By Jaclyn Peiser, Mark Guarino and Mark Berman
August 27, 2020 at 2:08 p.m. CDT
One day after police charged a 17-year-old in connection with the fatal shootings of two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., a fourth consecutive night of protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake was smaller and mostly peaceful. Both police and the self-declared militia members who were ever-present on Tuesday mostly stayed away from protesters Wednesday night.
The night’s demonstrations began hours after authorities named Rusten Sheskey as the officer who shot Blake, and announced an arrest on a homicide charge for 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who attended the protest with a group of armed men who claimed to be protecting a gas station.
Sheskey and two other officers have been placed on leave amid the state investigation into Blake’s shooting.
At a news briefing on Thursday, local law enforcement officials praised the demonstrations held the night before, describing them as much calmer than the chaos on Kenosha’s streets earlier in the week.
On Wednesday night, a group of about 60 to 100 people gathered in a park that’s surrounded by the courthouse and other government buildings. The group chanted, and some people spray-painted art promoting peace and healing on the sidewalk.
“Last night was very peaceful,” Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said at the briefing. He described the crowd as a relatively smaller group that “did exactly what they wanted to do as far as the protest … but they did it without violence.”
Officials took no questions at Thursday’s briefing and only provided brief statements to reporters. They provided no new information on the shooting of Blake, which set off the unrest, nor on the fatal shooting during Tuesday night’s unrest.
These officials had drawn criticism for some of their comments during a news briefing held Wednesday, during which Daniel Miskinis, the city’s police chief, suggested that this shooting might not have happened “had persons involved not been in violation of” the nightly curfews in Kenosha.
On Thursday, he referred to that shooting only to say the investigation was still ongoing.
“Kenosha was once known for American Motors and the lakefront,” he said. “We do not wish to be known for violence of any kind.”
Although an eight-foot-high fence guarded the courthouse, the riot police who repeatedly fired tear gas at protesters Tuesday were nowhere to be found. After 10 p.m., a group of about 100 people began marching out of the square and into the street.
Earlier in the day, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) had announced that he was increasing the number of National Guard troops in Kenosha to 500. President Trump also posted on Twitter that he would “be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha.”
There was no visible National Guard presence in the city Wednesday night, but some activists said protesters were arrested by officers in unmarked cars — a tactic used by federal agents in Portland, Ore., and elsewhere.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday evening confirmed that it had also opened a federal civil rights probe into Blake’s shooting.
This investigation will be carried out by the FBI and overseen by federal prosecutors in Wisconsin and in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the department said.
The investigation would “run parallel to, and share information with, state authorities” when legally possible, the department said in its statement. The Justice Department had also launched a federal civil rights investigation into George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
The department also said Wednesday that it had sent more than 200 people to Kenosha, including agents and marshals from the FBI, U.S. Marshals and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Jennifer Scheurle, a board member for Riot Kitchen, a nonprofit that provides protesters and homeless people with meals, said law enforcement officers arrested eight people from the group before Wednesday’s protest. A video shows the moment that the vehicles with no license plates surrounded the group’s silver van at an intersection. One officer smashed the passenger’s side window and dragged a woman out.
“We don’t know where they are or where they’ve been taken,” Scheurle said. “We’re just scared.”
Scheurle said she didn’t know why the volunteers were taken into custody or what agency arrested them. Kenosha police and the Department of Homeland Security didn’t immediately return messages about the arrests.
“We are there to feed people that’s the only thing we do. That is the entire mission statement of this organization,” Scheurle said.
Throughout Kenosha, plywood covered windows of businesses, from corner bodegas to nursing homes. Many bore messages in paint that pleaded with looters to pass them by: “Children Upstairs,” “Disabled and Blind on Second Floor” and “Elderly Live Here.”
While large groups of armed militia members stayed away from Kenosha on Wednesday, many businesses did have locals out front with guns. Used car lots, bars and even Froedtert Kenosha Hospital, located on the corner where the first shooting took place Tuesday night, had armed guards outside.
Outside Pavle’s Lounge, northwest of downtown, owner Pavle Zekovil stood outside and watched marchers and a car caravan stream past. His neighbor Barry, 52, leaned against a white pickup truck with a rifle in the bed.
Barry, an Army veteran who asked not to give his last name, said he agreed with the principles of Black Lives Matter, but not when protests turned into looting. “These are hard-working people. Why tear their stuff up? That doesn’t create change, that creates divide,” he said.
After leaving the courthouse, protesters drove in a caravan around the city, honking their horns and encouraging other residents to join them.
Earlier on Wednesday, police released more details about the Sunday shooting of Blake, captured on a viral video as he climbed into a car with his children inside.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice said Sheskey, an officer in the city for seven years, shot Blake seven times in the back, leaving him paralyzed below the waist. Police said that Blake had told investigators he had a knife and that officers found a knife in his car. It is unclear whether Sheskey knew of the knife during the shooting.
Since Sunday, Kenosha has had three nights of protests that quickly evolved into violent confrontations between police, who have fired tear gas and beanbags, and demonstrators, who have set fires and shot fireworks. A small group burned buildings and ransacked stores on Monday.
On Tuesday, police say Rittenhouse fired an AR-15-style rifle at protesters after a chaotic confrontation in the streets. Authorities have not named the victims, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel identified the two men who died as Anthony Huber, 26, of Silver Lake, Wis.; and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha. Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, of West Allis, Wis., was shot in the arm and is expected to recover.
Guarino reported from Kenosha, Wis.