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Mick Scott: Nothing left but sawdust and some glitter
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Mick Scott: Nothing left but sawdust and some glitter

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Kyle Rittenhouse enters the courtroom after a break at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Kyle Rittenhouse broke down and cried.

The 17-year-old defendant was on the witness stand, reciting the events of that fateful night last year when he left his home, crossed the state line from Illinois into Wisconsin and ...

Well, you know. You know as much about it as I do, maybe more.

The TV was on in the office, more for background noise than anything. When Rittenhouse’s voice hesitated, when he began sobbing, it caught my attention and I looked up. 

The judge quickly called for a break.

There’s a lot to dislike about this trial, in which closing arguments are due Monday. The behavior of both the judge and the prosecutor have been called into question, as well as Rittenhouse’s testimony. There’ve been enough oddities that it may end in mistrial.

And like too many matters these days, it has divided the American people sharply. Rittenhouse is either a courageous hero who defended himself from marauding rioters or a mixed-up kid who went looking for trouble and wound up murdering two unarmed men and wounding another — and almost got away with it. Still might.

Rittenhouse’s breakdown stayed with me throughout the day. And I soon began to hear that many on the left thought the incident was phony, a bit of court theater intended to elicit sympathy from the jury. Theories were developed based on the lack of moisture on his face and the direction in which he turned his eyes when he was heaving.

He was thoroughly mocked. Actor/director Ken Olin put it most dramatically in a tweet: “I’ve seen great acting, and I’ve seen bad acting, but I’ve never seen anything like Kyle’s performance yesterday. It was such a travesty, such a grotesque imitation of remorse, that it can only be described as anti-acting.”

I’m no mind-reader, but if I had to choose, I’d guess that his breakdown was genuine. Because it’s just not surprising to me that any human being would react that way.

It’s not surprising to me that someone who kills another, even in self-defense, should feel guilt, remorse, sorrow. Despite what movies and video games tell us, I don’t think it’s easy to kill another person. It would haunt many of us. I don’t think, for even the most stoic soul, it can be done with no emotional consequence or repercussion. It shouldn’t surprise us for even the most judicious police officer or soldier to find himself or herself awake in the middle of the night, mentally replaying a deadly event, uncontrollably obsessing over what could have been done differently. Such feelings are part of being human.

I suspect this is one reason our veterans come home, after witnessing and even committing atrocious and violent deeds — even if we declare them “justified” — and struggle with depression and PTSD, turn to alcohol and drugs.

This is one reason why the enthusiasm I sometimes see over “good guy with a gun” arguments both scares and saddens me. If killing can be done with no sense of the weight of ending a life, I think we’re getting into sociopathic territory.

But back to the breakdown. It’s also disturbing to me that some should choose the “faker” camp because it puts them in bad company.

Just last month in Tennessee, Grady Knox, a junior at Central Magnet School in Rutherford County, urged the school board to continue its masking policy. “This time last year, my grandmother, who was a former teacher at the Rutherford County school system, died of COVID because someone wasn’t wearing a mask,” he said.

Some of the adults in the crowd heckled him. One told him to “shut up.”

It’s not an isolated incident, unfortunately.

It’s not a new phenomenon, either. In 2016, President Obama teared up while talking about all the young lives lost to gun violence — first-graders in Newtown, Conn., among many others.

“Every time I think about those kids, it makes me mad,” he said, as he wiped tears from his face.

It was conservatives who heckled that time.

Me, I can’t understand how someone can think about all the children we’ve lost to gun violence and not cry.

Add to that the hundreds of thousands lost to COVID-19.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Jesus said.

By whom? Not by those who vociferously claim his name but not his compassion.

I could be wrong about Rittenhouse. Maybe it was all an act for the benefit of the jury, well-rehearsed and coached by professionals. Maybe it’ll sway the jury and he’ll be found not guilty.

If so, he gets to be an accomplished liar for the rest of his life.

As for me, believing him, I get to be just a little less cynical and cold-hearted.

I’ll take that deal.

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Michael Paul Williams — a columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch — won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary "for penetrating and historically insightful columns that guided Richmond, a former capital of the Confederacy, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling the city's monuments to white supremacy."

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