Reckoning With The Rittenhouse Verdict | Crooked Media
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November 22, 2021
What A Day
Reckoning With The Rittenhouse Verdict

In This Episode

  • And in headlines: protesters took to the streets in several European cities against COVID restrictions, Sudan’s Prime Minister was reinstated after being arrested during a military coup, and more childless adults in the U.S. say they are unlikely to ever have kids.






Gideon Resnick: It’s Monday, November 22nd. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, the podcast that briefly was president last week when Biden was getting his colonoscopy.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it has to do with a very old and confusing law the founding fathers wrote about podcasts.


Josie Duffy Rice: Legal scholars disagree, but in my opinion, we were president last week and we could have declared war.


Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, demonstrators take to the streets in several European cities to protest COVID restrictions. Plus, a growing number of American adults say it is unlikely they’ll have children.


Josie Duffy Rice: But first on Friday, after four days of deliberation, a jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all counts.


[clip] We, the jury, find the defendant, Kyle H. Rittenhouse, not guilty.


Josie Duffy Rice: Rittenhouse faced several charges, including first degree murder, attempted murder and reckless endangerment, among others.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and Josie, we want to get your whole breakdown of all of this because this was obviously a case that, you know, the whole country was watching.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, if you were anywhere near the internet, you may have seen the highly-divided reactions which tended to correlate with partisan politics. For those on the left, the acquittal was yet another example of a failed justice system that allows white men like Rittenhouse to get away with things that others could not.


Gideon Resnick: Right.


Josie Duffy Rice: For conservatives, they said it was a well-deserved result and that Rittenhouse had basically been politically persecuted. And so over the weekend, everyone chimed in from President Biden, who said in a statement that the decision quote, “will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included.” And there was also former President Trump, who praised the decision.


Gideon Resnick: OK, so before we get into all of this, for those who need a refresher here, Rittenhouse was arrested in August of 2020 after he shot and killed two people and wounded a third at a Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. At the time, he was a minor, 17-years old.


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. Now, Rittenhouse claimed that he shot those people in self-defense, and so in order to convict him, the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not, in fact, defending himself.


Gideon Resnick: Right. So if you’re thinking about it in those terms, were you surprised by the result on Friday?


Josie Duffy Rice: I wasn’t. You know, as a defendant, I think Rittenhouse had a pretty strong case under the law since video footage directly before the shootings indicated that the men Rittenhouse shot had confronted him in some form or another in the moments before they were killed.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and we’ve been talking about this whole case, Josie, as being incredibly divisive, to say the least on a lot of different fronts, raising a lot of concerns with the law and the legal system. One of those issues, as I understand it, is the self-defense law here.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, absolutely. Rittenhouse had showed up to the protest armed with a rifle, and it seemed like he was kind of looking for trouble, right? Some people saw this claim that he had of self-defense as specious, in part because he had shown up to the protest in the way that he did. But under Wisconsin’s law, if someone reasonably believes they’re at risk of death or bodily harm, they are entitled to use deadly force. The prosecution would have had to prove that Rittenhouse wasn’t legally defending himself because he provoked the violence that he then said he was defending himself from. But ultimately, the jury didn’t see Rittenhouse as the aggressor here.


Gideon Resnick: So it kind of begs the question here, is Wisconsin’s a lot more extreme than other states. How could that maybe play out in cases elsewhere where similar defenses are being invoked?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I think it’s a really good question. So Wisconsin is well within the norm as far as self-defense laws. In some places, there’s a duty to retreat before you use deadly force. In other words, if you can get away without using force, you’re required to at least try. But in other states, including Wisconsin, and states with stand-your-ground laws, there is no duty to retreat. Wisconsin doesn’t technically have a stand-your-ground law, but the principle is pretty much the same, right?


Gideon Resnick: Got it! And so in regards to these laws, right, there has been an argument for reforming them so someone like Rittenhouse would be held legally responsible in the future. Can you unpack that a little bit more?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I’ve seen those arguments a lot. You know, the New York Times stated that these laws quote, “tend to consider only the moments leading up to the violence, not whether the person willingly entered a turbulent situation or contributed to the chaos.” And the Rittenhouse case and others, including the Trayvon Martin case, they make it seem like people can just act stupidly or aggressively and literally get away with murder, right? But I would caution people to not use these cases and jump to the idea of we need harsher laws or the prosecution’s burden is too high. I think that’s the wrong conclusion to draw. First of all, it’s not only OK, but good that the prosecutor has to work really, really hard to prove his case and put someone in prison.


