August 26, 2020 at 10:05 p.m. CDT
KENOSHA, Wis. — Authorities on Wednesday said a 17-year-old had been charged with homicide after two people were killed and another seriously wounded by gunfire amid a chaotic night of demonstrations and destruction in Kenosha unleashed by the weekend police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Police in Antioch, Ill., about 20 miles southwest of Kenosha, said they had arrested Kyle Rittenhouse in the killings. The Antioch resident was charged with first-degree intentional homicide in Wisconsin, authorities said, but they did not specify whether he was being charged in one fatal shooting or both.
The shooting came as self-declared militia members and armed counterprotesters have appeared in the city, which is reeling from days of unrest. Authorities have not said whether Rittenhouse is a member of any of the groups.
His social media feeds contained messages supporting the police and photos of himself with assault rifles. He had been a member of cadet programs for local police and fire departments, according to department newsletters and statements.
This lakeside Wisconsin city became the latest locus of anger over police brutality after Blake, a father of five, was shot by police on Sunday, a recorded incident that quickly went viral and prompted a nationwide outcry.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice said Kenosha police were attempting to arrest Blake when Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the department, fired his weapon seven times into the Black man’s back, the first time officials had identified the officer who shot him.
The shooting left Blake paralyzed from the waist down, and it has become a flash point in the presidential campaign. On Wednesday, it also touched the world of professional sports, with the Milwaukee Bucks — normally playing basketball less than an hour from Kenosha — declining to take the court for a scheduled playoff game in protest of police violence. Baseball and women’s basketball games were also postponed as players said they would boycott.
The streets of Kenosha have been filled with peaceful mass demonstrations in recent days, but also damaging riots by night in which businesses have been looted and burned. Armed civilians — many wielding AR-15-style rifles — took position near stores and businesses saying they intended to fill a vacuum left by a law enforcement. Some had stood near the gas station where Tuesday night’s shooting began with a confrontation just before midnight.
Cellphone video from before Tuesday night’s shooting showed police officers thanking armed civilians for being on the streets after curfew and handing them bottles of water. Officials said Wednesday that they could not comment in detail on the video.
A complaint filed in Lake County, Ill., by the Antioch police described Rittenhouse as a fugitive, saying that he had been charged with homicide in Wisconsin and fled “with the intent to avoid prosecution for that offense.” According to minutes from a hearing on Wednesday, he was held without bond and a hearing on Friday will address his potential extradition to Wisconsin.
Kenosha District Attorney Michael D. Graveley said Wednesday evening that decisions about charging Rittenhouse would be finalized on Thursday.
Authorities did not release the names of the shooting victims, but Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) expressed his condolences.
“My heart breaks for the families and loved ones of the two individuals who lost their lives and the individual who was injured last night in Kenosha,” Evers said in a statement. “We as a state are mourning this tragedy.”
The Village of Antioch Police Department stationed vehicles on Wednesday afternoon inside the Anita Terrace apartment complex where Kyle Rittenhouse has a listed home address, allowing only residents to enter the buildings and walk through the parking lot. Some residents at the complex lingered outside of the two-story, brick apartment buildings.
The village instituted a curfew Wednesday from 8 p.m. through 7 a.m. because of the potential for civil unrest, asking residents to stay in their homes and businesses to close.
Local law enforcement overwhelmed
News of the arrest came as Kenosha was bracing for a potential fourth night of violence and unrest on Wednesday. Evers, the governor, had declared an emergency Tuesday, and authorities made it harder for people to enter Kenosha, with seven consecutive exit ramps closed on Interstate 94 and the city’s sprawling outlet mall boarded up.
But in downtown Kenosha on Tuesday night, the only visible law enforcement presence was around the Kenosha County Courthouse, where an 8-foot-high fence was erected around the building, with about 1,000 protesters gathered outside the barrier.
After some protesters began vigorously shaking the fence and setting off fireworks aimed at officers on the other side, Kenosha County police officers atop the courthouse shot tear gas pellets and rubber bullets into the crowd. Around 9:20 p.m., a military vehicle entered the park, dispersing more tear gas.
