State taking lead on investigating police shooting in Kenosha

By: - August 24, 2020 9:01 am
Kenosha protests 8/24/20 Photo credit: Bethany Bosseau

Kenosha protests 8/24/20 Photo credit: Bethany Bosseau

The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) announced early on Monday that its Division of Criminal Investigations (DCI) will take the lead on investigating the police shooting in Kenosha of a Black man shot in the back multiple times. The shooting, and a bystander video, went viral on Sunday evening. 

Riots erupted in Kenosha, a curfew was imposed overnight. Gov. Tony Evers, who identified the man as Jacob Blake and said he was shot in the back multiple times in broad daylight, implied that he would be forcing the state to take action, as bills he and the Black Legislative Caucus have forwarded since June have been ignored by legislative Republican leadership. 

“I have said all along that although we must offer our empathy, equally important is our action,” stated Evers. “In the coming days, we will demand just that of elected officials in our state who have failed to recognize the racism in our state and our country for far too long.”

Riots followed the shooting in Kenosha, a city of approximately 100,000 people located south of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan.

State Rep. Tod Ohnstad (D-Kenosha) told the Wisconsin Examiner on Monday morning that he had received news that Blake is likely to survive the shooting, calling it “miraculous.” He reported that downtown Kenosha is “full of damage” including “one used car lot with 30 burned out cars” and lots of broken windows.

In a public Facebook message posted around midnight Sunday, Blake’s father reported, “My son is alive and stable.”

The Kenosha News reported that more than 60 people gathered in the area in the wake of the shooting, where bystanders told the newspaper that the victim was “trying to break up a verbal altercation between two women.”

Attorney Benjamin Crump, a civil rights defense attorney from Tallahassee, Florida, who has been a prominent figure in the case of George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis by police, told CNN — and stated on Twitter — that Blake’s family contacted him for help, and that Blake’s three young sons were in the car when he was shot. 

“They saw a cop shoot their father. They will be traumatized forever. We cannot let officers violate their duty to PROTECT us. Our kids deserve better!!” Crump posted. He also shared the bystander video.

Evers and Kenosha-area legislators immediately responded with statements on the incidents.

Kathy and I join his family, friends, and neighbors in hoping earnestly that he will not succumb to his injuries,” said Evers in a release. “While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.

“We stand with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equity, and accountability for Black lives in our country—lives like those of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor, Tony Robinson, Dontre Hamilton, Ernest Lacy, and Sylville Smith. And we stand against excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with Black Wisconsinites.

According to DOJ, police were responding to a reported domestic incident in a residential area, the 2800 block of 40th Street. Police provided medical aid and Blake was flown to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, where he is in serious condition. The officers involved were placed on administrative leave and DCI “aims to provide a report of the incident to the prosecutor within 30 days.”

State Rep. Tip McGuire (D-Kenosha) requested an immediate investigation and had been in contact with DOJ on Sunday night.

“I am shocked and horrified by what we saw tonight. In our city, a man was shot in the back seven times by police,” McGuire said in a statement. “My thoughts are with Jacob Blake as we all pray for his recovery.

“The status quo is unacceptable. Our community, our state, and our nation must take action to fundamentally change the systems and policies that time after time put black lives at risk. Black lives matter, and we must guarantee that the institutions entrusted with the duty of public safety values those lives.”

Ohnstad said in a statement that he was stunned by the event and that “the only focus must be on ensuring justice is served.”

“Throughout my life and career I have marched and acted to overcome injustices wherever I see them,” said Ohnstad. “I have stood opposed to excessive force and unnecessary escalation by law enforcement and in support of transparency and accountability. Police are entrusted with great responsibility and must be held to the highest standard. 

“Throughout the conversations I have had tonight, in the absence of a greater understanding of what occurred, the primary feeling expressed has been a deep anger and sadness that something like this would happen in our neighborhoods.

“These are streets where bicycles should be flying by, rather than bullets. My heart and thoughts are with Jacob and his friends and family in the aftermath of this shooting.”

Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard, whose district covers Kenosha and Racine counties, said in a statement that the video “appears shocking.” He said he was “extremely shocked” by Evers’ statement as well.

He added, “Although the video that is publicly available at this time provides a picture of the incident, it is also important to remember that there is a great deal that cannot be seen, and many witnesses who saw the events leading up to and during the event from different perspectives.”

“Exhale,” Wanggaard said. “Everyone should take a deep breath. There is an investigatory process that must be followed, so no evidence is overlooked. We must let law and reason, not emotion, guide the next steps. I know passions and tensions are high right now between certain communities and law enforcement. It’s important to realize that tension goes both ways. Although each situation is unique, it is easy to lump every interaction together when it is the perceived reality you live in. But nothing justifies the violence and destruction we saw last night.”

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin was the Wisconsin Examiner's founding Deputy Editor, serving from its launch July 1, 2019, until Feb. 1, 2022. She is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications before returning to journalism at the Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.