By Gabriel Eskandari
WASHINGTON, DC – Olayemi Olurin, public defender at The Legal Aid Society in New York City, appeared on The Hill’s “Rising” show last week here to discuss the Rittenhouse verdict with hosts Ryan Grim and Robby Soave.
Olurin explained that she was not surprised by the verdict and that she believes it makes a mockery of the doctrine of self-defense.
“I think it goes against some modern understanding of self-defense, this idea that you can illegally obtain a gun, go to a place you have no business being where people are exercising their first amendment rights to protest police brutality, a movement that by all intents and purposes you don’t appear to support, to act in a manner you have no authority to act, to act as security for buildings and for business that you’ve never been to, that you don’t work for in a community that you don’t live in, and then when you kill multiple people in the process, you get to say that you were afraid,” said Olurin.
Olurin continued, stating, “A person who goes to an event armed with an AR15 to act voluntarily as security quite literally assumes the risk. They prepared for violence. They don’t get to then say they’re afraid.”
Olurin also mentioned that no one other than Rittenhouse killed anyone at the protest despite the characterizations of it supposedly being so dangerous and out of control.
“There’s been a lot said about Rosenbaum acting erratically throughout the night, and yet no one else harmed him,” Olurin said, referring to one of the people killed by Rittenhouse at the protest.
“Any New Yorker who’s ever ridden the subway a day in their life could tell you that…and I think this decision opens the gate to this kind of violence at protests and legitimizes it—the idea that an untamed man acting erratically can be shot to death. And the grounds will be that the person with an AR15 says it’s self-defense because what if they took my gun?” Olurin stated.
Olurin also mentioned the effort that has been put into keeping Black Lives Matter protests peaceful.
“Black Lives Matter became the largest civil rights movement in the country last year, with over 550 different places in the country having protests at the time, and in all of those protests and all those different locations, no Black Lives Matter protesters killed a single soul. And he (Rittenhouse) comes and he kills someone (two),” said Olurin.
Robby Soave responded, stating, “There was widespread destruction, I mean, there was vandalism, there was fires, there was destruction of property … thankfully no one was murdered, but there was a lot of destruction, right?”
Olurin then replied, “Widespread destruction of buildings and property does not rise to the level of murder. It does not rise to the same level of a threat at a protest that someone with a gun and kills somebody does.”
Ryan Grim then revisited Olurin’s comment about the subway:
“So let’s say that you do take an AR15 onto the subway, and like Olayemi said, anybody who’s ridden that subway knows that in every 10th car or so you’re going to encounter somebody who may be going through some type of mental health crisis, and those chances seem to have gone up since the pandemic … now this guy going through this episode comes near you, you genuinely are concerned that he’s going to take the gun from you. You shoot and kill him. Do we want that to be legal?” Grim asked.
Soave responded, “Let’s regulate mentally ill people on the subway. Let’s not have mentally ill people on the subway, that’s the first order problem … mental health resources should be made available so there aren’t mentally ill people on the subway. That’s a huge problem on its own without bringing guns into it.”
Olurin then stated, “My analogy was meant to put forward this reality: people ride the subways, they see people like this, they see people like Rosenbaum and what was described, and those encounters go off without anybody being killed. People go about their business because they didn’t have a weapon. They have no reason to resort to violence. And what we’re really talking about is how this incentivizes violence, not a cause to regulate mentally ill people.”
Grim then posed another scenario to the group, asking if the verdict had created a situation where if one person carrying a weapon kills someone in a parking garage or in an elevator, but there was no video or witnesses, would that person be able to walk free.
“I think so … I think it creates the possibility of that. The self-defense argument that would have seemed unlikely seems very possible, and I think people will factor that into their decision making processes, especially when you think of it in terms of protests,” Olurin stated.
Olurin continued, “People who weren’t inclined to use violence or maybe worried about how the law would respond will think ‘You know what, there’s a chance that I could get away with this, maybe it’s better for me to act violently first, you know, shoot first ask questions later, because I will say that I was afraid,’ and that’s my concern.”
Soave then argued, “Maybe people will feel safer if they have a weapon in a scenario where a mentally ill person is screaming at them, or confronting them, or getting aggressive with them.”
Olurin addressed this comment, stating, “The people that actually attend these protests, whose cause it actually is…do not feel that way, right? They see people that have mental health episodes…they didn’t feel the need to resort to this kind of violence. They didn’t feel to have a call to how we regulate who attends there.”
“I attend Black Lives Matter protests,” Olurin continued, “I don’t know about the rest of you, and if I see somebody mentally ill, I am not inclined to fear for my life or to want them to be removed or to be concerned about them being able to attend these protests, or to think that having an armed weapon would make this safer.”
“That is precisely the opposite of how I feel and I think that that is how the people who actually attend these movements and who actually should be there and have cause to be there feel,” Olurin added.