Authorities pledged a more robust law enforcement response on Wednesday, with local officials conceding that they had been overwhelmed after this modest city of 100,000 became the latest focal point of a national uprising against systemic racism in law enforcement.
“In Kenosha, we’re not accustomed to riots,” said Sheriff David Beth, who took responsibility for a delay in requesting National Guard assistance that led to confusion over who was protecting which sites on Monday.
Mayor John Antaramian acknowledged they had struggled to respond to the unrest and communicate a clear message, saying “I’m not good at this. … This isn’t what I’m used to.”
Antaramian said local leaders are learning from their mistakes and asked civilians not to take it upon themselves to police the streets.
“I don’t need more guns on the streets in this city when we are trying to keep people safe,” he said.
Self-declared militia members had arrived in town before the gunfire, though Beth said he did not know for sure whether Rittenhouse was part of such a group.
The sheriff said he had been approached by members of a militia to deputize citizens with guns to patrol Kenosha, and he pointed to what happened on Tuesday as “probably the perfect reason why I wouldn’t” do so.
The police shooting of Blake has drawn dramatically different responses from across the American political divide. Three days after the incident, President Trump still had not addressed the shooting directly, though his surrogates at this week’s Republican National Convention have repeatedly expressed their support for police officers while trying to link their Democratic rivals to destruction and mayhem.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, meanwhile, has condemned the rioting while signaling solidarity with the demands of protesters for an end to systemic racism in law enforcement.
On Wednesday, Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, spoke by phone with members of Blake’s family, who have called for calm as Blake remains hospitalized with injuries to his spine and internal organs.
“All [Biden] did was offer his support,” said Jacob Blake Sr., the 29-year-old’s father, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “He was 100 percent real.”
Authorities report knife in Blake’s car
Authorities have released little information about the Blake shooting, which was captured on video and is being investigated by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
That pattern continued Wednesday even as local law enforcement faced the news media for the first time since the incident.
Daniel Miskinis, the Kenosha police chief, said three officers who were at the scene had been placed on leave during the investigation, but he declined further comment, saying it would be “unfair to everybody involved” to speak about an active investigation.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice on Wednesday said that a knife was found in Blake’s car after he was shot Sunday. The 29-year-old told investigators after the shooting about the knife he had in his possession, the department said. The agency did not say if any of the officers at the scene saw the knife or knew it was there.
The department said officers were called by a woman who said her boyfriend was there but not supposed to be, but the department did not specify if Blake was the boyfriend or the subject of the call.
Officers tried to arrest Blake, the department said, using a Taser to stun him, which they said was unsuccessful.
“Jacob did nothing to provoke police,” attorneys for Blake’s family said in a statement. “He was a great father and was only intending to get his children out of a volatile situation. Witnesses confirm that he was not in possession of a knife and didn’t threaten officers in any way.”
The Justice Department on Wednesday said it had opened a federal civil rights probe into Blake’s shooting.
Miskinis offered little new information about the gunfire on Tuesday night. But he appeared to hold those who were shot Tuesday at least partly responsible, noting they were among those who were out in public despite citywide orders to stay in.
“Everybody involved was out after the curfew,” he said. “The curfew’s in place to protect. Had persons involved not been in violation of that, perhaps the situation that unfolded would not have happened.”
Evers said Wednesday that he is increasing the Wisconsin National Guard contingent in Kenosha to 500 members. Trump posted on Twitter that he would “be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha,” though there were no specifics.
‘There was no pulse’
The shooting began at the gas station around 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, police said. After the first shots, a young White man carrying a rifle began running north on Sheridan Road, away from a crowd of protesters.
A Washington Post journalist who observed the scene saw the man with the rifle run by with several protesters in pursuit. He rolled into a sitting position, raised his gun and opened fire at his pursuers.
Two people fell to the ground, one shot in the arm and the other in the chest.
Carol Badoni from Burlington, Wis., started CPR on one wounded man.
“He definitely was not breathing,” said Badoni, 50. “His eyes were rolled back in his head. There was no pulse.”
