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In his book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” Bryan Stevenson told the story of an unnamed elderly African American woman who was often present at the New Orleans courthouse where Stevenson made legal arguments on behalf of prisoners.
She told Stevenson, “I just come here to help people. This is a place full of pain, so people need plenty of help around here.”
Fifteen years earlier, the woman’s 16-year-old grandson was murdered. She attended the trial of the teenagers who were convicted of killing her grandson. “I didn’t know what to do with myself after those trials, so about a year later I started coming here. I guess I just felt like maybe I could be someone that somebody hurting could lean on ... When I first came, I’d look for people who had lost someone to murder or some violent crime. Then it got to the point where some of the ones grieving the most were the ones whose children or parents were on trial, so I just started letting anybody lean on me who needed it ... I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other,” she said.
Her story conveys a message to each of us that we can and should incorporate “stone catching” into the way we live our lives. As Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the renowned humanitarian, reminded us, “You must give some time to your fellow man. Even if it’s a little thing, do something for those who have need of help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it. Remember, you don’t live in a world all your own. Your brothers and sisters are here, too.”
The kind-hearted lady who comforted people at the New Orleans courthouse, Dr. Schweitzer’s endeavors on behalf of people and animals and, yes, Kyle Rittenhouse, too, are examples of “stone catchers” worthy of our respect and admiration.
I was happy and relieved that a jury on Nov. 19, after several days of deliberation, acquitted Rittenhouse of murder and other crimes. Jurors agreed that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense in the fatal shooting of two men and the wounding of another man during last year’s rioting in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
At trial, prosecutors made the point that Rittenhouse didn’t have to put himself in the midst of Kenosha’s chaos, that simply by being there with a Smith and Wesson AR-15 style rifle meant that Rittenhouse was a vigilante who provoked the circumstances that resulted in his being charged with murder and assault.
I was pleased that the jury rejected this and other unfounded claims made by prosecutors. I continue to believe that Rittenhouse was in Kenosha not to throw stones, but to be a “stone catcher” in a tortured city where there was a total breakdown in law and order. He was there to help protect people and property. He carried a rifle for protection, as well as a first-aid kit and a fire extinguisher to provide assistance to victims of the rioters’ violence. He also cleaned up graffiti. Rittenhouse didn’t react when he was verbally threatened and taunted. He fired his weapon only after he had been attacked. Rittenhouse had to protect himself, because he was in jeopardy of being killed or seriously harmed by the men he shot.
Last year, Fox News channel host Tucker Carlson asked, “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?” If Kenosha police had been allowed to maintain order, and if local officials had not been so tolerant of the rioters, I doubt that Rittenhouse would have felt the need to put himself in a nightmarish situation that, hopefully, will end now that a jury rightfully and courageously exonerated him.
Beyond the questions about Rittenhouse’s guilt or innocence, there are many other aspects of the trial that require closer scrutiny, including the false narratives designed to demonize Rittenhouse that were broadcast into the public forum, the demonstrators’ attempts to intimidate jurors into finding Rittenhouse guilty and prosecutorial misconduct that occurred during the trial.
I realize that the two men who were fatally shot by Rittenhouse left loved ones behind. If the nice lady who comforted people at the courthouse in New Orleans could have attended Rittenhouse’s trial, I’m sure she would have reached out to these people — just as I’m sure she would have comforted Rittenhouse’s family and friends prior to the jury’s verdict.
After the teens who killed her grandson were sentenced to lengthy imprisonment, she found herself feeling compassion even for the killers. She explained, “I sat in the courtroom after they were sentenced and just cried and cried. A lady came over to me and gave me a hug and let me lean on her. She asked me if the boys who got sentenced were my children, and I told her no. I told her the boy they killed was my grandchild. I think she sat with me for almost two hours. For well over an hour, we didn’t neither of us say a word. It felt good to finally have someone to lean on at that trial, and I’ve never forgotten that woman. I don’t know who she was, but she made a difference.”
I wish the New Orleans courtroom “stone catcher” could have caught some of the figurative stones that were thrown out at the courthouse in Kenosha, and could have comforted everyone there who needed to be comforted.
But, more than any other aspect of this case, the fact remains that Kyle Rittenhouse was a well-intentioned young man who volunteered to be a “stone catcher” in a troubled community. He acted in self-defense when he shot the men who had attacked him. If the jury had convicted Rittenhouse, he would have become the victim of a monumental miscarriage of justice.
Joel Freedman, of Canandaigua, is a frequent Messenger Post contributor.
This article originally appeared on MPNnow: Essay: Thoughts on the outcome of the Rittenhouse trial