Apparently, it’s never a good time for America’s nasty polarization to take a vacation, so the reaction to Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal broke predictable lines. The left, in and out of the media, went wild and President Biden, while calling for peaceful protests, foolishly fed the anger machine by saying he was “angry and worried.”
At least he didn’t repeat a 2020 smear when, without any evidence, he compared Rittenhouse to “white supremacists and militia groups.” He also didn’t explicitly set the jury on fire, as some of his Democratic friends did, like the goofy Mayor de Blasio and California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Even the disgraced Andrew Cuomo came out of hiding to cross out the verdict as a “blemish.” Which is ironic considering that Cuomo will be remembered as the human stain in Albany.
Rittenhouse’s conservative supporters, many of whom helped fund his defense even when Big Tech and GoFundMe blocked them, erupted in cheers when the jury found the teenager not guilty on all charges. They saw the verdict as a resounding victory for gun rights and self-defense.
There was also contempt for prosecutors, who, in a bad case, went too far, cut ethical corners, and went dumb.
Early in the deliberations, he expected the jury to compromise and convict Rittenhouse on at least one of the five remaining charges, considering he killed two people and wounded a third. On the other hand, my expectation was influenced by another test that has disturbing similarities.
I mean the sensational case of Bernie Goetz in New York City almost four decades ago.
Like Rittenhouse, Goetz was called a vigilante, “the subway watchman” after he shot four young men who he said were trying to rob him on a Manhattan train in 1984.
Goetz was acquitted of four counts of attempted murder and convicted only of carrying a weapon without a license and served eight months in prison.
While there are significant differences between the cases, both men have pleaded not guilty on self-defense grounds. And the jurors, despite aggressive pushing from prosecutors and intense political and media pressure to convict, agreed.
Those verdicts are united by a general reality.
Both cases occurred when crime was on the rise and ordinary citizens were scared and frustrated by the lack of police protection. Then and now, the collapse of public safety has consequences.
Goetz instantly became so popular that the famous Harvard professor James Q. Wilson, whose 1982 treatise on broken windows would lead to a revolution in the police force, had a theory about widespread public support.
“It may just indicate that there are no more liberals on crime and law and order in New York, because everyone has been mugged,” Wilson told Time magazine’s John Leo.
It is not a leap to see a similar mindset in Kenosha. The riots and looting there in August 2020 that led to Rittenhouse grabbing his rifle and trying to help defend the attacked businesses caused enormous public fear and came after police shot a black man.
Those riots followed a long and violent summer of riots and arson in many cities after George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police in May. When trouble began in Kenosha, the Democratic governor refused to call the National Guard, and the police were quickly out of staff.
Across the country, Democrats in the media, city councils and public powers defended the summer riots as “mostly peaceful” protests. That was a lie, and many families fled and businesses closed, while other people responded by buying weapons to protect themselves.
Another similarity between the Rittenhouse and Goetz cases is that the combined seven people they shot had long criminal records. While that alone does not justify their actions, it does help illustrate the general point that criminal justice systems too often fail to protect the public from repeat offenders.
Rittenhouse’s attackers were white, while those who tried to assault Goetz were black.
Goetz, who ran a small electronics business, had been mugged on the subway before and received a gun in response. When the four teens cornered him on a moving train and demanded $ 5, he stood up, drew his pistol, and fired five shots, hitting each of them once. All survived, although one had a severed spine.
Goetz fled the city but eventually gave up and, when his story emerged, much of the public hailed him as a hero for fighting back.
At the time, New York was still coming out of its fiscal crisis, which had led to a reduction of nearly 10,000 police officers from a pre-crisis workforce of more than 31,000. Mayor Ed Koch had vowed to rebuild the force and, by 1984, had increased the number to around 25,000.
But it was not enough, and although some crime categories showed declines, 1984 was still a very bloody year. The drug wars and random shootings and stabbings led to nearly 1,500 non-negligent murders and homicides, a shocking total that would reach 2,200 a year in a decade.
Although murders in New York and elsewhere are significantly lower now than they were then, the explosion of violent crime in the past two years has shaken people everywhere and sparked fears of a return to the bad times. The new crime wave began during the pandemic shutdowns and accelerated when the Floyd case led to a “police defunding” movement among many Democrats.
With criminals on the loose and governments slashing police budgets and pushing gun restrictions, the public responded by buying more and more guns. Legal sales rose to nearly 40 million last year, the highest number on record, according to USA Today.
The increase in purchases has continued this year, with The New York Times citing data showing that about 20 percent of 2020 buyers were first-time gun owners. Of that group, half were women, a fifth were black, and a fifth were Hispanic.
He said 39 percent of American households now own guns, an increase from 32 percent in 2016.
A corollary to the rise in gun ownership is an equally dramatic shift in public opinion. A Quinnipiac poll last week found that 49 percent of Americans oppose stricter gun laws, while 45 percent support them.
That’s a major change from April, when 54 percent supported stricter gun laws and 42 percent opposed them.
Those trends mean that Kyle Rittenhouse is probably not the last private citizen to enter public space abandoned by law enforcement.