Badoni added, “I never run toward trouble, but it’s worth getting shot for somebody else.”
Police soon took the wounded man to a hospital. Kenosha police did not immediately identify any of the shooting victims. Immediately after the shooting, video showed a gunman appearing to attempt to surrender — his hands up — but police failing to take him into custody. Officials declined to provide an explanation on Wednesday.
The confrontation near the gas station late Tuesday unfolded after police dispersed protesters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse, where demonstrators had been lobbing fireworks at the building and the officers trying to protect it.
Police set off tear gas and drove protesters in the direction of the gas station, where they were met by the armed men — members of what police described as vigilante militia groups.
One of the armed men near the gas station told The Post he was there to stop people from breaking into local businesses, noting that he had seen comments online about pipe bombs being used.
“If the cops aren’t going to stop them from throwing pipe bombs on innocent civilians, somebody has to,” said a man who declined to give his name. (There is no indication that pipe bombs were part of Tuesday’s protest.)
Other cities also saw demonstrations Tuesday night with some damage, though none reaching the levels seen in Kenosha.
Police in Madison, the Wisconsin capital, reported that they had arrested four people after a march near the Capitol gave way to property damage and some fires.
In Portland, Ore., police said a group damaged windows and entered the city hall and lit a fire nearby. There were 23 arrests, police said.
‘Call to arms’
In Portland and other cities in recent days and weeks, members of far-right, self-declared militias armed with paintball guns, bats and pepper spray, as well as lethal weapons, have battled leftist and Black Lives Matter activists in the name of backing police in their confrontations with protesters.
From the start of Tuesday’s protests, armed civilians were a prominent presence in Kenosha, with handguns, rifles, knives and military flak jackets.
“Ain’t nothing being done. We’re the only ones,” said Joe, 29, who described himself as a Marine Corps veteran and declined to give his last name. He noted that others like him were around Kenosha on Tuesday night, “armed and ready.”
Another man, brandishing a handgun, said he showed up after a call on Facebook to protect the city.
On Wednesday Facebook confirmed that it had taken down an event page from a 3,000-member group calling itself the Kenosha Guard, which had encouraged citizens to take up arms to defend the city. The “Call to Arms” event page was taken down for violating the platform’s “dangerous individuals and organizations” policy, Facebook said, which was expanded to include militia groups calling for violence last week. Civil rights groups called Facebook’s efforts “tragically late.”
Facebook said that so far it has not found evidence of Kyle Rittenhouse as a member of the Kenosha Guard militia group.
Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) said the situation in Kenosha “went from bad to worse” overnight Tuesday and called the National Guard deployment at that point “woefully insufficient.”
On Wednesday, evidence of Tuesday night’s violence could be found in bloodstains on the asphalt where one of the shootings occurred. Nearly every car in a nearby lot had its windows smashed, and at least one had been torched.
“I honestly feel like it’s going to get worse — the shootings, the violence, the riots,” said Kilian Kray, 31, who lives nearby. “The cops shouldn’t be the judge, juror and executioner.”
Another round of destruction began Wednesday night in Minneapolis, where the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, who lost consciousness after pleading for air with his neck under the knee of an officer. Police clashed with scores of protesters, who broke store windows and threw bottles and trash cans at officers along a pedestrian mall downtown after reports that police had shot and killed a Black man suspected in an earlier shooting.
Police said the suspect, who was wanted for the fatal shooting of another man in a downtown parking garage Wednesday afternoon, fatally shot himself as officers approached him.
A police spokesman said the incident was caught on surveillance video and witnessed by several bystanders. Clips were shown to several local reporters, who said the video confirmed the police account, and police said the footage would be soon released more widely. But at least 100 protesters flooded the streets, questioning the story and clashing with police.
“Show us the tapes!” one protester shouted.
Officers, including some clad in riot gear, were seen shoving and spraying pepper spray at the crowd.
“You started this,” one man yelled in return. “Now we’re going to burn the city down again.”
An officer, visibly frustrated, shouted, “It was suicide!”