By Brendan McDermid and Stephen Maturen
KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) – Relative calm returned to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Thursday after multiple nights of looting and two violent deaths, even as activists pushed for charges against the white policeman involved in the shooting of a Black man that sparked the unrest.
In an effort to retain a tenuous grip on order, officials said on Thursday that Arizona, Alabama and Michigan would be sending National Guard troops to the city to augment the forces which until Wednesday night had struggled to keep the peace.
“Last night was very peaceful,” Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth told a news conference. “Hopefully, we are over the hump of what we have to face.”
Kenosha’s first orderly night since the protests began came after Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul identified Rusten Sheskey as the officer who on Sunday afternoon fired seven shots at the back of Jacob Blake after the 29-year-old opened his car door. Kaul also said investigators found a knife on the floor of Blake’s car.
That announcement – combined with the arrest of a 17-year-old suspect charged with homicide over the previous night’s gunfire – set the stage for what could have been another night of chaos in Kenosha, a lakeside city of 100,000 about 40 miles (60 km) south of Milwaukee.
Shockwaves from the events in Kenosha were felt across the United States as professional athletes, starting with National Basketball Association players, went on strike and anti-racism protests intensified in other cities. Republican President Donald Trump sounded in on the boycotts on Thursday, saying the NBA had become “like a political organization and that’s not a good thing.”
In Kenosha, after three nights of civil strife – including arson, vandalism and the shootings that killed two people on Tuesday night – calm took hold. About 200 protesters defied a curfew and marched peacefully through city streets, chanting, “Black lives matter,” but law enforcement officers kept a low profile, and armed militia members were notably absent.
Prior nights drew an array of rifle-toting civilians, among them 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who was arrested on Wednesday on homicide charges in connection with Tuesday night’s shootings. Rittenhouse, a police supporter, was arrested at his home in Antioch, Illinois, about 20 miles away.
At a news conference on Thursday, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson lamented what he called a “pattern of killing Black people” and blamed Trump for creating a culture in which police were encouraged to use excessive force.
“That climate, top-down, a kind of moral desert, hurts all of America,” said Jackson, who called for Shuskey and two other officers at the scene of Blake’s shooting to be indicted. “We need police that are not above the law.”
PLAYERS ON STRIKE
The strike by NBA players, led by the Milwaukee Bucks, triggered a wave of similar boycotts across various professional sports on Wednesday. NBA Executive Vice President Mike Bass said the league hoped to resume games on Friday or Saturday, after players agreed not to boycott the rest of the season.
The Kenosha turmoil struck while much of the United States remained agitated over George Floyd, who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck.
In the shooting that sparked the latest wave of outrage, Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha police force, fired seven shots at Blake’s back, hitting him four times. Blake survived but may be permanently paralyzed, his family’s lawyers have said.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, one of the lawyers representing Blake’s family, disputed the report that Blake had a knife and said he posed no threat, an assertion emphasized by Jackson and other activists at Thursday’s news conference.
They also referred to video footage from the previous night that showed the person who had just fired on protesters was able to walk past a battery of police without being arrested, saying it showed the stark contrast between how the police treated Blake and self-described militia members bearing firearms.
“There was no reason for a 17-year-old to carry a loaded weapon to try to preserve peace,” said Bishop Tavis Grant, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s national field director and a Baptist pastor. “We are Black people and Black lives matter.”
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday called for the resignations of Sheriff Beth, Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, arguing they had mishandled the response to Blake’s death and the resulting unrest.
Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Daniel Trotta, Ann Maria Shibu, Kanishka Singh and Barbara Goldberg; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis.