Finding compassion, even if it is not deserved

The jury is still out - literally - on the fate of Kyle Rittenhouse as we go to press Wednesday afternoon.

I've been angry with Rittenhouse since I first saw the videos of him roaming the streets of Kenosha with his AR-15 rifle after he killed two men and injured a third. He became, for me, a sort of symbol of all the terrible things that had been happening the summer of 2020. Lives were being destroyed by police and protesters and a worldwide pandemic.

As I watched the clips of the 17-year-old, clutching his gun, he became the object of my hate and disdain. How idiotic was it for him to think he could take a semi-automatic weapon to a riot and nothing bad would happen?

I saw him again on TV this week, sobbing as he took the stand in his own defense. And I felt something much different than hate. I felt compassion.

I have no way of knowing whether his tears were genuine or coached. I don't know whether he feels any remorse for what happened or whether he would act in the same way if a similar situation arose again. But instead of a killer, I saw a young man, a boy, really, whose life has been unalterably changed.

I also feel for the 12 jurors who must decide who initiated the aggression and whether Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. I'm glad I'm not the judge who will have to sentence him if he's convicted.

And I'm relieved I'm not his mother, whom I also saw sobbing on television and who also is being judged during this trial. Something must have gone wrong at home for him to turn out this way, right? Haven't we all thought that at some point? And yet the longer I am a parent, the less likely I feel qualified to evaluate someone else's parenting.

I still have a host of unanswered questions. Why did he want an AR-15 rifle? Why did his friend buy it for him? What was his true motivation to go to Kenosha in the first place?

I also recognize it's quite possible Rittenhouse does not deserve my compassion. I have no explanation for some of his behavior prior to that night, nor do I understand why he called a friend instead of 9-1-1 after he shot Joseph Rosenbaum. But even if he is as bad as his worst enemy imagines him to be, I can still feel compassion for him. I think, like forgiveness, compassion is more about the person who bestows it than the person on whom it is being bestowed.

I made a lot of poor decisions when I was 17. Fortunately none of them involved a semi-automatic weapon - or a weapon of any kind. And none of them resulted in anyone's death.

Rittenhouse's decision to insert himself in the Kenosha riots last August will affect him for the rest of his life. Even if he doesn't spend a single day in jail, which seems unlikely, he will have to live with the fact that he has taken the life of two fellow human beings.

I doubt he feels the full weight of that now, especially with the self-defense narrative he and his attorneys have crafted. But I do believe he will have to come to terms with that night at some point in his life. And I don't think it will be easy.

- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean