Residents in Kenosha, Wisc., are struggling to stay together as a community, pressing for positive change and wondering what will come next amid ongoing civil unrest in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday.
Close to midnight on Tuesday, the protesting turned deadly when two people were shot and killed and another wounded in a separate shooting incident. The alleged gunman is 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse of Antioch, Ill., reportedly a member of a self-described militia that came to the area near downtown Kenosha heavily armed to guard against property damage. Antioch police took Rittenhouse into custody Wednesday; he is being held in Lake County’s Hulse Juvenile Detention Center in Vernon Hills without bond, according to court records.
WBEZ spoke with residents about the violence, the police shooting of Blake and the days of protesting and nights of mayhem that have followed.
Rochelle Anderson-Moore and Charelle Brown
Anderson-Moore, a retired social worker, said she believes the police are at least partially to blame for the overnight shooting because they did not force the armed white men to clear the area and instead allowed the conflict to happen. She believes a group of armed Black men would have been treated much more harshly by police.
“If that was a crowd of Black people, the difference that it would have been. Some people would have, more than the two that got shot, would have died at [the police’s] hands,” Anderson-Moore said. “The shooting … would not have happened if they would have told them, ‘Go home. Go home.’ “
A substitute teacher in Kenosha public schools, Brown said watching the video of police shooting Jacob Blake in the back was painful.
“That is traumatic because in our minds when we see the brother getting shot, in our heads that’s our father, that’s our brother-in-law, that’s our nephew,” Brown said. “It’s overwhelming, and it’s heartbreaking.”
“We knew this day was coming,” Wallace said, pointing out that Kenosha residents have been protesting peacefully for months with no results.
“Action is needed now and this is what you have. And I can understand … people saying two wrongs don’t make a right … but at the end of the day look at [the shooting of Blake]. Did he deserve that?” Wallace said. “Months of peaceful protesting, months. … Out of all that peaceful protesting, what has come of it? Another victim.”
The shooting happened in front of Arimas’s house as he slept. Arimas said that hours before the incident he called 911 to report a group of white men carrying what appeared to be long guns. He said he was disappointed by the lack of police action that he believes could have prevented the shooting.
“They looked like average people, but he had a rifle,” Arimas said. “That’s almost like an active shooter situation.”
Arimas has been worried for his safety as rioters have destroyed property and fires have raged each night in his neighborhood. He believes the mayhem was not the right way to respond to the police shooting of Blake.
Bonilla also lives near the site of Tuesday’s shooting but has been living in Racine with his parents since Sunday to avoid the unrest.
“It’s a quiet area … I wasn’t expecting it to get this much national spotlight, but obviously when there’s a shooting involving a Caucasian officer and a Black individual it’s going to make headlines,” Bonilla said. “I’m not surprised with the anger people have and the injustice people feel. It’s bound to happen.”
Gustin walked near the site of Tuesday’s shooting on Wednesday afternoon with his 14-year-old son, Lex. They live in a different part of Kenosha but said they were “just coming to look at our town.”
“I’m kind of torn. I understand the anger. It’s anger on both sides,” Gustin said. You know, we’re watching our city burn, [but] the city’s burning for a cause.”
Gustin said he understood that the armed men who confronted protesters Tuesday night were trying to “protect the city,” but “once you’ve got individuals walking around with guns, nothing good is going to come out of it.”
“I never imagined this happening here.”
On Wednesday, Carpenter surveyed the wreckage of her family’s 31-year-old business, B&L Office Furniture, which was burned down Monday night. Carpenter said she watched the building go up in flames on Facebook Live. She had been following the protests on live video for about an hour when “all of a sudden I saw them turn down 60th Street and I was like, ‘Oh no.’ “
“It’s really heartbreaking to see that people can do this. I mean we didn’t do anything to deserve this,” Carpenter said. “The protests itself, they’re going for a good cause. I don’t mind the protesting, it’s just the rioting that comes with it. It’s really hard to differentiate between the protests and the rioting.”
Washington, a Kenosha resident, said he has been documenting the protesting and destruction since the Sunday police shooting and livestreaming the mayhem.
“For the most part things have been mainly peaceful at least throughout the day. But during the night over the past few days there’s been a lot of people from outside of the community that have come in and caused a lot of damage,” Washington said.
Washington said peaceful protests had been ongoing in Kenosha for months and he had seen positive changes coming from the police department response. He worried the last few days of unrest could undo all of that progress.
“It’s unfortunate that things [went in] the direction that they did because things were going so well until the situation with Jacob Blake,” Washington said.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Manuel Martinez is a visual journalist at WBEZ. Follow him @DenverManuel. Mary Hall produced this story for digital. Follow her @hall_marye.