Kenosha, Wis. - Wisconsin’s governor declared a state of emergency Tuesday, Aug. 25 after some protesters vandalized businesses and set dozens of buildings on fire in a city where police shot a Black man multiple times, apparently in the back in view of his children.
The shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday in Kenosha was captured on cellphone video and ignited new protests over racial injustice in several cities, just three months after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police touched off a wider reckoning on race.
Blake’s father, also named Jacob Blake, told the Chicago Sun-Times that his son is paralyzed from the waist down and has “eight holes” in his body. The elder Blake said he didn’t know if his son’s paralysis was permanent.
Fencing installed around the Kenosha County Courthouse following unrest after the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake
After back-to-back nights of properties and businesses destroyed, fencing was erected Tuesday afternoon around city and county government buildings that have been a focal point of protesters' ire. Blake's mother, Julia Jackson, made an impassioned plea Tuesday, too.
"My son has been fighting for his life, and we really just need prayers," said Jackson. "As I was riding through the city, I noticed a lot of damage. It doesn't reflect my son or my family. If Jacob knew what was going on, as far as that goes, the violence and the destruction, he would be very unpleased.
"I'm really asking and encouraging everyone in Wisconsin and abroad to take a moment and examine your hearts. Citizens, police officers, firemen, clergy, politicians: Do Jacob justice on this level and examine your hearts."
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers called for protesters to be peaceful, while also saying the National Guard presence would be doubled from 125 to 250 to protect "critical infrastructure" in Kenosha after crowds destroyed dozens of buildings and set more than 30 fires on Monday night.
“We cannot allow the cycle of systemic racism and injustice to continue,” said Evers, who is facing mounting pressure from Republicans over his handling of the unrest that has followed the shooting. “We also cannot continue going down this path of damage and destruction.”
Blake’s father said that he learned Sunday night that officers had shot his 29-year-old son and shortly thereafter he watched the video, which appears to show his son being shot in the back.
“I want to put my hand on my son’s cheek and kiss him on his forehead, and then I’ll be OK,” the father, who was traveling from North Carolina to Milwaukee, where his son is being treated, told the newspaper. “I’ll kiss him with my mask. The first thing I want to do is touch my son.”
Three of the younger Blake's sons — aged 3, 5 and 8 — were in the car at the time of the shooting, according to Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney representing the family. Crump scheduled a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Kenosha with Blake's family members to address the shooting.
Crump said Blake required surgery to remove nearly his entire colon and small intestine, and also sustained damage to his kidneys and liver.
"It's going to take a miracle for Jacob Blake Jr. to ever walk again," Crump said.
Family attorneys are calling for transparency, along with the firing and, ultimately, charging of the officers involved.
"They shot my son. Seven times. Seven times. Like he don't matter," said Jacob Blake Sr. "But my son matters. He's a human being and he matters."
Police in Kenosha have released almost no information about the shooting, beyond saying the officers were responding to a domestic dispute when they encountered Blake. The Wisconsin Department of Justice is leading the investigation, which is expected to take several weeks. The officers were placed on administrative leave, which is standard practice in such cases.
The man who said he made the cellphone video of the shooting, 22-year-old Raysean White, said he saw Blake scuffling with three officers and heard them yell, “Drop the knife! Drop the knife!” before the gunfire erupted. He said he didn’t see a knife in Blake’s hands.
In the footage, Blake walks from the sidewalk around the front of his SUV to his driver-side door as officers follow him with their guns drawn and shout at him. As Blake opens the door and leans into the SUV, an officer grabs his shirt from behind and opens fire while Blake has his back turned. Seven shots can be heard, though it isn’t clear how many struck Blake or how many officers fired.
Since the shooting, anger has spilled into the streets of Kenosha and other cities, including Los Angeles, Wisconsin's capital of Madison and in Minneapolis, the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer following Floyd's death.
Hundreds of protesters defied an 8 p.m. curfew Monday night, massing in downtown Kenosha, where they were met by a wall of law enforcement officers, including 125 members of the Wisconsin National Guard.
Some clashed with officers and vandalized businesses. There were 37 fires associated with the unrest, according to the Kenosha Police Department, with multiple businesses destroyed or damaged along with an unknown number of residences.
One of the buildings destroyed was the Wisconsin Department of Corrections' probation and parole office. Most staff had already transitioned to working remotely, and all essential operations are continuing, said department spokeswoman Anna Neal.
