During closing arguments in Kyle Rittenhouse's murder trial Monday, the Kenosha County prosecutor said this: "I think we can all agree we shouldn't have 17-year-olds running around the street with AR-15s, because this is what happens."

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger was, of course, referencing the two men shot and killed by Rittenhouse and the third man wounded by the then-17-year-old during the chaos that enveloped Kenosha last August after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back by a white police officer.

At issue is whether Rittenhouse is a murderer or was acting in self-defense. Arguing the latter, defense attorney Mark Richards opted to make an utterly tasteless joke that referenced the Kenosha police officer who shot Blake seven times and was cleared of wrongdoing.

"Other people in this community have shot somebody seven times and it's been found to be OK," Richards said. "My client did it four times in three-quarters of a second to protect his life."

Look at those two statements. One suggests we all agree that 17-year-olds shouldn't be running around with AR-15s. The other uses a crass joke about a human getting shot seven times in an attempt to defend a 17-year-old for shooting someone four times.

Some will like the former, some will prefer the latter, and that sums up the state of our country about as well as anything.

As closing arguments wrapped up in an ornate, white-walled courtroom at the Kenosha County Courthouse, the snarling words of Richards, the defense attorney, echoed in my head: "Last time I checked, this is still the United States of America."

It sure is. And this case has plopped America in front of a mirror. The reflection isn't pretty. It shows a complicated, angry and divisive country, a loosely bound whole made of two sides wholly incapable of lining up.

I want to believe Rittenhouse will pay for his decision to place himself in the chaos of Kenosha armed with a powerful rifle. I want to believe he will pay a price for taking two lives, and that price will deter other Americans from taking up arms and deputizing themselves to do the work of law enforcement.

But I fear whatever happens to Rittenhouse won't make a lick of difference. If the jury finds him not guilty on all counts, people convinced he's guilty will call it a travesty of justice. If the jury finds him guilty on all or even some counts, his supporters will cry foul and declare him a political prisoner.

The closing day of the trial only served to highlight our diverging realities.

Often using the same pieces of video, the prosecution and defense showed jurors clip after clip from the night of the shootings, each claiming what the jurors were seeing wasn't what the opposing attorney claimed.

"There is a huge open space to run if the defendant wants to get away," Binger said, showing jurors where Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum.

Describing the same scene, Richards, the defense attorney, said of Rittenhouse: "He turns because he has no place else to go."

Binger showed video of the chaotic scene and described Rittenhouse as "an active shooter."

Later, Richards showed similar video and said Rittenhouse was fleeing a mob, saying: "The state wants to call my client an active shooter, and the reason they want to do that is because of the loaded connotations of that word."

Binger showed video clips of Anthony Huber, who struck Rittenhouse with his skateboard before Rittenhouse shot and killed him, arguing the threat Huber presented wasn't worthy of a deadly response.

Richards showed the video and claimed the skateboard-wielding Huber was "trying to take his head off."

The mental whiplash of watching videos and facts pulled in opposite directions made me feel less like I was in a courtroom and more like I was in a real-life Twitter feed.

The jury focused intently on the attorneys' arguments, but I took a moment to drift and think: This is America right now. Two people can look at the same thing and each will see something entirely different.

Binger, in his closing arguments, described Rittenhouse and the heavily armed men who descended on Kenosha as protests and riots broke out as "wannabe soldiers, acting tough" and "trying to feed off everything we were going through."

I think that's an apt description. There's a pervasive sickness in this country -- or maybe it's just overpowering insecurity -- that leads people to think a big gun and the Second Amendment grants them the right to walk around a Target or a Starbucks or the chaotic streets of a city in crisis like Rambo in blue jeans.

I don't get that inclination. I'll never get it. But it exists.

And as sure as I just wrote those words, people will fire off angry emails telling me how wrong I am, saying they have every right to carry their big guns around and calling me gutless.

That's who we are, I suppose. It ain't pretty.

And the verdict in this complex, divisive case isn't likely to make us look any better.


Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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