Threads of the modern American experience that for months have been pulled with increasing tension came together as the fuse for an explosion of violence this week on the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a teenager from Illinois armed with an assault rifle killed two people and wounded a third while acting as a vigilante property guard during protests arising from another officer-involved shooting of a black man. As it was with the officer-involved shooting, the protest shootings instantly were broadcast into the public sphere from the cellphone cameras of onlookers, and as it has been with so much of this turbulent summer, assessments of fault are sharply divided. Keep reading for more on this story and other news.
Wisconsin. The protests in Wisconsin came in response to Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey shooting Jacob Blake in the back seven times on Sunday while attempting to arrest him in connection with an argument on a sidewalk involving several other people. At the time of writing, specific details about the incident are scarce, but bystander video shows Blake disregard Sheskey after a scuffle while attempting to enter his own vehicle, where his three children were sitting. Sheskey shot Blake from close range while pulling on his shirt to prevent him from entering the vehicle. There are reports that a knife was found at the scene, but it is not clear at this time whether Blake possessed the knife at the time he was shot. Blake survived the shooting but now is paralyzed from the waist down.
In addition to the protests in Kenosha, NBA teams are boycotting playoff games and considering whether to continue the season. Other professional sports teams and athletes also are participating in walkouts, boycotts, and practice cancellations. The Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
Protest Shootings. Blake’s shooting set off protests in Kenosha that were accompanied by fires, vandalism, and looting. On Tuesday night, private citizens wearing tactical gear and carrying assault rifles stationed themselves in various parts of the city and stated their intention to defend businesses and other property from fires and vandalism. Among those armed citizens was Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old with aspirations to serve in law enforcement who came to Kenosha from a nearby town in Illinois. Prior to the shootings, Rittenhouse told an interviewer that he was at the protest to provide medical assistance to anyone who needed it, but the same interview shows a citizen chastising Rittenhouse for ordering him away from some cars with his rifle earlier in the evening and characterizing his purported medical assistance role as insincere.
Cellphone video and pictures captured the moments surrounding the first shooting involving Rittenhouse and show him running from a man and eventually shooting him. Though Rittenhouse had showed his medical kit to interviewers earlier and noted his training as an EMT, he did not render aid to the man he had shot, instead he briefly lingered while others tended to the man’s fatal wound and then ran from the scene while telling someone on his cellphone that he had just shot a person.
Other video and pictures captured the subsequent shootings, where it appears that people were pursuing Rittenhouse as he fled from the first shooting. During the pursuit, Rittenhouse falls to the ground and is set upon by a few people. During a struggle over his rifle he shoots one in the chest and another in the arm. The man who was shot in the arm appears to have been armed with a handgun. Rittenhouse later was arrested at his home in Illinois and has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide.
Police Response to Armed Citizens. The reaction of law enforcement to the presence of heavily armed private citizens at the scene of the chaotic protests was mixed. Kenosha Sheriff David Beth discouraged their presence and said it was not helpful, but a video from the protest taken before the shootings shows officers thanking some armed citizens, including Rittenhouse, for being at the protest and giving him a bottle of water. It is worth noting that it appears that Rittenhouse may have been committing a crime by openly carrying a rifle in Wisconsin while being under the age of 18. He was carrying the rifle while retrieving water from the police and, in an image that is now widely associated with the shootings, was carrying the rifle while standing in the middle of the street as bystanders identified him as the shooter and police vehicles drove past him to attend to the people he had shot.
Lewis. Last week the News Roundup noted that David Lewis had resigned from the North Carolina General Assembly after being charged with federal financial crimes. As WRAL reports, Lewis pleaded guilty this week to making a false statement to a bank and failing to file a tax return. The WRAL report says that prosecutors will recommend that Lewis be sentenced to no more than six months in prison and that he could receive probation.