Arsonists set buildings ablaze and torched much of the black business district Monday in a second night of unrest in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, triggered by the wounding of a black man shot in the back by officers there.
Smoke billowed over central Kenosha after police in riot gear clashed with protesters who defied a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Monday night and into Tuesday morning, blocks away from where police gunned down Jacob Blake on Sunday. Police again fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters who defied a curfew, threw bottles and shot fireworks at law enforcement guarding the courthouse.
Jacob Blake, 29, is listed in serious condition in a Milwaukee hospital after a Kenosha police officer fired seven shots into his back while responding to a domestic disturbance call. The shooting occurred three months after the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who was pinned to the street under the knee of a white police officer, sparking nationwide protests against police brutality and racism in the United States.
There is no police body-cam footage of the Blake shooting as it was previously decided by city and law enforcement leaders that the devices cost too much to provide them to officers. But a mobile phone clip of the incident went viral on social media on Sunday, igniting widespread outrage three months after the death of George Floyd.
The shooting drew condemnation from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who also called out 125 members of the National Guard on Monday after protesters set cars on fire, smashed windows and clashed with officers in riot gear the previous night.
Police first fired tear gas Monday about 30 minutes after the 8 p.m. curfew took effect to disperse protesters who chanted, ‘No justice, no peace’ as they confronted a line of officers who wore protective gear and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the courthouse entrance. But hundreds of people stuck around, screaming at police and lighting fires, including to a garbage truck near the courthouse.
Meanwhile, details have emerged about Blake’s criminal past, including a recent arrest for sexual assault.
According to online records, Kenosha County prosecutors charged Blake with third-degree sexual assault, trespassing, and disorderly conduct in connection with domestic abuse. It was unclear whether that case had anything to do with the shooting.
In 2015, Blake was also charged with resisting arrest and carrying a concealed weapon after he pulled a gun at a local bar in Racine.
Police in the former auto manufacturing center of 100,000 people midway between Milwaukee and Chicago said they were responding to a call about a domestic dispute when they encountered Blake on Sunday.
They did not say whether Blake was armed or why police opened fire, they released no details on the dispute, and they did not immediately disclose the race of the three officers at the scene.
The man who said he made the cellphone video, 22-year-old Raysean White, said he saw Blake scuffling with three officers and heard them yell, ‘Drop the knife! Drop the knife!’ before the gunfire erupted. He said he didn’t see a knife in Blake’s hands.
The governor said he has seen no information to suggest Blake had a knife or other weapon, but that the case is still being investigated by the state Justice Department. The officers were placed on administrative leave, standard practice in a shooting by police. Authorities released no details about the officers and did not immediately respond to requests for their service records.
Tensions had flared anew earlier Monday after a news conference with Kenosha Mayor John Antarmian, originally to be held in a park, was moved inside the city’s public safety building.
Hundreds of protesters rushed to the building and a door was snapped off its hinges before police in riot gear pepper-sprayed the crowd, which included a photographer from The Associated Press.
Police first fired the tear gas about 30 minutes after the 8pm curfew took effect and protesters refused to disperse. But hundreds of people stuck around, lighting fires and screaming at police.
It is thought that the city, which is home to around 100,000 people, has so far lost a mattress store, church, Mexican restaurant and a cellphone shop in the raging fires, according to witnesses.
Dozens of cars, traffic lights and windows have also been smashed by looters who continue to run riot.
At least one sheriff’s deputy has suffered a neck injury by a firework that was set off by protestors, according to the New York Times. It is uncertain whether there have been any arrests.
Evers was quick to condemn the bloodshed, saying that while not all details were known, ‘what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.’
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said the officers ‘must be held accountable.’
‘This morning, the nation wakes up yet again with grief and outrage that yet another Black American is a victim of excessive force,’ he said, just over two months before Election Day in a country already roiled by the recent deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. ‘Those shots pierce the soul of our nation.’
Republicans and the police union accused the politicians of rushing to judgment, reflecting the deep partisan divide in Wisconsin, a key presidential battleground state. Wisconsin GOP members also decried the violent protests, echoing the law-and-order theme that President Donald Trump has been using in his reelection campaign.
‘As always, the video currently circulating does not capture all the intricacies of a highly dynamic incident,’ Pete Deates, president of the Kenosha police union, said in a statement. He called the governor’s statement ‘wholly irresponsible.’
Blake, 29, was listed in stable condition following surgery, his father told news media on Monday. His three young sons witnessed the shooting from just a few feet away while sitting in their car, according to the family attorney, Ben Crump.
Video of the encounter taken by an onlooker showed Blake walking toward the driver’s side of a gray SUV followed by two officers with their guns drawn at his back.
Seven gunshots are then heard as Blake, who appears unarmed, opens the car door and a woman nearby jumps up and down in disbelief.
It was unknown whether the officers saw something inside the vehicle that prompted them to shoot Blake. It was also not clear whether one or both officers opened fire.
City and law enforcement leaders in Kenosha had unanimously endorsed the use of body cameras in 2017 as a way to increase police accountability and collect evidence at scenes of domestic violence, among other benefits.
But they later balked at the price tag, raised policy concerns and put off implementation.
Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian confirmed on Monday that current plans call for the city to buy them in 2022 — more than five years after he endorsed their adoption.
Officers do have cameras in their squad cars, but it’s unclear whether any captured the shooting.
Blake’s partner, Laquisha Booker, told NBC’s Milwaukee affiliate, WTMJ-TV, that the couple’s three children were in the back seat of the SUV when police shot him.
‘That man just literally grabbed him by his shirt and looked the other way and was just shooting him. With the kids in the back screaming. Screaming,’ Booker said.
Blake’s grandfather, Jacob Blake Sr., was a prominent minister and civil rights leader in the Chicago area who helped organize a march and spoke in support of a comprehensive housing law in Evanston, Illinois, days after the 1968 slaying of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Rachel Noerdlinger, publicist for the National Action Network, told The Associated Press that the Rev. Al Sharpton spoke Monday to Blake’s father, who called the civil rights leader for his support. Blake’s father will speak at Sharpton’s March on Washington commemoration on Friday, Noerdlinger said.
The shooting occurred three months after the May 25 death of a Black man in Minneapolis, George Floyd, who was pinned to the street under the knee of a white police officer, sparking nationwide protests against police brutality and racism within the US criminal justice system.
Sunday’s shooting occurred as officers were responding to what they termed a ‘domestic incident.’
Police immediately took the victim to a hospital, according to a police statement. Authorities gave no further explanation of what led to the shooting.
Attorney Crump, who also has represented Floyd’s family, said in a statement that Blake had been trying to de-escalate a domestic incident when the officers first shot him with a stun gun.
‘As he was walking away to check on his children, police fired their weapons several times into his back at point-blank range,’ Crump said.
The officers involved were placed on administrative leave while the investigation is underway, the Wisconsin Department of Justice said on Monday.