Prosecutors on Thursday charged a 17-year-old from Illinois in the fatal shooting of two protesters and the wounding of a third in Kenosha, Wis., during a night of unrest following the weekend police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Kyle Rittenhouse faces one count of first-degree intentional homicide, one count of first-degree reckless homicide, one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment. He would face a mandatory life sentence if convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, the most serious crime in Wisconsin.
The attack late Tuesday — largely caught on cellphone video and posted online — and the shooting by police Sunday of Blake, a 29-year-old Black father of six who was left paralyzed from the waist down, made Kenosha the latest focal point in the fight against racial injustice that has gripped the country since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
The two men who were killed were Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha, and Anthony Huber, 26, of Silver Lake, Wis., about 25 kilometres west of the city. The wounded person, Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, of West Allis, about 50 kilometres northwest of Kenosha, was expected to survive, police said.
Under Wisconsin law, anyone 17 or older is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.
While the investigation into the shooting of Blake proceeded on one track, Kenosha police faced questions about their interactions with the gunman the night of the killings. According to witness accounts and video footage, police apparently let the gunman walk past them and leave the scene with a rifle over his shoulder and his hands in the air as members of the crowd were yelling for him to be arrested because he had shot people.
WATCH | The gunman is seen walking, unimpeded, past police cars in Kenosha, Wis.:
As for how the gunman managed to slip away, Sheriff David Beth described a chaotic, high-stress scene, with lots of radio traffic and people screaming, chanting and running — conditions he said can cause “tunnel vision” among law officers.
Video taken before the shooting shows police tossing bottled water from an armoured vehicle and thanking armed civilians walking the streets. One of them appears to be the gunman.
Rittenhouse’s attorney, Lin Wood, said the teenager was acting in self-defence. Cellphone footage shows the shooter being chased into a used car lot by someone before shots are heard and the person lies dead. The shooter then runs down the street where he is chased by several people shouting that he just shot someone. He stumbles after being approached by several more people and fires, killing another man and injuring a third.
“From my standpoint, it’s important that the message be clear to other Americans who are attacked that there will be legal resources available in the event false charges are brought against them,” he said. “Americans should never be deterred from exercising their right of self-defence.”
The national and state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday called for the resignation of Beth and Kenosha Police Chief Dan Miskinis over their handling of Blake’s death and the subsequent protests.
WATCH | Kamala Harris calls the shooting of Jacob Blake ‘sickening’:
Shot in the back
Blake was shot in the back seven times Sunday as he leaned into his SUV, in which three of his children were seated.
On Wednesday — three days after the shooting — state authorities identified the officer who shot Blake as Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department.
Authorities said Sheskey was among officers who responded to a domestic dispute, though they have not said whether Blake was part of the dispute. Sheskey shot Blake while holding onto his shirt after officers first unsuccessfully used a Taser, the Wisconsin Justice Department said. State agents later recovered a knife from the floor on the driver’s side of the vehicle, the department said. State authorities did not say Blake threatened anyone with the knife.
Ben Crump, the lawyer for Blake’s family, said Tuesday that it would “take a miracle” for Blake to walk again. He called for the arrest of Sheskey and for the others involved to lose their jobs. State officials have announced no charges.
Blake’s father told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday that he was upset to learn his son was handcuffed to his hospital bed.
“He can’t go anywhere. Why do you have him cuffed to the bed?” said his father, also named Jacob Blake.
At a news conference, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said that Blake has “paid a horrific price already,” citing concerns about him being handcuffed.
Streets quiet Wednesday night
Groups that had taken to Kenosha’s streets with long guns earlier in the week were nowhere to be seen early Thursday following sombre protests and no widespread unrest for the first night since the weekend police shooting of Blake.
Marchers were solemn during Wednesday night’s protests, marching past the intersection where two people were killed Tuesday night, stopping to gather around the spot where one person was shot, and to pray and lay flowers. Daijon Spann said he decided to join the demonstration because one of those killed the night before was a friend.
“I couldn’t take it any more,” he said. “I couldn’t just sit there and watch my friend die.”
The attack late Tuesday and the shooting by police Sunday of Blake, a 29-year-old Black father of six who was left paralyzed from the waist down, made Kenosha the latest focal point in the fight against racial injustice that has gripped the country since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
In solidarity, Milwaukee Bucks players refused to play their playoff game Wednesday, temporarily halting the NBA season. Three Major League Baseball games were delayed because players refused to take the field and several NFL teams cancelled their Thursday practices.
Also Thursday, Wisconsin Lutheran College located about 65 kilometres from Kenosha said it cancelled a planned Saturday commencement speech by U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, citing the unrest.
There were no groups patrolling Kenosha’s streets with long guns Wednesday night as there had been during previous nights’ protests. Protesters also stayed away from a courthouse that had been the site of standoffs with law enforcement. Unlike the previous two nights, when dozens of fires were set and businesses were ransacked and destroyed, there was no widespread unrest.
Evers authorized the deployment of 500 members of the National Guard to Kenosha, doubling the number of troops in the city of 100,000. Guard troops from Arizona, Michigan and Alabama were coming to Wisconsin to assist, Evers said Thursday. He did not say how many.
WATCH | Donald Trump credits National Guard with overnight calm:
In Washington, the Justice Department said it was sending in more than 200 federal agents from the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The White House said up to 2,000 National Guard troops would be made available. The Justice Department also announced that the U.S. attorney’s office and FBI would conduct a civil rights investigation into the shooting of Blake, in cooperation with Wisconsin state law enforcement agencies.
Much of Rittenhouse’s Facebook page is devoted to praising law enforcement, with references to Blue Lives Matter, a movement that supports police. In photos posted on his page, which has since been locked down, he also can be seen holding an assault rifle. In a photo posted on his mother’s page, he is wearing what appears to be a blue law enforcement uniform as well as the kind of brimmed hat that state troopers wear.