I Beg Your Pardon

Redemption = atonement + forgiveness 

People tend to think of justice in black and white terms: guilty or not guilty, did they or didn’t they?

In truth, however, many crimes are a combination of contributing factors, some going way back before a defendant was born: abuse, ignorance, poor parenting, generational poverty, etc. When I looked at Kyle Rittenhouse on the stand, I saw one more young man pushed to his breaking point by circumstances he could not possibly be expected to navigate at this stage in his cognitive development.

Kyle Rittenhouse was just 17 years old when he shot those protesters. His trial focused on self-defense, which is beside the point. The real issue here is how this kid felt so threatened by civil rights protests that he armed himself with a lethal weapon to confront an enemy that doesn’t exist. Far-Righters love to throw around the idea of “Antifa” like it’s a terrorist organization but, sorry, it’s just short for “anti-fascist”, which describes many Americans, including WWII veterans.

Rittenhouse’s mortal fear of democracy in action didn’t happen overnight, nor was it born into him. His social and political views were learned from authority figures and reinforced by his experiences in one of the most highly-segregated parts of the US. When you don’t know your neighbors, it’s easy to believe the worst about them, and hard not to act upon these fears. Rittenhouse’s deadly over-reaction shows how misinformation spread by Right Wing media can be dangerous, especially in the mind of a teenage boy, all hopped up on testosterone for the first time in his life.

Yet his trial exposed none of this, and in the end boiled down to media sound bites about Stand Your Ground statutes. None of that mattered. In this judicial model, right or wrong is not the issue so much as what the law allows. And either way, white supremacy wins: guilty, he’s a martyr; acquitted, he’s a hero. Indeed, since he was freed, Rittenhouse has been toasted in conservative media and feted by Trump at Mara Largo.

But he’s not a hero, or a sociopath for that matter. He’s a confused kid who has twice committed the worst act a human can inflict upon another. No jury verdict can erase those memories that will haunt him the rest of his life. The court system may have released Rittenhouse from jail, but he’ll never be free until he’s able to move past the toxic people and perspectives that steered him wrong that night in Kenosha.

What if I told you there’s an alternative approach to justice that flips the focus on criminal behavior from guilt and punishment to accountability and payback? I should probably use the word “restitution”, but for many victims this is unrealistic. No amount of cash can un-abuse a child or bring a loved one back from the dead, and furthermore, yes! Restorative justice does empower victims to exact their own toll from those who’ve done them wrong.

People affected by crime get to tell off the person responsible – first through an intermediary, and then face-to-face, in the safety of a moderated conversation. Individuals express and explain themselves. Questions are answered until everyone’s satisfied. Apologies and emotions often come tumbling out, with tears from both sides of the table.

When they’re ready to move forward, the victims themselves get to suggest ways the offender could address some of the damage they’ve done. Caseworkers, prosecutors, and others weigh in. The judge’s sentence officially recognizes the consensus for what can be done to make amends and prevent the same thing from happening in the future. Typical requirements include therapy, education, compensation, and community service.

Fully 85% of victims who go thru the process are satisfied with the outcomes. Restorative justice also leads to a drop in re-offending: seems people who couldn’t care less about their police record truly feel bad when they realize the pain their crimes have caused. More than 35 states offer some form of restorative justice – including PA and WI — and we know that it works (although “tough on crime” programs get much more funding & attention).

The Rittenhouse case would’ve been a great opportunity to showcase restorative justice. Prosecutors could’ve offered a plea deal he couldn’t refuse and avoided the media circus; taught the kid some history, empathy & understanding. Unfortunately, our injustice system instead made a boy killer famous and released him to society without so much as an anger management class. And now I guess we’ll all pretend to be surprised when he shoots another demonstrator.

Should Kyle Rittenhouse be in prison? Hell no. But neither should any of the 50,000+ youth currently behind bars in the US. Punishment alone fails to address the root cause of juvenile crime. Restorative justice provides young people a path to a fresh start, along with important tools like communication and reconciliation skills that will help them throughout their lives. There is no better investment in our future. Peace.

Agree? Disagree? Leave your comment below. Please follow the links in this article for deeper dives; use mediabiasfactcheck.com to verify sources and follow our five “BS Busters” to sniff out fake news like a champ. 

Read Dr. Woodson’s last column here. 

About Lorenzo Woodson 37 Articles
Dr. Lorenzo Woodson (Ph.D., RBT, CC, LBS) is a licensed behavior analyst specializing in clients on the autism spectrum. He lives in Germantown with his wife of 24 years, and lectures nationally for social causes. Lorenzo is a member of Men Who Care of Germantown. Connect with Lorenzo on Facebook or email him at drwoodson@nwlocalpaper.com.


  1. This is the most partisan op-ed article I’ve ever read. Sickening and disgusting. Due process worked; he was fairly tried and convicted despite a fast-tracked indictment less than 48 hours after he was forced to defend his right to life. Perhaps if the authorities enforced law and order and not stood down, Rittenhouse wouldn’t have felt compelled to defend a community with which he identified. Is that how you describe a civil rights protest? Looting, rioting, committing arson? Useful idiots you are.

    • Idiots? Really? Sounds like someone could use some therapy and communication skills. Not sure why the idea of reconciliation is so “partisan” to you — restorative justice could work for the Jan 6 rioters, as well — but I’ll chalk it up to reading comprehension issues. Thank you for your comment, good luck with that anger.

    • What a pathetic man-child. No wonder you folks are pretending this lying, ass murderer is a hero. You guys would be hilarious if you weren’t such violence-loving wackjobs.

  2. Hello Joe, we are grateful that you took time to really read the opinion piece. You stated that the piece was partisan, sickening and disgusting, and that due process worked. But you left out some important details, that show that Rittenhouse was not tried but went through biased legal process, rife with racial bias which was present in the jury selection, the exclusion of character evidenced, that pointed to Rittenhouse supporting ractical extremism. There was so much white protective stench for the white boy it could over power a skunk. There was no justice for the people he murdered, only protection for the killer. What is your idea of enforcing the law? Is it locking up all non-white, Anglo Protestants from destroying property. Well let me remind you, by your comment, I infer that you would not know fair justice if it was given to yourself. Because it appears that your view on this Rittenhouse debacle proves that. Folk that think like you perpetuate partisan maligning. Brown people have put up with such ignorance and innocent folk lost their freedom and lives behind your type of thinking and behavior. You will never be able to subdue your inner hatred until it happens to you. Sad state your in if you think Rittenhouse received fair justice. But keep reading. Read Francis Cress Welsing: The Isis Papers try and stop being so bottled up let go my brother.

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