I grew up in part near the Chambal Valley in north-central India, a region with some topographic similarity to the Badlands of South Dakota. The Chambal Valley was known for crime and had roving bands of armed robbers known as dacoits. The State was ineffective in that area, so conflict resolution ranging from property disputes to tenant evictions to debt collection often took the form of private violence.
I also lived through the Babri Masjid religious riots of 1992. My town was under curfew for almost 3 weeks and the Indian Army was deployed with what’s called “shoot-at-sight” orders. When the situation calmed down, my father took me around town to show what had happened. Shops had been looted and burned, their owners left destitute and helpless. There were hundreds of people dead and injured because of the riots.
The reason I’m talking about these stories is because the State’s very justification for existence is the performance of a fundamental duty: the enforcement of law and keeping the public peace. When the State pulls back, what follows can be unpredictable, volatile, and dangerous.
That’s what happened in Kenosha, WI after the police shooting of Jacob Blake. In a country that was already under tremendous stress from pandemic lockdowns and the police killing of George Floyd, the news of the police shooting of another black man spread like wildfire, without the full context and background of what happened. Those with vested interests and agendas willfully poured fuel over the fire. Even after three years, some of them are still spreading the same context-free half-truths and lies.
Three years ago today, a police officer in Kenosha, WI shot Jacob Blake seven times when he opened the door to his vehicle and leaned into it. His three children were in the car. The shooting ignited outrage and calls for an end to police violence against Black Americans.
— Moms Demand Action (@MomsDemand) August 23, 2023
Good statecraft involves anticipating and quickly reacting to threats to stave off potential crises before they can spiral out of control. After a summer of rioting and lawlessness from coast to coast, a good leader would have known the potential for danger and acted decisively and swiftly to stop lawlessness from taking root. But that’s not what happened. Either through incompetence or negligence (or perhaps nefarious intentions), Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) did not act the way he should have, using the power vested in him by the People to stop those who were bent on destroying private and public property, endangering others’ lives through arson and destruction.
The rioting, looting, and burning continued for not one night, not two nights, but three nights in a row. Ordinary people were horrified watching all of that happen in real-time. Where were the adults in charge? What was Gov. Tony Evers doing? Whether he intended it or not, Evers’ actions created the perception of a power vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum, as the saying goes. The lawlessness had to be met with force, and with the State unwilling or unable to confront criminal opportunists, someone needed to do so.
Everyone knows what followed. On the third night, Kyle Rittenhouse, as part of a group of local armed citizens, stepped in to put out literal and metaphorical fires. He crossed paths with an aggressive, suicidal, convicted child molester, and that encounter ended with the latter’s death. Rittenhouse was then chased by a mob, and he shot two of them, killing one in the ensuing confrontation.
In a remarkable coincidence, the rioting in Kenosha stopped after the third night. It’s as if the rioters got the message that the Wisconsin state apparatus refused to send but was delivered by private parties.
Much has been written in the mainstream media about Kyle Rittenhouse. He has been uniformly demonized. The New Yorker wrote a piece so biased it would make Walter Duranty blush. Rolling Stone, which infamously reported the completely fake UVA rape story, called Rittenhouse’s lawful defensive actions “the extrajudicial killing of two human beings.” Politico lamented the “lionization” of Rittenhouse by the Right. David French called him a “foolish man,” not a hero. Gun controllers haven’t been any different in the years since:
Two years ago today, at a protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse—who was openly carrying an AR-15-style rifle—shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounded another man. Rittenhouse was not held accountable.
— Moms Demand Action (@MomsDemand) August 25, 2022
Missing in all these thinkpieces is the criticism of rioters. It’s as if there’s a soft bigotry of low expectations when it comes to their behavior. Their presence was apparently nothing out of the ordinary, but the local militia’s reactive presence was a provocation.
Kyle Rittenhouse’s use of force has been analyzed thoroughly by the gun rights community. To summarize, he was not the aggressor, his actions were purely defensive, he showed a remarkable presence of mind under stress, limited his use of force to just the level needed to stop the threats to his life, expending only 8 rounds in a 30-round magazine doing so. The proof is in the pudding: Rittenhouse was unanimously acquitted by a jury of the charges he was accused of.
All that villainy attributed to Kyle Rittenhouse is absolutely wrong. No matter what you think of Rittenhouse’s actions that night, he was motivated to be there along with an unknown number of local militia volunteers because of the pullback of the State. That lack of forceful action was a policy choice made by Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) and that needs to be placed directly at his feet.