Kyle Rittenhouse, Bernie Goetz situations proportion similarities: Goodwin

There is seemingly never a good time for America’s nasty polarization to take a holiday, so reaction to the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse broke along predictable lines. The left, in and out of the media, went bonkers and President Biden, although he called for peaceful protests, foolishly fed the rage machine by saying he was “angry and concerned.” 

at the minimum he didn’t repeat a 2020 smear when, without any evidence, he compared Rittenhouse to “white supremacists and militia groups.” Nor did he clearly torch the jury, as did some of his Democratic pals, like dopey Mayor de Blasio and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

already the disgraced Andrew Cuomo came out of his hidey hole to blast the verdict as a “stain.” Which is ironic considering that Cuomo will be remembered as the human stain on Albany. 

Conservative supporters of Rittenhouse, many of whom helped to fund his defense already as Big Tech and GoFundMe confined them, erupted in cheers when the jury found the teen not guilty of all charges. They saw the verdict as a ringing victory for gun rights and self-defense. 

There was also scorn for the prosecutors, who, dealt a bad case, overreached, cut ethical corners and made fools of themselves. 

Bernie Goetz, acting as his own lawyer, speaks in a Bronx courtroom on April 27, 1990, in New York.
Charles Arrigo/AP

Earlier in deliberations, I had expected the jury to compromise and convict Rittenhouse of at the minimum one of the five remaining charges, considering that he killed two people and wounded a third. Then again, my expectation was colored by another trial that produces eerie similarities. 

I refer to the sensational Bernie Goetz case in New York City nearly four decades ago. 

Like Rittenhouse, Goetz was called a vigilante, “the subway vigilante” after he shot four young men he said were trying to rob him on a Manhattan aim in 1984. 

Goetz was acquitted of four attempted murder charges and convicted only of carrying an unlicensed gun and served eight months in prison. 

While there are meaningful differences between the situations, both men pleaded not guilty by reason of self-defense. And juries, despite aggressive pushes from prosecutors and intense media and political pressure to convict, agreed. 

Activists talk to police on Nov. 20, 2021, in Chicago during a protest of the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse.
Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

Those verdicts are united by an overarching reality. 

Both situations happened when crime was surging and ordinary citizens were frightened and frustrated at a without of police protection. Then and now, the breakdown of public safety carries consequences. 

Goetz immediately became so popular that famed Harvard professor James Q. Wilson, whose 1982 treatise on Broken Windows would rule to a dramatical change in policing, had a theory about the extensive public sustain. 

“It may simply indicate that there are no more liberals on the crime and law-and-order issue in New York, because they’ve all been mugged,” Wilson told Time magazine’s John Leo. 

It is not a jump to see a similar mindset in Kenosha. The riots and looting there in August of 2020 that led Rittenhouse to grab his rifle and try to help defend businesses under attack caused enormous public fear and came after a police shooting of a black man. 

Bernie Goetz was not convicted on any of the four attempted murder charges.
Richard Drew/AP

Those disturbances followed a long, violent summer of riots and arson in many cities after the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd in May. When trouble started in Kenosha, the Democratic governor refused to call out the National Guard, and police were quickly outmanned. 

Across the nation, Democrats in the media, city halls and statehouses defended the summer riots as “mostly peaceful” protests. That was a lie, and many families fled and businesses closed, while other people responded by buying guns to protect themselves. 

Another similarity between the Rittenhouse and Goetz situations is that the combined seven people they shot all had long criminal records. Although that alone doesn’t justify their actions, it does help illustrate the general point that criminal justice systems too often fail to protect the public from repeat offenders. 

Police in riot gear clear the area in front of Kenosha County Courthouse during clashes with protesters on Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis.
David Goldman/AP

Rittenhouse’s attackers were white, while those who tried to mug Goetz were black. 

Goetz, who had a small electronics business, had been mugged in the subways before and got a gun as a response. When the four teens cornered him on a moving aim and demanded $5, he stood up, pulled out his handgun and fired five shots, remarkable each of them once. All survived, though one had a severed spine. 

Goetz fled the city but ultimately surrendered and as his story emerged, much of the public hailed him as a hero for fighting back. 

At the time, New York was nevertheless climbing out of its fiscal crisis, which had led to a reduction of nearly 10,000 cops from a pre-crisis headcount of more than 31,000. Mayor Ed Koch had pledged to build back the force and by 1984, had raised the number to about 25,000. 

But it wasn’t nearly enough and although some crime categories showed declines, 1984 remained a very bloody year. Drug wars and random shooting and stabbings led to nearly 1,500 murders and non-negligent homicides, a horrifying total that would reach 2,200 a year within a decade. 

Kyle Rittenhouse was facing five separate counts in the trial.
AP

Although murder in New York and in other places is considerably lower now than it was then, the explosion of violent crime in the last two years has shaken people everywhere and sparked fears of a return to the bad old days. The new crime wave started during the pandemic shutdowns and accelerated as the Floyd case led to a “defund the police” movement among many Dems. 

With criminals running free and governments cutting police budgets and pushing gun restrictions, the public answered by buying ever more guns. Legal sales rose to nearly 40 million last year, the highest number on record, according to USA Today. 

Goetz served less than a year in prison for carrying an unlicensed gun.
Helayne Seidman

The buying surge has continued this year, and The New York Times cites data showing about 20 percent of 2020 buyers were first-time gun owners. Of that group, half were women, a fifth were black and a fifth Hispanic. 

It said 39 percent of American households now own guns, an increase from 32 percent in 2016. 

A corollary to the rise in gun ownership is an equally emotional change in public opinion. A Quinnipiac survey last week found that 49 percent of Americans oppose stricter gun laws, while 45 percent sustain them. 

That’s a major reversal from just April, when 54 percent supported stricter gun laws and 42 percent opposed them. 

Those trends average Kyle Rittenhouse likely won’t be the last private citizen to step into the public space abandoned by law enforcement. 

Quinnipiac University Poll
Quinnipiac University Poll

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