In the late 80s and early 90s, one of my favorite TV shows was “LA Law,” a drama about the cases taken on by a large law firm, and the drama behind the scenes among the lawyers and the clients. One storyline in particular stayed with me throughout the decades.
In the episode entitled “Lie Down and Deliver, ” lawyer Ann Kelsey, played by actress Jill Eikenberry, was assigned the task of defending a doctor accused of malpractice because a baby had died upon delivery. She was seriously conflicted because she was pregnant at the time. How could she defend someone accused of killing a baby? She sympathized much more with the plaintiff who had lost a child than with her own client. What if her own baby dies during delivery? Who would she hold responsible? How could she defend a baby killer?
Her closing argument went something like this: “An innocent baby died. Babies don’t just die. We must have an outlet for our grief. Our anger. We want someone to be responsible. We need someone to be responsible. But the truth is… sometimes bad things just happen. Sometimes babies die. And no one is responsible.”
This speech had an incredible impact on me because it put something I had always believed into concrete terms—something that the Founding Fathers had incorporated into our body of laws. It’s human nature to want to blame someone for bad things that happen. We all want to find an evil villain behind them at whom to direct our anger. All forms of prejudice are amplified when something bad happens, which gives the bigots an excuse to attack those they fear or simply dislike.
The riots that have been plaguing our country for years, particularly the last two years, are ample evidence of that. So are the lynchings of blacks in the early part of the last century, the pogroms against Jews in 19th century Europe, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the witch trials in medieval Europe. People manufacture reasons to blame others for bad events.
Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two of them, while acting in self-defense. Any rational observer of the facts that came out at his trial would find it difficult to decide otherwise. Should he have been in a troubled area filled with violent rioters? Maybe not. Should he have been armed with a rifle? Maybe not. Should he have agreed to protect a business from further destruction in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin? Maybe not. After being verbally threatened and physically attacked, did he have a reasonable fear for his life? Absolutely.
In such a situation, does someone have a right to protect their life with deadly force? In America, the answer is yes and has always been yes. American laws do not apply only to the righteous, the intelligent, or people with whom we agree. They apply to everyone. Rittenhouse’s previous actions, his motivations, his politics… they’re all irrelevant. Just like George Floyd’s prior criminal history was irrelevant in the trial of the police officers who arrested him.
You may believe that Kyle Rittenhouse did some really foolish things. You may believe that he’s not a nice person. But if you believe that Rittenhouse had no right to protect himself, then ask yourself whether you believe that a woman who wears a short skirt and lowcut top to a bar where she approaches men, acts seductively, drinks too much and ends up being raped, deserved to be raped. Or whether she could have legally used force against her rapist to protect herself.
The sad fact is that many of those who believe Kyle Rittenhouse is a monster who deserves to be punished also hold the contradictory belief that it is profoundly unjust to hold Cheryl Araujo and others rape victims like her as responsible for their own rape. A rational person should not be able to hold both views simultaneously. Unfortunately, many of us are not rational.
Similarly, Alec Baldwin, who shot and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie “Rust,” is innocent until proven guilty. I don’t like Baldwin’s outspoken politics one bit. I don’t like him as a person from the things I’ve read in articles about him. One irony is that Alec Baldwin was a strong proponent of gun control and opponent of the Second Amendment, fiercely insulting those who disagreed with him; yet he seems to have ignored basic gun safety protocols himself.
Despite all this, Baldwin is innocent and deserves to be treated as such at least until the facts come out in a court of law and a jury of his peers delivers a verdict.
It’s very hard for us to disassociate our feelings about a person from criminal acts they are accused of. When our leaders fail to do it, such as when President Biden likened Rittenhouse to white supremacists or when President Obama attempted to bias the trial of accused murderer George Zimmer, these are absolutely un-American actions. These leaders must be held accountable for their actions that damage the moral infrastructure of our society more than any particular criminal action can.
My instinct tells me that Alec Baldwin would not give the benefit of the doubt to Kyle Rittenhouse, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it to him. The concept of innocent until proven guilty is an American principle that applies to everyone, regardless of how we otherwise feel about them. Violating this principle amounts to breaking a pillar of American society. Eventually there will be trials, facts will come out, and a jury of his peers will decide.
American citizens must be examples to the world that American justice is truly blind. We must respect the verdict in the Rittenhouse trial and we must respect the verdict in any trial of Baldwin. Sometimes bad things just happen. Sometimes the accused person is not responsible, and we all need to live with that discomforting fact rather than damage a person’s life and, more importantly, destroy American principles.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.