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COMMENTARY: Rhetoric threatens society

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Following the delivery of the not guilty verdicts in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, many liberals in Congress, media and entertainment went into hyperdrive with hyperbolic irresponsible criticism.

Some attacked the judge and some attacked the jury. Most attacked “the system” they allege is broken. Ironically, most of those criticizing the verdict had, since the time of the killings, pushed defamatory misinformation about the incident and Rittenhouse.

This has become a “Covington kids 2.0." Unlike what was reported and repeated, Rittenhouse was not an “outsider” to Kenosha. His father and many relatives lived there, he worked there and it was only a 20-minute drive from his mother’s house.

From the evidence at trial, we learned Rittenhouse did not “cross state lines with an illegal weapon” as was misreported. The weapon charge had to be dropped, and the rifle was kept with his friend in Kenosha. Testimony, pictures, and video showed Rittenhouse in Kenosha cleaning graffiti, putting out fires in schools, churches and businesses.

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Videos showed Rittenhouse being chased down by Rosenbaum, a convicted child rapist just out of in-patient psychiatric treatment. Rosenbaum had threatened to kill Rittenhouse twice before charging him. The other two men shot were convicted felons, and both had attacked Rittenhouse while Rittenhouse was stunned and on the ground. The wounded attacker admitted Rittenhouse did not shoot him until he pointed a loaded pistol at Rittenhouse’s head.

This all contradicted the misreporting of Rittenhouse as a white supremacist attacking peaceful protesters. After the misreporting, the subsequent hyperbolic criticism of the American system of jurisprudence has the potential to destroy society. Let me explain.

First, in criminal trials, the prosecution bears the highest burden of proving “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." In civil trials, the standard is the much lower “preponderance of the evidence." This distinction answers why O.J. Simpson was found “not guilty” in his criminal trial yet lost his civil trial.

Famed British Jurist William Blackstone wrote the seminal book “Commentaries on the laws of England” in the 1760s, and it became the authority for American lawyers. According to Blackstone, “It is better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” in a criminal trial.

That sentiment was repeated by American founders, with Benjamin Franklin claiming it was better that “100 guilty persons” go free than to convict an innocent man. The system therefore provides many safeguards to help ensure innocent people are not convicted.

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One safeguard being that those facing charges of murder (or lesser homicide charges) have the ability to assert the privilege of self-defense. That’s what Rittenhouse did, and by Wisconsin law, the prosecution then bears to burden of proving the accused was not in reasonable fear of great bodily harm or death when exercising self-defense.

Those who saw the evidence at trial concluded Rittenhouse was in great fear when he fired his weapon. A doctrine of “provocation” (you cannot assert self-defense if you provoked the attack) was asserted, but the prosecution did not meet the burden of proving provocation.

The rhetoric attacking the “system” was unbelievable. Democratic Congresswoman Cory Bush went so far as to allege: “This system isn’t built to hold white supremacists accountable, it’s why Black and brown folks are brutalized and put in cages while white supremacists murderers walk free."

Democratic Congressman Adriano Espaillat similarly alleged: “A murderer is once again walking free today -- our system is terribly broken.”

This race bating not only causes violence and division, it’s factually as wrong as the misreporting before trial. On the day of the Rittenhouse verdict, African American Rayshondre Gartrell Tarver was found not guilty by reason of self-defense by a jury in Columbus, Georgia. This was despite Tarver having killed two men when he was trying to sell them drugs. Police argued that Tarver could not claim self-defense because he was committing a felony, but the jury disagreed.

Another African American man was found not guilty of killing police during a no-knock warrant by the privilege of self-defense. It happens all the time for all races, and claiming racism undermines the protections of all Americans.

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Our system of jurisprudence is the most fair possible, particularly in safeguards to prevent conviction of the innocent. Convicting the innocent is not only wrong but poses great danger of tearing apart society through perception of injustice. Exercise of self-defense is a right inherent in all humans.

An even greater danger comes with the kind of irresponsible rhetoric being spewed by those on the left over the Rittenhouse verdict. It drives the system to “mob justice” over ensuring the innocent are not convicted. It destroys the ethos of acceptance of the verdict of juries as the final determination of innocence.

Americans all benefit from both the peace of the system and the protections for all of us from conviction of the innocent. The attempts to undermine the system must stop now, before it’s too far gone to repair.

Bill Connor, a retired Army Infantry colonel, author and Orangeburg attorney, has deployed multiple times to the Middle East. Connor was the senior U.S. military adviser to Afghan forces in Helmand Province, where he received the Bronze Star. A Citadel graduate with a JD from USC, he is also a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Army War College, earning his master of strategic studies. He is the author of the book "Articles from War.”

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