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Somber protests in Wisconsin after night of chaos, shootings

“Last night was very peaceful,” said Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth during a Thursday news conference.
Protesters march past a burned out building damaged in protests against the Sunday police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., Wednesday. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Protesters march past a burned out building damaged in protests against the Sunday police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., Wednesday. (AP Photo/David Goldman) [ DAVID GOLDMAN | AP ]
Published Aug. 27, 2020

KENOSHA, Wis. — Groups that had taken to Kenosha’s streets with long guns were nowhere to be seen early Thursday following somber protests and no widespread unrest for the first night since the weekend police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Marchers were solemn during Wednesday night’s protests in the southeastern Wisconsin city between Milwaukee and Chicago following the chaos of the previous night, when authorities say a 17-year-old from a nearby Illinois community fatally shot two demonstrators and wounded a third.

“Last night was very peaceful,” said Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth during a Thursday news conference during which he and other city leaders refused to answer questions. “Tuesday night, not quite so peaceful, but it wasn’t too bad.”

It was Tuesday night when two protesters were killed in the street in shootings largely caught on cellphone video and posted online. A sheriff’s department spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking clarity on Beth’s comment.

In this September 2019 selfie photo taken in Evanston, Ill., Adria-Joi Watkins poses with her second cousin Jacob Blake. He is recovering from being shot multiple times by Kenosha police on Aug. 23.
In this September 2019 selfie photo taken in Evanston, Ill., Adria-Joi Watkins poses with her second cousin Jacob Blake. He is recovering from being shot multiple times by Kenosha police on Aug. 23. [ ADRIA-JOI WATKINS | AP ]

The attack late Tuesday and the shooting by police Sunday of Blake, a 29-year-old Black father of six who was left paralyzed from the waist down, made Kenosha the latest focal point in the fight against racial injustice that has gripped the country since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

Kenosha police faced questions about their interactions with the gunman on Tuesday night. According to witness accounts and video footage, police apparently let the gunman walk past them and leave the scene with a rifle over his shoulder and his hands in the air as members of the crowd yelled for him to be arrested because he had shot people.

As for how the gunman managed to slip away, Beth has described a chaotic, high-stress scene, with lots of radio traffic and people screaming, chanting and running — conditions he said can cause “tunnel vision” among law officers.

Video taken before the shooting shows police tossing bottled water from an armored vehicle and thanking civilians armed with long guns walking the streets. One of them appears to be the gunman.

The national and state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday called for the resignation of Beth and Kenosha Police Chief Dan Miskinis over their handling of Blake’s death and the subsequent protests.

Kyle Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Ill., about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Kenosha, was taken into custody Wednesday in Illinois on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide in the shootings.

Rittenhouse was assigned a public defender in Illinois for a hearing Friday on his transfer to Wisconsin. The public defender’s office had no comment. Under Wisconsin law, anyone 17 or older is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.

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There were no groups patrolling Kenosha’s streets with long guns Wednesday night and protesters stayed away from a courthouse that had been the site of standoffs with law enforcement. Unlike the previous two nights, when dozens of fires were set and businesses were ransacked and destroyed, there was no widespread unrest.

Protesters gather Wednesday night in Kenosha, Wis., at the scene where someone was fatally shot Tuesday night during demonstrations over the Sunday shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police.
Protesters gather Wednesday night in Kenosha, Wis., at the scene where someone was fatally shot Tuesday night during demonstrations over the Sunday shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police. [ DAVID GOLDMAN | AP ]

Protesters marched past the intersection where two people were killed Tuesday night, stopping to pray and lay flowers. Daijon Spann said he joined the demonstration because one of those killed the night before was a friend.

“I couldn’t take it any more,” he said. “I couldn’t just sit there and watch my friend die.”

The two men who were killed were Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha, and Anthony Huber, 26, of Silver Lake, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of the city.

A third man was injured. Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, was volunteering as a medic when he was shot, said Bethany Crevensten who was also among the group of about two dozen activists.

“He was a hero and he is a hero,” she said.

Grosskreutz, of West Allis, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of Kenosha, is recovering after surgery and is not yet giving interviews, Crevensten said.

Blake was shot in the back seven times Sunday as he leaned into his SUV, in which three of his children were seated.

State authorities identified on Wednesday the officer who shot Blake as Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department.

Authorities said Sheskey was among officers who responded to a domestic dispute, though they have not said whether Blake was part of the dispute. Sheskey shot Blake while holding onto his shirt after officers unsuccessfully used a Taser, the Wisconsin Justice Department said. State agents later recovered a knife from the floor on the driver’s side of the vehicle, the department said. State authorities did not say Blake threatened anyone with a knife.

Ben Crump, the lawyer for Blake’s family, said Tuesday that it would “take a miracle” for Blake to walk again. He called for the arrest of Sheskey and for the others involved to lose their jobs. State officials have announced no charges.

In solidarity, Milwaukee Bucks players refused to play their playoff game Wednesday, temporarily halting the NBA season. They were to resume on Friday. Three Major League Baseball games were delayed because players refused to take the field and several NFL teams canceled their Thursday practices.

Also Thursday, Wisconsin Lutheran College located about 40 miles from Kenosha said it canceled a planned Saturday commencement speech by Vice President Mike Pence, citing the unrest.

Also Thursday, four groups representing Wisconsin sheriffs and police departments called on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to stop making “premature, judgmental, (and) inflammatory” comments about Blake’s shooting that they say “only add to the anger and divisiveness of an already dangerous situation.”

Evers has said he stands with everyone demanding justice, equity and accountability and against the excessive use of force against Black people.

The governor has authorized the deployment of 500 members of the National Guard to Kenosha, doubling the number of troops in the city of 100,000. Guard troops from Arizona, Michigan and Alabama were coming to Wisconsin to assist, Evers said Thursday. He did not say how many.

In Washington, the Justice Department said it was sending in more than 200 federal agents from the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The White House said up to 2,000 National Guard troops would be made available. The Justice Department also announced that the U.S. attorney’s office and FBI would conduct a civil rights investigation into the shooting of Blake, in cooperation with Wisconsin state law enforcement agencies.

By STEPHEN GROVES and SCOTT BAUER Associated Press

Scott Bauer reported from Madison. Associated Press reporters Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin; Don Babwin and Sophia Tareen in Chicago; and Tammy Webber in Fenton, Michigan, contributed, as did news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York.

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Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times

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WHAT ARE NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local and national protests.

WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.

CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.

HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.