Updates from the crisis in Wisconsin

For those trying to keep up with developments in and around Kenosha, Wisconsin in the aftermath of the latest shooting of an unarmed Black man by police, be sure to check out the coverage provided by our sibling publication, the Wisconsin Examiner. In recent days, the Examiner has featured several commentaries and news stories on the crisis, including the following:

The following story details the tragic events of last night and features literally scores of powerful photographs on the Examiner website:

Police watch as protesters gather on August 24th, 2020 in Kenosha. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

Two killed, one injured in Kenosha in protest of police shooting
Hundreds marched through the streets prior to clashes

Kenosha police said in addition to the two fatalities, a third person was transported to the hospital with “non life threatening injuries.”

Eruptions of civil unrest and clashes with riot-clad, militarized law enforcement have left the city of Kenosha scarred. Marchers have gathered over the last several days to protest the shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake by Kenosha officers on Sunday, Aug. 23. Blake was shot several times getting into his vehicle, with his children reportedly watching from inside the car.

The exact circumstances of the Blake shooting are also currently under investigation by the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI). Blake survived, although he sits in a local hospital paralyzed by his injuries, according to his father. Meanwhile, the streets of Kenosha have been flooded by the bodies and voices of hundreds of people. From longtime Kenosha residents to seasoned activists from Milwaukee to people who’ve traveled from out of state.

“I’ve been here since I was about five,” 26-year-old Stephanie Hunt told Wisconsin Examiner. “Since I was little I’ve seen them [Kenosha law enforcement] screwing up left and right, you know? There have been times in my life where they have been helpful, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t racism and improper training.” Other residents who either participated in the march, or watched as the crowd passed their homes, shared similar sentiments.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said 49-year-old Lisa Cole, as she watched the march go past, speaking of this current era of protest. “It’s so overdue for a change. I think police officers need a lot more schooling, and a lot more training.”

Wisconsin Examiner journalist Isiah Holmes talks with Lisa Cole as the march goes by. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Berg)

Wisconsin Examiner journalist Isiah Holmes talks with Lisa Cole as the march goes by. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Berg)

Both Hunt and Cole were shocked and disturbed by the video of Blake’s shooting, which went viral shortly after hitting the web Monday. “We can’t stand for this,” said Hunt. “It’s been like, half good [and] half bad. And now it’s tilting towards what the rest of the world is going through. They [Kenosha police] screwed up real bad this time.” After seeing the video Cole said, “it was wrong,” she told Wisconsin Examiner. “They could’ve done other things. I think it was handled wrongly. I know it’s easy to say if we’re not in their shoes, on both sides. But I think things could’ve been handled differently for sure.”

Even after the burning and rioting on  August 23, neither of them had changed their view of the Black Lives Matter movement. “Destruction does not fix destruction,” said Cole. “In any way, never has, never will. And I think that I can’t even fathom the pain, the anger, the experiences that so many have had. I can’t fathom that. But at the same time it just doesn’t fix anything. It makes it worse, and it makes everybody look bad. So that could’ve been handled differently too.”

Hunt also felt that the phenomenon of rioting and destruction is more complex than it appears. “It was terrifying and I understand that people are angry. Completely understand that. I don’t agree with busting up small businesses and other things like that but I do definitely agree with the movement. But it was terrifying to watch, I was just praying for everybody’s safety. I hope that the city and the world learns that this is not going to be tolerated and voices are going to be heard. Now.”

Civil unrest on a Monday night

The same day Blake was shot, activists were already discussing what next steps should be taken. Omar Flores, 26 years old and an organizer with the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racial and Political Oppression (MAARPO), noted that getting any protest off the ground is difficult. Our Wisconsin Revolution, a social justice group, took the lead in organizing the first marches.

“I would say these past few days, in terms of trying to organize, has been pretty chaotic,” said Flores. “Anybody that seems to try to put their hands on things, and try to put things in a sort of direction just seems to kind of peel off into its own thing. So, it’s been an impossibility trying to provide any kind of leadership or direction.”

Part of the issue is a lack of pre-existing grassroots organizations in the Kenosha area. Another, however, is what Flores describes as a “power vacuum” which is created by sudden uprisings. “There’s sort of this power vacuum and a lot of people that have been  sitting on their hands are kind of jumping into action. And, at that point, it’s just kind of like the people with the most experience, or the most name recognition, or just by pure luck and opportunity end up just taking things from there on out.”

Flores, who grew up in the Kenosha area before moving to Milwaukee, recalled attempting to set up a network of activists for over three years without success. And although some more experienced protest and activist groups have brought brief organization to Kenosha’s marches, the demonstrations have proved too large and unpredictable.

He watched as the situation devolved through the day, and into the late nighttime hours on August 23. “People seemed to be very engaged with the police and there was a lot of back and fourth between KPD [Kenosha Police Department] and the protesters,” said Flores. “Eventually there were police cars being smashed up, tires slashed. Some kind of, like, fireball that had exploded in the middle of the crowd. It got to a point where people were basically driving the police out. They had totally fallen back. People were literally chasing the police down like 10 blocks.”

More and more the crowds swelled in size, with attempts by law enforcement to contain their advance proving ineffective. Fire works went off and people screamed anger and frustration at the police. Officers pushed the crowd back where they could, launched tear gas, but the situation kept deteriorating. “Before we knew it we got out into the street that’s right next to the PD and right next to the court house, and we saw the dump trucks that were being used to block off the streets were being set on fire.”

Flores recalled people dispersed at around 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. “I’m trying to remember what else happened that night, it just all happened so fast,” Flores told Wisconsin Examiner. He rejects opinions among some locals that the presence of Milwaukee protesters made the situation worse. “The People’s Revolution had come down with like, 10 or 12 fire extinguishers. And they were taking out the fires on the dump trucks,” said Flores.

“It’s just so much going on at once, at every moment something new was happening. I’ve never felt anything like that in my life. I was there at the 2016 Milwaukee uprising and I mean, what happened in Kenosha was much more chaotic in my eyes.”

Protests, clashes and burning on Tuesday

As part of a march hosted by Our Wisconsin Revolution, hundreds of people gathered at 900 57th Street, a small park where the prior night’s demonstrations occurred in the shadow of Kenosha’s City Hall. A small group of riot police stood around the steps of the Municipal Building, watching as the protest group allowed speakers to dialogue with the crowd.

Every street entrance around the park had been blocked off by concrete barricades or city dump trucks. Several of the trucks had been set ablaze and sat as charred, soot-covered metal husks in the street. Kenosha County Sheriffs had used a similar strategy to block off the highway exits leading up to the area’s enforced 8 p.m. curfew. Drivers who wanted to enter the city from the highway were forced to head toward the Illinois border and take side roads home.

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