COLUMN: Vigilante justice is not American

Randy Gibson

This past week saw the wrapup in the homicide case of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old who shot and killed two protesters last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during the city’s riots. This case, and many others before it, show the complexity of the laws we have in America.

America is supposedly a land of freedom and opportunity, and a place where individuals have basic God-given rights as guaranteed in the Constitution. These include things such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as stated in the Declaration of Independence. We also have rights to protect ourselves and our property, and Americans are not subject to simply lying down to mob-based actions and mentality, especially when their actual lives are in true danger.

As has become the norm, the American media thrives on the reporting of sensational stories, and many of today’s reporters and talking-head anchors have often taken it as their obligation to give personal opinions, thus serving as either prosecutors or defense lawyers, as well as judge and jury, when reporting on tragic stories of this type.

We seem to live in a day reminiscent of the American frontier and the Wild West, wherein if media pundits judge someone guilty, it becomes a “get-a-rope” mentality for millions who neither understand the law nor have all the facts of the case. Even worse, many jurists look at cases and wrongly think ahead out of fear of more rioting and mob violence if a case doesn’t go the way the media has already deemed it should.

The presumption of innocence, or being innocent until proved guilty, is widely known and considered a basic right to someone accused of a crime. While the phrase is not technically written in the Constitution, the Fifth and 14th Amendments deal with “due process,” meaning that the government cannot deprive you of your freedom or property unless they adhere to the processes of the law. It is therefore understood that a person has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty through the due process of the legal system. According to legal scholars, it is a constitutional right, even if it is not directly stated as such.

The rights of Americans also ensure they will not be convicted of a crime unless the prosecutor proves they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This places a high burden of proof in criminal cases, and is related to the presumption of innocence, hopefully ensuring the defendant receives a fair trial.

Some defendants have started fighting back against the vigilante media, such as was in the case of Nicholas Sandmann, who sued CNN and other national outlets over accusations of racism made against him following an encounter with a Native American activist in Washington, D.C. CNN eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money.

In the Rittenhouse case, even the judge is being attacked for making rulings that are legal, including blasting the prosecutor for raising questions involving Rittenhouse’s constitutional rights. Many think this attack is happening because the media has already decided the case.

It’s no secret that Rittenhouse broke many laws and made many bad decisions on that night, and he is subject to being charged with several crimes, including crimes involving a firearm. However, it is up to the prosecutor to file the correct charges based on the facts of the investigation, and then prove beyond doubt that the kid is indeed guilty of those crimes. Until then, he is presumed innocent, regardless of the opinion of the vigilante media, and we as Americans should be grateful.

Randy Gibson is the CEO of RDG Communications and the former director of the Tahlequah Chamber of Commerce and the Texas State Rifle Association.

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