TGIF: Kyle Rittenhouse on Trial

Plus: The recall of San Francisco's DA; why Gen Z is sick and unhappy; and this week’s best reads.

Kyle Rittenhouse waits for the jury to enter the room during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on November 10, 2021. (Sean Krajacic-Pool/Getty Images)

Welcome back to TGIF. We’ve got the news we can’t stop talking about (mostly on the theme of public safety), a few good reads, and a summary of this week in Common Sense.

You’ll also find a short interview with a longtime progressive prosecutor who quit the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and has joined the effort to recall him. 

First, the biggest story of the week:

Rittenhouse trial: Kyle Rittenhouse is on trial this week for killing two and wounding one during the Kenosha riots of August 2020. The Common Sense team has been glued to the courtroom livestream, which shows a trial going very badly for the prosecution.

Perhaps you saw this clip, in which the prosecution’s star witness, Gaige Grosskreutz, admitted that Kyle Rittenhouse did not fire at him until he pointed his own weapon at Rittenhouse:

Or this one, in which the judge dressed down the prosecutor:

Or this one:

The jury is expected to begin deliberations as soon as tomorrow, and lots of folks who know more about the law than I do are expecting an acquittal.

I keep coming back to two themes.

The first is just the yawning chasm between the press narrative about what happened that night in Wisconsin—what the conventional, proper-thinking wisdom was—and what actually seems to have happened. The smart set insisted that Kyle Rittenhouse was a MAGA-loving vigilante who went to Kenosha to kill BLM supporters. Remember that the President of the United States seemed to imply Rittenhouse was a “white supremacist” in a campaign video

The divide between the coverage and the reality—Rittenhouse appears to have a solid self-defense case—is stark. For more on that, the writer Jesse Singal articulates it best. (Though I also appreciated hedge fund manager Bill Ackman’s Twitter thread, which was so off-message that a journalist apparently called him to see if he had been hacked.)

The second thing I keep thinking about is that the events of that night show the abolish-police vision in action. When the defund advocates talk about what replaces policing, they talk about community-led safety. They talk about neighbors and friends stopping crimes, relying on themselves. But what does abolishing the police look like in practice? What happens when the police really do stand down and let fires burn as they did last summer?

It looks a lot like Kyle Rittenhouse. It looks like a teenager seeing chaos and getting pretty convinced that stopping it falls on his shoulders. It looks like heavily armed, untrained local dads defending shops and homes because no one else will. AOC told us the police-free life looked like “a suburb.” The implication is that street violence is somehow imposed by cops. Take away the police and, like magic, no more problems. Kenosha suggests that is very much not the case.

A prosecutor who won’t prosecute. Like everyone from San Francisco, I have been following the recall campaign against ultra-progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin compulsively. My hometown has become the kind of place where deodorant is under lock and key at Walgreens. Crime has been a problem in San Francisco for a while, but the recent unraveling is, in part, thanks to Boudin, who swept into office on a campaign of utopian reforms, supported with funding from George Soros. 

Two years in, people are pissed. This week, the recall initiative made it onto the ballot.

But the biggest indictment of Chesa came from inside his own office. Two prosecutors, Brooke Jenkins and Don Du Bain, resigned and joined the effort to recall their old boss. Both claim Boudin prevented them from doing their jobs and that the office failed to properly prosecute crimes, including murders.

Du Bain, who’d been a prosecutor for 30 years, spoke to NBC Bay Area’s Bigad Shaban to share the story of a case in which a man was convicted of shooting his girlfriend in the stomach. Du Bain claims that Boudin ordered him to request a more lenient sentence, which would have violated state statutes. “I was asked to essentially defy the law,” Du Bain told NBC.

I called up Brooke Jenkins. She worked in the DA’s office for seven years, most recently in the homicide unit. She is black and Latino and identifies as a progressive. But she says Boudin is a twisted version of that word: “I’m a progressive prosecutor, but I’ve watched that term be distorted into just simply failing to prosecute crime at all. That’s not what that term means. When we make a policy decision supposedly to benefit communities of color but, in effect, it leaves victims of color, that’s where I take issue,” she added. 

Jenkins said she loved her job helping find justice for families grieving a loved one’s homicide. I asked how she feels about becoming a whistleblower.

“I put a target on my back,” Jenkins told me. “He will try to come after me. But I’ve watched as my colleagues and myself have felt unable to do our jobs and to provide justice within this system. Someone had to explain just how Chesa is responsible for what we’re seeing.”

Jenkins and Du Bain are two of a reported 51 lawyers who have left the DA’s office since Boudin took over.

Buddy system: Seattle, which is continuing to defund its police department, is becoming so dangerous for workers downtown that the city is offering public servants a special safety program. Workers gather at specific times (4:40 PM, 5:05 PM, etc), and dedicated security escorts walk them as a group to the bus and ferry. 

Mental health: 71% of Gen Z says poor physical health kept them from doing their usual activities, while only 38% of Baby Boomers said the same. The survey, conducted by the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, is haunting. Younger people feel sicker and unhappier than older people by wide margins. 

There’s a new book out called “The End of Trauma” that I plan to steal from Bari’s nightstand and read this weekend. It’s by Columbia psychologist George A. Bonanno, and it’s about how people are way more resilient than we believe. Maybe it will help me better understand the chart above.


Interesting Reads:

Don’t Blame Judge Schroeder if Kyle Rittenhouse Goes Free, published in Slate. 

When You Condone Chaos, You Condone the Consequences of Chaos: It’s our old friend, the inevitable consequences of our own beliefs, by Freddie deBoer, whose Substack has quickly become essential reading. He writes beautifully about the horror of what happened in Kenosha and why celebrating riots might have backfired.

Commonsense Solidarity: How a Working-Class Coalition Can Be Built, and Maintained, by Jacobin Magazine, whose socialist editors are trying to figure out how they lost the American working class.

This Week on Common Sense:

We Can’t Wait for Universities to Fix Themselves. So We’re Starting a New One. Pano Kanelos explains why he left his post as president of St. John’s College, in Annapolis, to build a new school in Austin, Texas. This story took off like wildfire.

You’re Already Living in the Metaverse. Dave Chappelle is wrong, argues Antonio García Martínez. Twitter—and Instagram and Facebook and even this platform—are real life.

Andrew Yang on How to Avoid ‘Civil War 2.0’ The case for ranked-choice voting, open primaries, and third parties. Plus: Dave Chappelle, cryptocurrency, Critical Race Theory, the metaverse, Elon Musk, and more. 

The Rise of the Republican Class Warrior Peter Savodnik explains how the GOP ditched Reagan and trickle-down economics and became the party of Josh Hawley, J.D. Vance, Blake Masters and their new brand of populism.

A random bit: The most influential reporter at the New York Times, Nikole Hannah-Jones, has a new take on American history. This time, it’s World War II:

And a follow-up missive:


Thanks for reading. I’m curious what Common Sensers are reading, aside from, of course, Common Sense. What were your best reads of the week? Podcasts? Drop links below.

And . . . TGIF. May we all feel as physically healthy as a Baby Boomer.

See you next Friday.