A city block was cordoned off Tuesday so officials could survey damage. Smoke filled the air and visibility was low as firefighters used water cannons on still smoldering buildings.
“Nobody deserves this,” said Pat Oertle, owner of Computer Adventure. Computers were stolen, and the store was “destroyed,” she said.
“This accomplishes nothing," Oertle said. "This is not justice that they’re looking for.”
Unrest in Kenosha following the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, both Republicans, called on the governor to do more to quell the unrest. Steil said he would request federal assistance if necessary.
A Wisconsin state lawmaker said Evers, who is white, and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is Black, encouraged violence with their comments after the shooting.
“They did not call for peace. They did not encourage calm,” Republican state Sen. Howard Marklein said. “They did encourage people to jump to conclusions and take negative action.”
Evers continued to call for protesters to be peaceful.
“Please do not allow the actions of a few distract us from the work we must do together to demand justice, equity, and accountability,” he said.
In Madison, about 500 protesters marched to the state Capitol on Monday night, and some broke windows, stole from stores and sprayed graffiti along the way. Police used tear gas and pepper spray on the crowds and six people were arrested, according to Madison police.
In Minneapolis, 11 were arrested after breaking windows at the county jail on Monday night. One police officer suffered a broken hand in an altercation with demonstrators, the sheriff's department said.
Kenosha transit suspending service early
In accordance with a City of Kenosha curfew of 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 25, Kenosha Area Transit announced it will suspend service early -- at 4 p.m. and will continue to limit service hours through Saturday, Aug. 29.
Beginning on Wednesday, Aug. 26, transit buses will begin operating at 8 a.m. through Friday, Aug. 28. They will begin operating at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25. The last buses will leave downtown Kenosha at 3:30 p.m.
Regular bus traffic is expected to resume at 4:55 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 31.
Statement from Gov. Evers Tuesday afternoon on increase in National Guard presence in Kenosha
“The ability to exercise First Amendment rights is a critically important part of our democracy and the pursuit of justice. But there remains a line between peaceful assembly and what we saw last night that put individuals, families, and businesses in danger.
“We cannot forget the reason why these protests began, and what we have seen play out over the last two nights and many nights this year is the pain, anguish, and exhaustion of being Black in our state and country. But as I said yesterday, and as I’ll reiterate today, everyone should be able to exercise their fundamental right—whether a protester or member of the press—peacefully and safely. We cannot allow the cycle of systemic racism and injustice to continue. We also cannot continue going down this path of damage and destruction.
“We are assessing the damage to state property and will be increasing the presence of the Wisconsin National Guard to ensure individuals can exercise their right safely, protect state buildings and critical infrastructure, and support first responders and firefighters.
“Tonight, and in the days ahead, if you are going to protest, please do so peacefully and safely. Please do not allow the actions of a few distract us from the work we must do together to demand justice, equity, and accountability.”
Statement from Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian and Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser
Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser and Mayor John Antaramian today received a commitment from Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin National Guard that many more troops will be arriving in Kenosha beginning this evening.
Kreuser and Antaramian requested additional guard assistance after a second night of rioting, looting and arson in the city on Monday.
These additional troops will supplement the 125 guard troops who were deployed to Kenosha on Monday.
Additionally, more than 100 law enforcement officers from other communities in Wisconsin are continuing to assist in local efforts to quell violence and destruction in the aftermath of the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday.
“It is clear to us that this is no longer just a demonstration in reaction to Sunday’s tragic events,” said Kreuser. “A destructive element is coming in from outside our community to fuel destruction and chaos, to loot and to destroy. We absolutely want to know the truth about what happened with Jacob Blake, but we have to let the investigatory process work. Destroying our city will not make that process go any faster.”
The mayor echoed Kreuser’s comments.
“The actions the last two nights by the criminal element have shown this is no longer about protesting of the officer-involved shooting,” Antaramian said. “There is a process to investigating the shooting. We have to allow that process to take place. The destruction of our city does nothing to assist with the investigation.”
The mayor and the county executive called on local residents not to add to the outside forces who have caused significant destruction to the Downtown and Uptown areas and other neighborhoods.
“People who are destroying property and stealing need to be arrested and jailed,” Kreuser said.
Said Antaramian: “We will continue to work with local, state and federal law enforcement in holding those criminals who are destroying our city responsible.”