Gideon Resnick: True.


Josie Duffy Rice: But there are also many examples we have that our self-defense laws are not actually strong enough. They’re not protecting people who need protection. For example, across the country, there are many survivors of domestic violence, largely Black and brown women, serving extremely long sentences for killing or harming their abusers. And this pattern of punishing women who feared for their lives is really not uncommon, and it would be a mistake to draw a kind of widespread conclusions about our system from just this case, right? And in general, Gideon, I would say the idea of stricter criminal laws makes me really wary as a rule. This happens every so often, someone we disagree with and fundamentally don’t like is acquitted and we want to prevent the next person we don’t like from getting off too. But the problem is that’s not actually how laws in America work, right. When we make laws stricter, they usually end up disproportionately affecting Black and brown people more than they end up affecting people like Rittenhouse. And so I understand why people are calling for a reform to self-defense laws, but I would push against that.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, yeah, no. That’s a really interesting point. And on the topic of race, this case was treated like a referendum on race, despite the fact that Rittenhouse and the victims that we’re talking about here were all white. There was also a backlash to that, of course, in the course of people talking about this. But race, of course, is still very much at issue here.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I think race was extremely relevant, right, for a few reasons. First, the protest was about police violence against Black people. Rittenhouse went out of his way to show up with a rifle. His political views that he espoused before this really indicated he had a problem with the protest. So it’s relevant in the case in that way. But it’s also important to remember that race is always relevant in the criminal justice system, even if the crime itself doesn’t have to do technically with race. By every statistical measure, people of color are treated more harshly than white people in the system, so it’s always important to ask ourselves, Well, what if he had been Black? Would the cops have even arrested him, or would he have just been killed in the street, right? Would he have been acquitted if he had been Black? Or what would have happened if he had a different jury? Every jury member but one was white. Is that really what we call a representative jury? What would have happened with a more diverse jury? So I think that we should never rule out the importance of talking about race when we talk about the criminal justice system in general.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And I feel like I’m just asking question after question after question because it does just breed so many of them. This case has also raised a lot of concerns about lax gun laws as well. How does that all play in?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I mean, it’s true, right? Wisconsin’s an open carry state. And so it seems like in some ways, this sort of thing is bound to happen. You know, if you choose to bring a rifle to an already heated situation like Rittenhouse did, it’s reasonable that it would cause people to feel threatened and that it would sort of escalate the intensity of a situation that’s already pretty intense. The prevalence of guns in America, especially in open carry states, kind of guarantee that violence like this will be relatively common in the future.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And back to a point that we made previously, Rittenhouse was a minor when this incident happened. How did that, if at all, affect the case?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, Gideon. It’s a really important issue and it hasn’t gotten much attention, so I’m glad that you asked. Our system is really harsh in the way it treats children traditionally, right? For example, we are the only country that still sentences children to life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles. There are people in prison right now who have been in prison every single day of their adult life, right? And we’ll never get out or have the chance to get out. Because this case was politically contentious and because Rittenhouse, I think it’s fair to say, made an aggressive and harmful and reckless choice of coming to this protest armed with a rifle, lots of people on the left were basically calling to lock him up and throw away the key. And I think that would have been really problematic. He was a child when he did what he did, and it’s worth keeping that in mind.


Gideon Resnick: Obviously, as we keep talking about, this case has gotten very politically contentious, specifically from conservatives, where the conversation about it is something to behold. So what do you think about how it’s been treated there?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, totally. I mean, you may have seen that the right has basically called Rittenhouse a hero for his actions. And I just find it so, so disturbing. This is a child we’re talking about. Or he was a child when he did this. He took the lives of two people. And I think a child killing two people is always a tragedy, even if you think he was legally entitled to defend himself that night. There are even people who think he was morally entitled to do what he did. I still don’t think that makes it good. I don’t think it makes him a hero, and I think it’s disturbing to see the right kind of lionize him that way. And that’s really my takeaway from this whole case. It just reflects so poorly on our society. From the moment Rittenhouse decided to go to this protest, armed with this rifle, it has just been a deeply tragic and avoidable situation. And seeing these congressmen kind of reflect gleefully on what happened that day where people lost their lives, it’s really stomach-churning. So regardless of the legal outcome, I really would hope that all of us would reflect on what this entire situation says about our country and whether or not that’s what we want to say about our country.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s certainly does not make me feel good, particularly this last part that we’ve been talking about.


