Seven Days of Unrest in Kenosha

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S1: I got a call from my editor at six o’clock on Monday morning saying, have you seen this video?

S2: Gina Barton is a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

S1: And by then, less than 12 hours after the shooting, the video of a police officer shooting Jacob Blake was already all over social media.

S2: Gina has been covering the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, since the footage came out of an officer shooting Jacob Blake in the back seven times while his children were in the car.

S1: The response was almost immediate. People in Kenosha started taking to the streets. And that’s what I’ve been finding, is that during the day, things have been pretty calm. Families are out there, younger people are out there, all different races, ages, no deaths, no deaths. But then when the sun goes down, you start getting different groups of people who seem to be interested in causing conflict and chaos.

S2: So the courthouse is literally on fire and it’s on fire. Now is the Kenosha County Courthouse. This conflict and chaos has been heightened by so-called militia members who say they’re trying to protect life and property in Kenosha. In videos, you can see them walking around the city armed.

S1: I think the more guns that are in a volatile situation, the more likely it is that someone’s going to be seriously hurt. And that is what we saw on Tuesday when a 17 year old who considered himself some sort of militia member ended up shooting three people, two of them fatally on Saturday.

S2: Gina Barton says covering the events of the last week in southeastern Wisconsin has meant keeping track of constantly shifting stories and leaders who don’t seem to agree about what happened and what should happen next.

S1: On the ground, you have not only Kenosha Police, Kenosha Sheriff’s Department, National Guard, now National Guard from several states and police from some of the different small communities around Wisconsin coming in to help as well.

S3: And it seems like even they don’t have a unified message. One of the biggest issues this week regarding this entire situation, the shooting of Jacob Blake, the protests, the shootings on Tuesday, these militia guy is coming out. One of the biggest problems is that they’re not getting a unified message from anyone.

S4: Today on the show, The Aftermath in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I’m Ray Suarez, filling in for Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

S2: The unrest we’ve seen in Kenosha, Wisconsin, some of it has seemed imported from nearby cities and towns, Gina Barton has seen that in her reporting, but she says it’s not the whole story.

S1: Kenosha is halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago. So there have been a lot of demonstrators from both of those cities coming to Kenosha. However, there are also a lot of local people from Kenosha and from the smaller towns on the other side of the Illinois state line. So there have been protesters coming from lots of different places.

S2: When you’re there, when things are happening, is it spread throughout the downtown and into the residential areas? Is it largely contained to the central business district? What’s the the sort of way these things play out once people are gathered on the street and confronted by police and so on?

S1: Things are playing out differently every night, depending on what the police strategy seems to be and also depending on how many armed civilians there are in the street. So in the early days, the protests were largely confined to the park right across from the courthouse and then spread into the business district, which was recently revitalized. The biggest problems occur, I think, when groups of protesters are forced to scatter. That’s when law enforcement doesn’t have control because they can’t be everywhere.

S2: Protesters holding Black Lives Matter signs were soon joined by self-proclaimed militiamen. Unlike the protesters, the militia members were almost exclusively white and bearing arms.

S1: A former Kenosha alderman is one of the leaders of a militia type group that is called the Kenosha Guard. The Kenosha Guard on Tuesday put out an event on Facebook saying people need to come out and defend life and property. They had three thousand people say they were interested. I don’t think nearly that many came, but that was on Facebook. And it also got picked up by Infowars, which is a national site that publicizes conspiracy theories and that is popular with the. All right.

S2: The the sheriff, David Beth, has said that armed militia groups on the street are, quote, not helping.

S1: But law enforcement in Kenosha, at least early on, didn’t seem to be making an effort to move them on or get them out of town, either the armed so-called citizen militias had reached out to both the police chief and the sheriff and asked them to cooperate, to deputize them, to let them help. Sheriff David Bethen, one of my favorite quotes from him all week, said his reaction to that was, oh, hell no. The Kenosha city police chief, though, is the one who hasn’t commented. I emailed and asked, did you cooperate with them because they sent him a personal message, Hey, Mayor, you know us. Where the Kenosha Guard, where a militia. We want to cooperate with you tonight. You know, do not tell us to go home the way you have Sunday and Monday. He won’t answer that question. And from everything that transpired on Tuesday, it sure seemed like no one was telling them to go home.

