A destroyed structure following unrest after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Aisha I. Jefferson
Several Kenosha, Wisconsin, residents told Insider they were disappointed in law enforcement’s response following the police shooting of Jacob Blake last week.
During nights of civil unrest, parts of the city burned as armed citizens attempted to protect their properties from being destroyed.
A Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department spokesman told Insider its deputies were “severely outnumbered.”
One armed vigilante who said he was there to protect a boarded-up business has been charged with killing two protesters.
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With President Donald Trump set to visit Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, some residents wonder if more could’ve been done sooner to prevent the destruction and violence in their city after a white police officer shot a Black man in the back last week.
Since the Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake on August 23, parts of the small city have transformed into a dystopian nightmare where several structures, including a used-car lot, were set ablaze. Many residences and businesses remain boarded up after several nights of unrest.
To deter vandals, some homes have messages spray-painted on their exterior indicating that children, elderly adults, or disabled people live there.
Rick Parker, 62, a longtime Kenosha resident, has spent the past week watching live video feeds of the demonstrations streamed on Facebook.
He believes a lot of the damage could’ve been avoided had law enforcement been better prepared.
“When all of the unrest was going on, I didn’t see them doing anything,” Parker told Insider. “They just let the fires burn.”
A spokesman said the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department found itself ‘severely outnumbered’
The civil unrest began the same day Blake was shot, with a few hundred demonstrators converging on a park across the street from the Kenosha County Courthouse.
The next night, August 24, more than a thousand demonstrators descended there again to face off with officers, according to Sgt. David Wright, a Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department spokesman.
Though protests remained peaceful during the day, things took a turn at night despite a mandatory nightly curfew that has been in effect since the first night of protests.
Even with the 50 to 75 Wisconsin National Guard troops who came to assist that Monday, Wright said the local law enforcement found itself “severely outnumbered” by demonstrators protesting near the county courthouse and vandals who tore up the city.
There are roughly 150 sheriff’s deputies and about 200 police officers for the city of 100,000.
“We certainly did not have enough personnel to deal with that,” Wright told Insider.
Critics who spoke with Insider said they believed Kenosha officials should’ve anticipated the chaos once video of Blake’s shooting went viral, considering the current climate around racism and police brutality.
“The call for help should’ve went out within hours of that happening, especially when they knew there was a live video on Facebook going around. They made no call for help, and if they did, it didn’t come fast enough,” Parker said, adding that he didn’t want to put them down for “being in over their heads.”
Additional Wisconsin National Guard troops have been deployed to Kenosha, and Gov. Tony Evers has said troops from Michigan, Arizona, and Alabama will join them.
Agents from the US Marshals Service, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are among the “tremendous amount of resources” in Kenosha with guardsmen, Wright said.
Civilians were protecting their own properties with guns
Kenosha law enforcement was also criticized for interactions with armed civilians — many believed to be militia members — after video footage showed sheriff’s deputies thanking them and offering them water.
During the first three nights of unrest before police reinforcement arrived, groups of armed civilians were patrolling the streets and protecting private businesses.
People in the open-carry state wielded handguns and long guns to protect their private properties.
Wright said he didn’t know what the recorded conversations between deputies and the armed groups entailed but insisted that “deputies are friendly with everybody that they come in contact with” and would greet or “offer a bottle of water” to anybody needing it.
Some residents are frustrated Kyle Rittenhouse wasn’t arrested the night of the protest shootings
Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Illinois resident who was charged in the fatal shooting of two men Tuesday night, was among a group of armed civilians who sheriff’s deputies were seen giving water to in a video.
Rittenhouse told The Daily Caller in a video interview that he was in Kenosha to protect a boarded-up business.
A gunman in a green shirt, identified as Rittenhouse, is seen in several videos The New York Times analyzed carrying a semiautomatic rifle and firing at demonstrators before approaching the police with his hands raised as people yelled that he shot people. Rittenhouse wasn’t arrested and charged until the next morning.
Rittenhouse faces two counts of homicide and one count of attempted homicide in connection to the shooting of three men — two of whom have died. His extradition hearing, which was first scheduled for Friday, has been postponed until September 25. He is being held in the Lake County Judicial System in Illinois and is expected to plead not guilty.
“I mean it’s painful to see the armored trucks that he walks past and the police on the loudspeakers telling him to step aside. And this kid has an AR-15 strapped on his chest and everyone around him is just saying this kid just killed two people,” Justin Webber, 38, who’s lived in Kenosha for seven years, told Insider.
Parker said it’s “crazy” that Rittenhouse wasn’t taken into custody immediately after the shooting.
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said during a press conference Wednesday that he was unsure but speculated that the chaotic situation that night with people “screaming, hollering, and chanting” might have caused law officers to have “tunnel vision” and not focus on Rittenhouse.
Parker called Beth’s explanation “a bunch of crap,” adding that it’s law enforcement’s job to “know their surroundings and what’s going on.”
Wright disagreed with the notion that deputies would have reacted the way they did if they suspected Rittenhouse of involvement in shootings.
“I certainly don’t believe that if they knew he was involved, that they would have let him walked past,” he said.
Kenosha’s mayor says ‘the city does not want armed individuals in the city, period’
Beth, the county sheriff, said he had refused requests by armed citizens that he deputize them.
“The city does not want armed individuals in the city, period,” Mayor John Antaramian told Insider. “They should not be armed. They should not be here. We don’t need militias.”
The Kenosha police arrested 175 people between August 24 and Sunday afternoon, with 102 of them listing addresses outside Kenosha, according to a press release from the Kenosha Police Department. Sixty-nine people were arrested on curfew violations, and police officers seized more than 20 firearms.
Blake, 29, has a severed spinal cord and is paralyzed from the waist down. The Wisconsin Department of Justice identified Vincent Arenas and Brittany Meronek as two other officers who were present when Sheskey shot Blake. They’ve been put on administrative leave along with Sheskey.
None of the officers have been charged.
The Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation is handling the Blake shooting and will give its findings to the Kenosha County district attorney, who will determine whether Sheskey was justified in shooting Blake.
Wright acknowledged that people would most likely be angry whether Sheskey were charged or not and said his office would be prepared for any future unrest.
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