Wisconsin Governor Declares State of Emergency Over Kenosha Protests

Demonstrations over the shooting of Jacob Blake took a violent turn for the second night in a row.

A protester lights a cigarette on a garbage truck that was set on fire during protests late Monday in Kenosha, Wis., sparked by the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police a day earlier. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

MADISON, Wis. (CN) — The Democratic governor of Wisconsin declared a state of emergency Tuesday afternoon in reaction to violence and vandalism in Kenosha after a Black man was shot in the back by police, sparking unrest in the southeast Wisconsin city and nationwide.

Protests started Sunday night hours after Jacob Blake was shot at least seven times by unidentified officers with the Kenosha Police Department who were responding to a reported domestic incident, quickly spreading outrage across the nation as a bystander’s cellphone video of the incident circulated on social media.

As of Tuesday, Blake is in serious condition at a Milwaukee hospital. Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has been retained by Blake’s family, tweeted that Blake is currently paralyzed from the waist down, confirming details originally reported by the Chicago Sun-Times per Blake’s father earlier in the day.

Demonstrations over the shooting—which have spread to cities across the country like Los Angeles and Minneapolis—have featured dozens of fires, destroyed businesses and vandalized state property in Kenosha and Wisconsin’s capital of Madison, with daytime peaceful protests skewing more violent come nightfall. Hundreds of protesters defied an 8 p.m. curfew in Kenosha on Monday night and clashed with law enforcement in riot gear who dispersed crowds with tear gas.

Governor Tony Evers responded by declaring a state of emergency on Tuesday, one day after mobilizing members of the Wisconsin National Guard to protect critical infrastructure and assist Kenosha law enforcement in keeping the protests safe and law-abiding. Evers upped National Guard support in Kenosha County to 250 members in conjunction with Tuesday’s emergency declaration.

The emergency order comes on the heels of a statement Evers put out hours earlier in which he condemned the violence and destruction tarnishing otherwise peaceful protests in the Badger State, saying “there remains a line between peaceful assembly and what we saw last night that put individuals, families, and businesses in danger.”

“We cannot forget the reason why these protests began, and what we have seen play out over the last two nights and many nights this year is the pain, anguish, and exhaustion of being Black in our state and country,” the governor said. “But as I said yesterday, and as I’ll reiterate today, everyone should be able to exercise their fundamental right—whether a protester or member of the press—peacefully and safely.”

“We cannot allow the cycle of systemic racism and injustice to continue,” Evers added. “We cannot continue going down this path of damage and destruction.”

A woman looks at a burned out building Tuesday after protests the night before in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The Democratic governor also issued an executive order on Monday calling for a special session of the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature on a variety of police reform bills, including those that would ban no-knock warrants and chokeholds, require officers to undergo eight hours of de-escalation and use-of-force training annually, and make law enforcement agencies maintain employee files for each officer and disclose those files when an officer is seeking a job with a new agency.

Whether that legislative session comes to pass remains to be seen, as Evers already called for police reforms two months ago in response to widespread protests after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police on Memorial Day, but Republican legislative leaders have been largely mum on the matter ever since.

State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R- Rochester, expressed a distaste for Evers’ tactics in calling the special session on Monday instead of going through the “deliberate and open process” of collaborating with a task force Vos is forming to address issues like racial disparities and public safety, a tack that would undoubtedly take longer than the immediate action Evers wants.

“We have an opportunity to bring people together to find solutions,” Vos said. “Instead, the governor is choosing to turn to politics again by dictating liberal policies that will only deepen the divisions in our state.”

Wisconsin Republicans have largely responded to the protests over Blake’s shooting by asking for patience in allowing an investigation led by the state Department of Justice to be carried out before taking rash action and condemning the damage caused by relatively few violent actors taking part in the protests.

Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson called on “elected officials charged with the responsibility to maintain safety and security in Wisconsin to devote the manpower to do so” in a tweet Tuesday morning, specifically asking Evers to increase National Guard presence, which the governor did later in the day.

“Peaceful protesting is a constitutionally protected form of free speech,” tweeted Johnson, who has represented the Badger State in the Senate since 2010. “Rioting is not. It must not be allowed to continue.”

GOP Congressman Bryan Steil, who holds the 1st Congressional District seat long occupied by former House Speaker Paul Ryan, tweeted his own statement Tuesday throwing down the gauntlet for Evers and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, also a Democrat.

“The violence and destruction we witnessed the past two nights in Kenosha needs to be stopped,” Steil said. “If the mayor and governor don’t believe they have sufficient resources to do so, they need to request federal assistance immediately. I am prepared to support their requests.”

Details of the shooting, including about the nature of the domestic incident Kenosha police were responding to and what Blake’s role was in that incident, have been spare thus far, and the investigation spearheaded by the Wisconsin DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation is expected to take weeks.

Raysean White, the 22-year-old who said he made the cellphone video of the shooting, said he saw Blake scuffling with three officers and heard them yell, “Drop the knife! Drop the knife!” before the gunfire erupted, though he said he didn’t see a knife in Blake’s hands.

The footage shows Blake walk around the front of his SUV to the driver’s side door trailed by shouting officers with their guns drawn before one of the officers grabs Blake’s shirt from behind as he opens and leans into the SUV’s driver’s side door and opens fire. Seven shots can be heard, though it is still unclear how many officers fired or how many shots struck Blake.

The unidentified officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave, as is standard practice in such cases.

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