Jacob Blake shooting: Teenager arrested and charged during violent unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin

The Jacob Blake shooting was the latest flashpoint in a summer of unrest that began with the killing of George Floyd and set off soul searching across the country as well as protests, some of which have turned violent

The New York Times August 27, 2020 07:37:46 IST
Jacob Blake shooting: Teenager arrested and charged during violent unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin

Kenosha, Wisconsin: As Wisconsin’s governor sent hundreds more National Guard troops into Kenosha, Wisconsin, a teenager from nearby Illinois was arrested and charged in a shooting that left two people dead during a chaotic night of demonstrations in the latest American city to explode in rage.

The arrest came after a third night of unrest as protesters have poured into Kenosha’s streets to decry the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black father who was paralysed after a White officer fired on him seven times in front of his children.

Amid the ire, some in the crowd have torched buildings and the authorities have fired tear gas in an effort to clear the streets. Counter-demonstrators have also emerged, and along one crowded, dark street Wednesday gunfire broke out, sending bystanders fleeing into parking lots and screaming in terror.

The violence that broke out came as demonstrators scuffled with a group of men carrying long guns who said they were protecting the area from looting. The authorities said the White teenager who was arrested on Wednesday morning, identified as Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, was not believed to be a protester. His social media accounts appeared to show an intense affinity for guns, law enforcement and President Donald Trump.

Rittenhouse was arrested in Antioch, Illinois, on charges of first degree intentional homicide, according to a court document from Lake County, Illinois. Antioch is about 30 minutes southwest of Kenosha, just over the Illinois line.

Two people, a 26-year-old from Silver Lake, Wisconsin, and a 36-year-old from Kenosha, were killed, the authorities said, and a third person was injured.

The fatal shooting followed a tense night of standoffs between the police and demonstrators and escalated a situation that had drawn the attention of Trump, who is in the third day of the Republican National Convention and has sought to portray Democratic cities as rife with dangers and crime.

Protests over the shooting of Blake also spread to sports, where the NBA postponed multiple playoff games on Wednesday after the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their match-up with the Orlando Magic in protest of the shooting of Blake.

This was the latest flashpoint in a summer of unrest that began with the killing of George Floyd and set off soul searching across the country as well as protests, some of which have turned violent.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that he planned to deploy federal law enforcement officials to Kenosha and that Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, had agreed to the help.

“I will be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha, WI to restore LAW and ORDER!” he wrote on Twitter. He also wrote: “We will NOT stand for looting, arson, violence, and lawlessness on American streets,” said Trump, who is fighting for support in swing states like Wisconsin, which had surprised many in 2016 by picking Trump.

Evers on Wednesday announced that his office was sending more members of the Wisconsin National Guard to Kenosha — the numbers have grown to 500 from about 125 earlier in the week — as protests have intensified. On Tuesday, Evers declined federal assistance from the White Office, his office said, but additional conversations took place Wednesday.

It was uncertain what federal assistance Evers had been offered and details of any federal involvement were uncertain late Wednesday, though an official in Evers’ office indicated that some level of help had been accepted.

“The federal government is planning to assist in facilitating conversations with other state partners and provide FBI support to our state response,” Britt Cudaback, Evers’ deputy communications director, said in a written statement.

The unrest in Kenosha has persisted night after night, while little information has been released about the shooting of Blake, who is in the hospital, partially paralysed, according to his family. Video footage showed him being shot in the back as he tried to get into his car.

The authorities have not released details about what led to the encounter, or identified the police officer who shot him. That officer, as well as two others on the scene, have been placed on administrative leave.

The Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation is investigating the shooting. At a news conference on Wednesday, Chief Daniel Miskinis of the Kenosha Police Department said that he supports Wisconsin’s policy of sending such police shootings to an outside team of investigators but “unfortunately, what that also brings is what you see here before you today: a chief who doesn’t have details about the incident.”

Local officials vowed not to let violence continue and announced that a curfew, which has been moved up to 7 pm Central time, would extend until Sunday. “It’s something we have to do,” Sheriff David Beth said.

On Tuesday night, before the shootings near the gas station, loosely-organised demonstrations had taken place in a shifting, hours-long standoff between the police and protesters. Early in the night, protesters assembled outside a newly-erected metal barrier protecting a county courthouse downtown and threw water bottles, rocks and fireworks at the police.

The police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, repeatedly warning the crowd through a bullhorn that they were violating the city curfew and risking arrest. The crowd was eventually forced out of the park with tear gas and onto city streets, where the standoff continued.

Many protesters left the area, but others lingered and walked to a gas station several blocks away. There, a group of men with guns stood outside, promising to protect the property and verbally sparring with the arriving protesters. As the night stretched on, the gas station became a tense gathering spot, with bystanders watching from parked cars and people milling around in the street, arguing and occasionally shoving each other.

Police officers had crept closer to the gas station in armoured trucks, urging the people who were still there to go home. Then, after midnight, the shots rang out.

Beth said that the investigation was focused on the group of men with guns outside the gas station, and that investigators were scouring video taken just before the shooting.

In one video, the men are shouting at each other, clutching their guns and occasionally pulling each other away to defuse the conflict.

“I’ve had people saying, ‘Why don’t you deputise citizens?’,” he said. “This is why you don’t deputise citizens with guns to protect Kenosha.”

The protests of the shooting of Blake have reverberated far beyond Kenosha: Demonstrators in other cities have chanted his name, and protests in cities like Madison, Wisconsin, have intensified since the police shooting.

In Florida, the NBA postponement was an extraordinary escalation of how players have demonstrated for social causes this season, with numerous athletes speaking out against systemic racism and police brutality.

“WE DEMAND CHANGE,” Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said on Twitter, writing in all caps. “SICK OF IT.”

The postponement also affected first-round games between the Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers, and between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets.

Players from the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors said Wednesday they were considering also boycotting the first game of their series Thursday night, and that some had raised the possibility of leaving the NBA’s restricted site at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida, where the league is playing out its season in quarantine because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Julie Bosman and Sarah Mervosh c.2020 The New York Times Company

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