Josie Duffy Rice: Not at all. And that’s the latest for now. We back after some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: An estimated 40,000 people took part in a protest in Vienna, Austria, over the weekend against new COVID restrictions that the government is implementing to stem a record rise in cases. In recent days, the country announced a vaccination mandate for all adults set to begin in February. That is a first for any Western democracy, as a New York Times put it. And today, a nationwide lockdown will begin as well. There have been reports of other protests in various cities in Europe like Rotterdam, as the continent contends with sharply rising case rates in a number of places. And as the holiday season kicks off in the U.S., there are some similarly concerning metrics, with nationwide daily average cases close to 100,000 again, and states like Michigan once more seeing strains to hospital systems. Last Friday, the CDC backed booster shots of all COVID vaccines for Americans over 18, with greater emphasis on individuals over 50. This comes as infections countrywide have increased by an estimated 33% or so in the past couple weeks.


Josie Duffy Rice: Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was reinstated yesterday after the military arrested him during a coup on October 25th. Hamdok signed a deal with the army to end the bloody standoff, where in the past four weeks armed forces killed at least 40 anti-coup protesters. The military also agreed to release other government officials and politicians who they arrested during the takeover. The coup upended the country’s efforts to transition toward a democracy, but in a televised statement yesterday, the country’s top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said Hamdok will lead a restored transitional government until elections are held. As of now, it is unclear what exactly that means and how much power the government will hold. Despite Hamdan’s return, he is still under military oversight, and thousands took to the streets in the capital of Khartoum yesterday to demand the full, immediate transfer of power to civilians. Protesters waved the Sudanese flag and chanted quote, “Power is to the people.”


Gideon Resnick: In place of chubby cheeks, many of our nation’s would-be grandparents will be pinching air, because more childless adults in the US say they are unlikely to ever have kids. Wolf. This is according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, where 44% of participants said it’s not too likely or not likely at all that they’ll have kids someday. That is an uptick from a previous Pew survey, where 37% of childless adults said the same thing just three years ago. There is no one driving force behind this uptick, but the two factors most commonly cited by participants were medical and financial. It’s a nice economy we got here, but it’d be a shame if they got so expensive to survive in it that no new workers were born and it just collapsed. Wouldn’t it be just a shame? The U.S. birth rate has declined for six straight years. And in April, the Census Bureau said the country’s population grew at the second slowest rate for any decade since America’s founding.


Josie Duffy Rice: You know, Gideon kids are always asking for handouts, so . . .


Gideon Resnick: Cut ’em off.


Josie Duffy Rice: So in this country, we don’t do handouts.


Gideon Resnick: Yep, yep.


Josie Duffy Rice: Moral and ethical titan Justin Bieber may have slipped up when he accepted an invitation from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to perform in Saudi Arabia. Now, the fiancée of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi is calling on Bieber to cancel his show, which is set for the Formula One Grand Prix next month. In an open letter published this Sunday in The Washington Post, Hatice Cengiz urged Bieber to take a stand against the government responsible for Khashoggi’s assassination in 2018, writing quote, “This is a unique opportunity to send a powerful message to the world that your name and talent will not be used to restore the reputation of a regime that kills its critics.” Bieber is currently scheduled to headline alongside other big-name artists like Jason Derulo and A$AP Rocky. In 2019, Nicki Minaj pulled out of a concert in Saudi Arabia to show her support for freedom of expression. As we went to record last night, Bieber had yet to comment on the letter. If he condemns the crown prince any time in the next 10 years, he’ll still be doing it faster than any American president.


Gideon Resnick: That is brutal. Yeah, by default, I guess he is the American president. We’ll deal with the whole like he’s Canadian thing later. And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go, you can check out the latest episode of Offline with Jon Favreau.


Josie Duffy Rice: This week Stephen Colbert joins to defend his eight-hour a day screen habit—same—preach the benefits of a Twitter-free lifestyle—not same—and discuss some of the darkest days of American democracy look like behind the scenes at the Ed Sullivan Theater. New episodes of Offline drop every Sunday in the Pod Save America feed.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading, and not just the birth certificates of new babies like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And make our show president again!


Gideon Resnick: We deserve two terms at least. Don’t you like our repartee, or not?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah! What else do we have to do to prove to you guys that we should run the free world?


Gideon Resnick: Imagine if we did press conferences like this, it’d be a freaking riot.


Josie Duffy Rice: But nominal.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein. And our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon, Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.