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Bender: We don't just get to 'lock them up'

In America, we don't get to just lock Kyle Rittenhouse up. No, there had to be a process. A public examination. Charges had to be filed and those charges had to be addressed in a court of law. In many countries, Rittenhouse would have been perfunctorily imprisoned, but in America, we don't lock up terrible people just because they're terrible. No, we jail them when a serious crime can be proven.

Tony Bender 2021.jpg
Tony Bender, North Dakota columnist
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You wouldn't have felt good about it. If you're a humanist and Kyle Rittenhouse had gone to prison for 60 years it would've gnawed at you.

If you're a zealot to whom the concept of an armed child driven into the fray across state lines by his mother seems reasonable, you'd have called it a miscarriage of justice. And it would've been under an American legal system predicated upon the ideal that the accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

That didn't happen. When it boiled down to the question of homicide or self-defense, murder couldn't be conclusively proven. The system worked. Oh, we're not talking about moral justice and high-minded concepts taught in Sunday school, we're talking about criminal justice.

In America, we don't get to just “lock him up” because his unformed mind's been polluted by extremism, because he and his doltish mother manufactured the circumstance in which two men died and another was maimed for life by the kid's AR-15. No, there had to be a process. A public examination. Charges had to be filed and those charges had to be addressed in a court of law.

In many countries, Rittenhouse would have been perfunctorily imprisoned, but in America, we don't lock up terrible people just because they're terrible. If that were the case, I'd lock up Taylor Swift. No, we jail them when a serious crime can be proven.

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Beyond. A. Reasonable. Doubt.

Anything less, and we become the vigilantes we abhor, the extremists we fear will be emboldened by this legal outcome. Welcome to America. But I'll tell you what, if your life were on the line, you'd want every legal protection afforded this addled kid. He got the due process and outcome we'd want in his shoes, even as we wonder, had he been black, would the outcome have been the same? It's a worthy question. After all, Jacob Blake was shot seven times.

In the back.

By a cop in Kenosha.

And that's what started all of this.

But let's suppose for a moment, moralists, that you'd gotten your wish, that the kid was put away for life. Wouldn't that be an admission that we could brand a 17- or 18-year-old kid irredeemable? He's certainly no hero. He's not Rambo. He's just a dumb, impressionable kid.

Yes, some people are irredeemable, and sometimes we elect them president, but that's the exception and not the rule. Now, as the kid's lured by the siren call of extremists, elected and otherwise, who would use him for political gain — the Matt Gaetzes and Proud Boys of this world — he may well become irredeemable. But where else would he go? Into the arms of the sideline hypocrites ostracizing him now? Or is it within us to offer the Christian grace we so often accuse others of lacking?

Are your eyes open? Do you get it now? We're all on trial, here.

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As for Rittenhouse, it's not over. The kind of moral justice you seek may well take place in civil court. That won't resurrect the men he killed, but that's the way it is in America — we calculate the value of lives lost and demand compensation. It's the best we can do.

It's the best the system can do.

We know, though, don't we, that we can all do better.

Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this publication, nor Forum Communications ownership.

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