KENOSHA, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) — Protesters gathered for a second night in downtown Kenosha Monday to demonstrate against the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, turning this normally sleepy town on Lake Michigan into the latest hotspot in a series of national outrage over police brutality.
Protests had been mostly peaceful early in the evening, but things took a turn just after midnight, with multiple locations reported to be set on fire.
Blake was shot Sunday afternoon up to seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer. According to reports, Blake was leaving the scene of a domestic dispute to which police officers had responded.
Witnesses reported that Blake was not involved in the dispute but was instead trying to defuse the fight. A video capturing the moment and posted online shows the police trying to approach Blake, who then walked away to his car parked nearby. The police officer shot him in the back as Blake tried to get in the driver’s door. His wife and three children, ages 3, 5, and 8, were in the car at the time.
Blake remains in serious condition in an intensive care unit. Wisconsin’s Dept. of Justice opened an investigation into the shooting, and two officers involved in the incident are on leave as of Monday. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has asked for a special investigation into the police handling of the incident.
“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,” Evers said in a statement Monday.
Monday’s protests saw several hundred people marching from the square across from the city’s police station and around the neighboring city blocks, chanted slogans heard across the nation in similar protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
As the demonstrators made their way back to the Civic Center Park, they passed the boarded-up windows along Sixth Ave, the lakeside city’s main commercial and retail strip.
Riots and looting the night before had rattled the city. Many of the downtown businesses had spent the day boarding up their properties in anticipation of another night of violence.
Kenosha County declared a state of emergency for the city and installed an 8 p.m. curfew Monday.
But shortly after the start of curfew, several hundred protesters remained in the square, facing off with city police in riot gear. While chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice. No peace” rang through the air, police in armored vehicles warned protesters that if they did not disperse at the start of the curfew, they would release tear gas.
Demonstrators then began throwing water bottles and fireworks at the police. Police armored vehicles moved in and tossed canisters of tear gas into the crowd. The tension between the two sides lasted for several hours.
But for many who live in Kenosha, the protests here felt different from those seen in Minneapolis or Portland in the wake of George Floyd’s death in May.
Racial disparities and police force against people of color are not new in the city, which sits halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, many people said at Monday’s rally.
But the fact that Blake was shot with what appeared to be blatant, excessive force by the officer meant Kenosha, despite being a small midwestern city, suffered from the same kind of police brutality as the country’s major metropolitan centers, said Mark Tores.
“It’s not just happening elsewhere. It’s happening right here in my hometown,” he said.
The last time Tores, 29, remembers Kenosha being in the news was when it was nominated as one of the top 10 small cities to live in America a few years ago, he said.
He couldn’t have ever imagined that Kenosha would be headline news for something as shocking as the shooting Sunday night of Jacob Blake or Sunday night’s violent riots which left the carcasus of charred cars and city maintenance vehicles in the city center, right next to the Dinosaur Discovery Museum and other city monuments.
Such things never happened in Kenosha’s normally quiet downtown area, an area so sleepy that Tores said it was one of the reasons he moved to Chicago.
“We don’t know what happened before the shooting, but it’s clear that it was excessive force,” Tores said as he held a sign on which he had handwritten dozens of names of those who had died as a result of police violence. “I came because I think we can’t be silent anymore.”
Growing up in Kenosha, Tores, who is white, said he was well aware of the disparities between the white community and the Black and brown communities.
“It’s bad enough that the coronavirus is hitting them the hardest because most of the people in those communities here are essential workers and risking their lives to keep making a living,” he said. “But now the police are shooting and killing them.”
Across the downtown area, Eric Jordan watched on as protesters chanted in the city’s main square. At 49, he’s seen a lot of protests seeking racial equality, including movements his parents were involved in the 1970s. He came Monday with his 15-year-old daughter, who, like him, was not afraid to say what was on her mind, he said.
As he watched on at the mostly younger crowd joining the demonstrations, he said that the Black Lives Matter movement was still too young and still making mistakes.
“They aren’t clear with their messaging and aren’t hitting back hard enough every time they are criticized,” Jordan said. If critics hit them with trolls and bots on social media sites, then they should hit back with the same method, he said.
Still, more information is needed to know just what happened to Blake. What is clear is that he was shot up to seven times, an excessive amount for what appears to be a man walking away, as was his right to do, Jordan said.
Racial bias isn’t new for Kenosha, he said. “You’ll get two cops cars and six officers stopping two Black kids on bicycles. That’s Kenosha,” he said.
“So, was I surprised a Black man was shot here by a police officer? No. But we’re all surprised by how excessive it was.”
La-Ron Franklin, 37, said nights like Monday weren’t the last Kenosha’s police would see of the protesters. The demonstrations will continue until the police are held accountable for what they did, he said.
“We’re here tonight to speak up for man who can’t speak up for himself right now,” Franklin said. He then turned to the armored police vehicle, which used a loudspeaker to warn protesters that more tear gas was coming.
“Is that all you got? Come out of your vehicles and talk to us, man!” he said.