KENOSHA, Wis. — Wisconsin’s governor summoned the National Guard to head off another round of violent protests Monday after the police shooting of a Black man under murky circumstances turned Kenosha into the nation’s latest flashpoint city in a summer of racial unrest.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said 125 members of the National Guard would be in Kenosha by night with responsibility for “guarding infrastructure and making sure our firefighters and others involved are protected.” County authorities also announced an 8 p.m. curfew.
The move came after protesters set cars on fire, smashed windows and clashed with officers in riot gear Sunday night over the wounding of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, who was hospitalized in serious condition. He was shot, apparently in the back, as he leaned into his SUV while his three children sat in the vehicle.
Police in the former auto manufacturing center of 100,000 people midway between Milwaukee and Chicago said Blake was gunned down while they were responding to a call about a domestic dispute.
They did not immediately disclose the race of the three officers at the scene or say whether Blake was armed or why police opened fire, and they released no details on the domestic dispute.
A young man who said he made a widely seen cellphone video of the shooting, 22-year-old Raysean White, said that 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 Barnes' hands.
The governor said he has seen no information to suggest that Blake had a knife or other weapon, “but this is undergoing a thorough investigation" by the state Justice Department.
The officers were placed on administrative leave, standard practice in a shooting by police, in the meantime.
Evers was quick to condemn the shooting, saying that while not all details were known, “what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called for “an immediate, full and transparent investigation” and 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.”
Republicans and the police union accused the politicians of rushing to judgment, reflecting the deep partisan divide in Wisconsin, a key presidential battleground state. Wisconsin GOP members also decried the violent protests, echoing the law-and-order theme that President Donald Trump has been using in his reelection campaign.
“As always, the video currently circulating does not capture all the intricacies of a highly dynamic incident,” Pete Deates president of the Kenosha police union, said in a statement. He called the governor’s statement “wholly irresponsible.”
The shooting happened around 5 p.m. Sunday and was captured from across the street on video that was posted online. Kenosha police do not have body cameras but do have body microphones.
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 pointed 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. During the shooting, a Black woman can be seen screaming in the street and jumping up and down.
White, who claimed to have made the video, said that before the gunfire, he looked out his window and saw six or seven women shouting at each other on the sidewalk. A few moments later Blake drove up in his SUV and told his son, who was standing nearby, to get in the vehicle, White said. White said Blake did not say anything to the women.
White said he left the window to use the bathroom for a few minutes and when he came back, saw three officers wrestling with Blake. One punched Blake in the ribs, and another used a stun gun on him, White said. He said Blake got free and started walking away as officers yelled about a knife.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, representing Blake’s family, said Blake was “simply trying to do the right thing by intervening in a domestic incident.”
There was no immediate confirmation from the police that that's what happened.
Online court records indicate Kenosha County prosecutors charged Blake on July 6 with sexual assault, trespassing and disorderly conduct in connection with domestic abuse. An arrest warrant was issued the following day. The records contain no further details and do not list an attorney for Blake.
It was unclear whether that case had anything to do with the shooting.
Laquisha Booker, who is Blake’s partner, told NBC’s Milwaukee affiliate, WTMJ-TV, that the couple’s three children were in the back seat of the SUV when police shot him.
“That man just literally grabbed him by his shirt and looked the other way and was just shooting him. With the kids in the back screaming. Screaming,” Booker said.
Crump, who has also represented the Floyd and Taylor families, called the police officers’ actions “irresponsible, reckless and inhumane” and added: “It’s a miracle he’s still alive.”
In the unrest that followed Sunday night, social media posts showed neighbors gathering in the surrounding streets and shouting at police. Some chanted, “No justice, no peace!” Others appeared to throw objects at officers and damage police vehicles. Officers fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.
In a scene that mirrored the widespread protests in recent months over police brutality and racial inequality, marchers headed to the Kenosha County Public Safety Building, which houses the police and sheriff’s departments. Authorities mostly blocked off the building, which officials said was closed on Monday because of damage.
For more than 100 years, Kenosha was an auto manufacturing center, but it has now largely been transformed into a bedroom community for Milwaukee and Chicago. The city is about 67% white, 11.5% Black and 17.6% Hispanic, according to 2019 Census data. Both the mayor and police chief are white. About 17% of the population lives in poverty.
Like other cities across the U.S., Kenosha has been grappling with unemployment in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. Its unemployment rate was 10.8% in June, among the highest in the state.