David Bernstein
David Bernstein
Free speech proponent in the Jewish world

Jewish Organizations Should Not Condemn the Rittenhouse Trial Verdict

It didn’t take long for a progressive Jewish organization–Bend the Arc–to condemn the Rittenhouse verdict. “This verdict,” they assert, “is yet more proof of how the system is designed to protect racist vigilantism.”  I suspect they had their statement at the ready in anticipation of a not guilty verdict. It was, after all, an obvious call. I hope that other progressive Jewish groups don’t do the same. 

First, trials are not plebiscites for your (or my) favorite social justice causes. They are proceedings meant to determine if a particular individual broke the law based on the beyond reasonable doubt standard. I would not want to live in a country where that wasn’t the case and I suspect you wouldn’t either. Due process protects everyone, including–especially–vulnerable minorities. 

Second, if you paid attention to what was actually shown in video footage in Kenosha and not what most of the mainstream media reported, you would know that Rittenhouse didn’t kill any black people, didn’t cross state lines with a gun, wasn’t shown to be motivated by white supremacy, and plausibly acted in self-defense. Obviously, no one should be parading around with AR-15 style rifles, let alone a 17 year old. But our gun laws are another problem altogether. It doesn’t make Rittenhouse guilty of murder. 

Sadly, the mainstream media proved itself no more reliable than right-wing outlets in its disastrous coverage driven by a favored narrative. The facts took a back seat. We have a real crisis in what Jonathan Rauch called our “reality based institutions,” and mainstream media is no exception.   

Third, it’s troubling that so many progressives do not take seriously the problem of lawlessness in Kenosha and other places. Such lawlessness inevitably leads to vigilantism. I one time casually raised the outbreak of anarchy in cities in a discussion with progressive Jewish professionals and the possible danger such anarchy poses to our democracy. The sanctimous chorus that ensued made it clear that such ideas were beyond the pale. 

If law enforcement won’t–or can’t–protect communities, people will rightly or wrongly step into the vacuum to protect themselves and their property. Is that the society you want to live in? I don’t. People in marginalized communities manifestly don’t and have made it clear in every survey and at the polls.

We can only hope that Jewish leaders stand by their historic principles valuing due process and civil liberties.  The faddish passions of the day are just that.

About the Author
David Bernstein is the founder of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values and is a former CEO of Jewish advocacy organizations.
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