Anger over the shooting of a Black man by police spilled into the streets of Kenosha for a second night Monday, with police again firing teargas at hundreds of protesters who defied a curfew, threw bottles and shot fireworks at law enforcement guarding the courthouse.
The south-eastern Wisconsin city became the latest flashpoint in a summer of racial unrest in the US after footage of police shooting Jacob Blake apparently in the back, as he leaned into his SUV with his three children inside, circulated widely on social media Sunday. The 29-year-old was hospitalised in a serious condition.
The shooting drew condemnation from the Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who also called out 125 members of the national guard on Monday after protesters set cars on fire, smashed windows and clashed with officers in riot gear the previous night.
Police first fired teargas Monday about 30 minutes after the 8pm curfew took effect to disperse protesters who chanted, “no justice, no peace” as they confronted a line of officers who wore protective gear and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the courthouse entrance. But hundreds of people stuck around, screaming at police and lighting fires, including to a garbage truck near the courthouse.
Tensions had flared earlier on Monday after a news conference with the Kenosha mayor, John Antarmian, originally to be held in a park, was moved inside the city’s public safety building. Hundreds of protesters rushed to the building and a door was snapped off its hinges before police in riot gear pepper-sprayed the crowd, which included a photographer from the Associated Press.
Police in the former auto manufacturing centre of 100,000 people midway between Milwaukee and Chicago said they were responding to a call about a domestic dispute when they encountered Blake on Sunday. They did not say whether Blake was armed or why police opened fire, they released no details on the dispute, and they did not immediately disclose the race of the three officers at the scene.
The man who said he made the cellphone video, 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 started. He said he did not see a knife in Blake’s hands.
The governor said he had seen no information to suggest Blake had a knife or other weapon, but that the case was still being investigated by the state justice department.
The officers were placed on administrative leave, standard practice in a shooting by police. Authorities released no details about the officers and did not immediately respond to requests for their service records.
Evers was quick to condemn the bloodshed, saying that while not all details were known, what we knew for certain is that he was not the first Black man or person to have been shot, injured or killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in the state or country.
The Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, said the officers must be held accountable.
“This morning, the nation wakes up yet again with grief and outrage that yet another Black American is a victim of excessive force,” he said, just over two months before election day in a country already roiled by the recent deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. “Those shots pierce the soul of our nation,” Biden said.
Republicans and the police union accused politicians of rushing to judgment, reflecting the deep partisan divide in Wisconsin, a key presidential battleground state.
Wisconsin Republican members also decried the violent protests, echoing the law-and-order theme that President Donald Trump has been using in his re-election campaign.
“As always, the video currently circulating does not capture all the intricacies of a highly dynamic incident,” Pete Deates, the president of the Kenosha police union, said in a statement. He called the governor’s statement wholly irresponsible.
The shooting happened around 5pm Sunday and was captured from across the street on the video posted online. Kenosha police do not have body cameras but do wear body microphones.
The footage shows Blake walking from the sidewalk around the front of his SUV to his driver-side door as officers followed him with their guns pointed and shouting at him. As Blake opened the door and leaned into the SUV, an officer grabbed his shirt from behind and opened fire while Blake has his back turned.
Seven shots can be heard, though it is not clear how many struck Blake or how many officers fired.