He had a baby face, still chubby with no etchings of maturity. He looked like the kid who might mow your lawn for a few bucks, then come inside for milk and cookies. While sitting at your table, he might become intrigued by your small son’s Lego set. His picture looks like that kind of kid.
Or the child who, when younger, had been enthralled with men in uniform. In his case, it was the police, but sometimes kids find firemen fascinating, or even the garbagemen, with those amazing trucks that lift the waste cans automatically and crush the contents.
He looked like a kid whose folks should have imposed a curfew, should have known where he was going on a warm summer night. He did not look like a kid who should have had access to a gun unless he was going hunting with his dad.
Now, Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless homicide. He left his Antioch, Illinois, home one night in August to join in the melee in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where protests were happening nightly following the shooting of Jacob Blake. Blake had been shot in the back by police seven times while his children watched from the back seat of his car.
It was another horror of the summer of 2020.
Rittenhouse roamed the chaotic Kenosha streets wearing a baseball hat backward and carrying a long gun. Several people recorded him on video, but it’s unclear what actually happened. He killed someone who may have been scuffling for his gun, then allegedly called a friend to tell him what happened. Then, he shot two more people, killing one. His defenders say it was self-defense, and it will be up to a jury and the courts to decide.
My questions go beyond the legal outcome. I just can’t understand what’s happening to us. How is a 17-year-old kid allowed to roam an urban area carrying a long gun? How can some people call him a patriot? I’m not saying he should be convicted of the charges; again, that’s up to the legal system.
I’m saying how can anyone defend a kid taking a gun to an already out-of-control public disorder? And not just a kid — why are there guns everywhere in our society?
By the same token, how can anyone agree when they hear Vicky Osterweil discuss her book, “In Defense of Looting.” Osterweil makes some good points about our country. We do have unconscionable income inequality. And much of our country’s wealth was built over the centuries on the backs of Black people.
But to try to find some good in the act of looting in the midst of protest? Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis must roll over in their graves. The very real progress they achieved in this society stemmed from lawful protest and tenacious work through the system, a system that has been sorely challenged in 2020 but which we must still support and endorse.
Millions of people protested peacefully this summer. Then a small number of instigators became violent and were met with violence. It’s never been a secret: Violence begets violence.
As we approach a contentious election and more protests, our parishes and our Catholic schools should not be afraid to discuss these issues. We should challenge our own 17-year-olds. Our system of government must be responsive to the issues we face, and these are not just issues for the public square, but for our U.S. Catholic Church. We must be a force for moral clarity in these troubled times.