S2: On Tuesday, the protests in Kenosha took a turn when 17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse shot three protesters with an assault rifle. Two of them died that night. One is seriously injured. There’s a lot more that we’re going to end up finding out about Kyle Rittenhouse. He’s been arrested. He’s been charged with intentional homicide. And since that moment, the rumor mill has been on overdrive about this kid, what he did in Kenosha after his mother brought him from Antioch, how the how he moved around the city with an assault style rifle slung on his shoulder was not stopped by police. Is the dust settling? It’s tough for a reporter. Is there a clearer picture emerging not only of the events of August 25th, but who this kid is and what his motivations were?

S1: As far as I can tell, it’s unconfirmed whether his mother brought him to Kenosha or how he got there. But he says through his attorney that he was there to try and protect some of the local property of a man who owns a car dealership and a couple of auto shops. You can also see him in videos saying that his job is to protect people and he’s also there to provide first aid. However, I talked in-depth to two people who were out there on Tuesday night and saw these events unfold. And they said that Tuesday night was different because there were so many more white guys with guns out there than there had been the previous evenings. And when they saw Rittenhouse, he gave them an uneasy feeling because he looked so young and didn’t seem like he was necessarily handling that weapon correctly there.

S2: And I mentioned the rumor mill. There were a lot of stories in social media early on about a kind of chumminess between Rittenhouse. And police say that we really knew they gave him water. They talked to him. They let him pass even though he was armed. Has any of that been able to be nailed down? Is there is it any more clarity?

S1: A lot of those examples that you just mentioned have been confirmed, David, by the sheriff in Kenosha said we would give water or Gatorade to anyone who asked us. So he’s not denying that law enforcement was giving water to these men with guns.

S5: Earlier on Tuesday night, there were civilians taking sniper style stances on the roofs of buildings. They were clearly out past curfew with guns. We do know that the Kenosha Guard here and Kyle Rittenhouse idolized police and considered themselves sort of supplemental law enforcement officers who were there to help the police.

S2: One of the remaining questions from Tuesday night is how Kyle Rittenhouse was able to pass through a line of law enforcement and go home after having shot three people with plenty of witnesses around.

S1: I talked to a street medic the other day, and these are volunteers who go out to provide first aid to protesters and they’re trained in how to rinse people’s eyes when they get tear gassed and things like that. And she was trying to walk through that very same area to get to her car that evening and was not allowed to pass. She is part Native American and part Japanese. And she said the exact place where Kyle Rittenhouse, a white man with a large gun, walked. She had tried to go and was turned away. So I do think. That at least some in law enforcement saw these men as their allies or at least as not a threat after the shootings on Tuesday, the following day, the Kenosha police chief came out and essentially said if people would have obeyed the curfew, this shooting wouldn’t have happened.

S6: The curfew is in place to protect had persons not been involved in in violation of that. Perhaps the situation that that unfolded would not have happened.

S1: It sounded as if he was essentially blaming the two men who died for their own deaths and blaming the man who is in danger of losing his arm for the fact that he was shot with an AR 15. So the ACLU has called for him to resign, and it really has fed into the idea that he, in fact, was sympathizing with the white armed civilians, self-styled militiamen. He had another press conference even after that controversy erupted.

S5: They took no questions at that press conference and he did not walk back those statements.

S3: I wish I could talk to him. I really wish he would talk to me.

S2: There’s a degree to which the tumult on the streets of Kenosha is sort of taking our gaze away from Jacob Blake himself, what’s going on there? He’s been in the hospital since he was shot, he said, to be paralyzed from the waist down. It’s been reported he’s handcuffed to his bed. Why is he a suspect? Has he been charged with a crime? And really, it’s unclear why you’d have to handcuff a paralyzed man in the first place.

