go, I wouldn’t blame them.
Ultimately it comes down to 1) your moral proximity to the situation and 2) your own ability to safely preform the guard duties. It is a prudential decision. A couple of witnesses in the trial suggested that Rittenhouse looked very young, and seemed naïve about how dangerous the situation could become. I suspect that is why some of the rioters targeted him as soon as they saw him separated from his group. I’d say his youth and inexperience would dictate that he shouldn’t have gone and it was incumbent on older, wiser people to tell him not to.
Not to relitigate the Travon Martin killing, but while Zimmerman might have not have been guilty of murder according to Florida law he was certainly doing something stupid: under no circumstances should he ever have gotten out of his car to confront a sketchy looking kid. Martin for his part could have avoided getting killed had he just said, “hey, asshole, why are you following me?” while maintaining his distance.
Most states in the U.S. followed the Common Law tradition that a person has a duty to retreat from an aggressor and should only use force as a last resort. That is the morally correct position, but the doctrine has fallen out of favor now. Prosecutors would overzealously prosecute people who used lethal force to defend themselves in situations where retreat wasn’t practically feasible, with results that were odious to justice. “Castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” laws were a reaction to those cases. Again, it is a matter of prudence: does the person realize he has time or opportunity to retreat? In the Rittenhouse case, Wisconsin does not have a duty to retreat he but was attempting to do so anyway.
In Georgia there is the Ahmaud Arbery case, which is utterly bizarre. It seems that 3 men undertook to make a citizen’s arrest without immediate knowledge that Arbery was the perpetrator of a series of burglaries, just a suspicion based on him having been seen walking around a construction site. In the Martin case, Martin turned and attacked someone who was trailing him. Zimmerman wasn’t (to my knowledge) doing anything illegal by following the young man, even if it was stupid. In this case the three men chased Arbery with a truck, then cornered and confronted him, and shot him when he started fighting. The chasing with the truck and detaining of Arbery have to be illegal. Not being police there is was no reason for Arbery to obey their orders. Rittenhouse undertook to preform a quasi-police function in an unusual situation in which the legitimate authorities were overwhelmed, the three guys in Georgia were presuming to take over police functions when the police were operating normally.