KENOSHA, Wis. (NewsNation) — About 150 National Guard troops deployed to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Thursday, part of a massive effort to ensure a second night of calm after demonstrations over the police shooting of a Black man that led to the deaths of two people earlier this week..
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 two demonstrators were fatally shot and a third was wounded.
“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 17-year-old from Illinois, Kyle Rittenhouse, was arrested in the shootings. A sheriff’s department spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking clarity on Beth’s comment.
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.
Evening fell in the community on Lake Michigan with tensions rising after police on Thursday afternoon arrested some activists protesting the shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, who was paralyzed after a white officer shot him seven times in the back.
“We’re here to preserve public safety and keeping the peace,” said Major General Knapp of the Wisconsin National Guard. “That is the bottom line.”
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.
Right-wing counter-protesters, at times armed, have also come out in Kenosha and elsewhere, claiming they are keeping the peace and trying to stop looting and rioting. In violent clashes in Kenosha on Tuesday, a 17-year-old armed with a long gun killed two anti-racism protesters and wounded a third.
“I would like to dis-invite those people running around with long guns for no apparent reason,” Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, said Thursday. “Stay home. Let people here protest peacefully.”
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.
Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Kenosha, was taken into custody Wednesday in Illinois on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide in the shootings. He was assigned a public defender in Illinois for a hearing Friday on his transfer to Wisconsin. Under Wisconsin law, anyone 17 or older is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.
Rittenhouse’s attorney, Lin Wood, said the teenager was acting in self defense. Cellphone footage showed the shooter being chased into a used car lot by someone before shots are heard and the person lies dead. The shooter then runs down the street where he is chased by several people shouting that he just shot someone. He stumbles after being approached by several people and fires, killing another man and injuring a third.
“From my standpoint, it’s important that the message be clear to other Americans who are attacked that there will be legal resources available in the event false charges are brought against them,” he said. “American should never be deterred from exercising their right of self-defense.”
Protesters marched past the intersection where two people were killed Tuesday night, stopping to pray and lay flowers.
The two men 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.
Four groups representing Wisconsin sheriffs and police departments on Thursday urged 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.
Officials said on Thursday that Arizona, Alabama and Michigan would be sending National Guard troops to augment security forces in the city, which until Wednesday night had been the scene of clashes between protesters and police, as well as protesters and members of a mostly white armed militia.
As night fell, protests had begun, with added tension over reports that some protesters had been taken into custody during the day. A Reuters witness saw about a dozen law enforcement vehicles surround a van carrying some of the leaders of prior protests, taking the driver into custody.
“We’re all headed over to the jail to find out why,” said Clyde McLemore, president of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter. “We always do peaceful marches and that’s what we intend for tonight.”
McLemore and others are calling for criminal charges to be filed against Rusten Sheskey, the officer who fired seven shots point-blank into Blake’s back. Wisconsin state police said Blake’s encounter with local officers began after a woman called for help, saying that her boyfriend was not supposed to be on the premises. Wisconsin’s attorney general, Josh Kaul, said a knife was found on the floor of Blake’s car.
Sheskey was suspended for one day in 2017 for a driving-related infraction, but records disclosed so far do not indicate any pattern of excessive force.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.