S1: That has come up in a whole lot of discussions. My experience from covering police for the past 20 years is that if they have somebody who is injured while they’re being arrested or if they have somebody who is shot or wounded while they’re trying to take them into custody on a warrant, then it is pretty much standard operating procedure to handcuff them to the bed. I have even heard stories of pregnant women being forced to go into labor and give birth while being shackled to a bed. There was a lot of outcry about this. And on Saturday, Governor Iver’s intervened and I’m told Jacob Blake is now no longer handcuffed to his hospital bed.

S2: Wisconsin has an unusual law, I think it was one of the first in the country passed after a previous killing by the Kenosha police, when people are killed by police in Wisconsin, an outside agency reviews the case, but Jacob Lake was not killed. Is there going to be an outside investigation triggered in a case like this one?

S1: I think it’s really interesting that our law, which was in fact the first in the nation, was passed largely due to the efforts of a man named Michael Bell, whose son was fatally shot in the head by Kenosha police all the way back in 2004. Mychal Bell’s son, whose name was also Mychal Bell, was shot point blank in the head in front of his mother and sister in their driveway. And the Kenosha Police Internal Affairs did their own investigation and within 48 hours cleared those officers of any wrongdoing. So that is when Bell’s father said this is ridiculous. How can anybody be expected to do a thorough investigation of their own department? That law is only, as you stated, four fatal shootings in other events where somebody is wounded or there’s a serious use of police deadly force. If it isn’t fatal, the agency involved, the police department involved can ask an outside agency to come in. So in this case, the Wisconsin Department of Justice is leading the investigation and the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department was in charge of the scene of Jacob Lake shooting that night. So I do think that that is one thing the Kenosha police did right in these circumstances is as soon as that shooting happened, they decided we’re not investigating ourselves. And they called in the sheriff’s department and the state Justice Department.

S2: Kenosha is a city that’s according to the Census Bureau, about 77 percent white, about 10 percent black. It’s not one of these places that has a very large minority presence that’s created the kind of tensions that you see in nearby cities in Illinois and and in in Wisconsin itself.

S1: That’s absolutely true. And I think one thing that people need to know about the shooting of Jacob Blake and people need to know about what’s going on with policing in Kenosha is that since 2004, the police have not had a great relationship with basically anyone in Kenosha. Mychal Bell, who I referenced earlier, who was shot in the head and killed in 2004, was white. And our review of fatal police shootings in Kenosha since then show that the majority of the people that police have fatally shot are white. Also, we know of one black man has been fatally shot in Kenosha since 2003. But it seems to me that the police in Kenosha don’t have a great relationship with people of any race.

S2: Is it too early to tell where we are in the life cycle of this story? Are things calming down likely to start to peak again when Kyle Rittenhouse goes to court later in September? There are still a lot of questions about police and their behavior during this week. Where are we?

S1: I wish we knew. It seemed as if after the shootings on Tuesday, things started calming down. There were fewer people out Wednesday night and a lot fewer white militia type men with big guns roaming around in Kenosha. What some of us are concerned about is that President Trump has said he is planning to come to Kenosha this week on Tuesday. And I think if he actually does choose to make that visit, that could incite things again. And we could see this cycle continuing and repeating itself.

S7: Yeah, given the way these things have gone in recent weeks, I guess the the pros and the anti’s would have a lot of reason to be out. Definitely. Gina Barton has been covering the shooting of Jacob Blake and its aftermath for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Thanks a lot for joining us. Thanks for having me. Gina Barton is also the host of the true crime podcast Unsolved. That’s the show What Next is produced by Danielle Hewitt, Jason de Leon, Mary Wilson and Helena Schwartz were led by Allison Benedikt and Alicia Montgomery. I’m Ray Suarez, filling in for Mary Harris. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.