As DA’s decision looms in Jacob Blake shooting, Kenosha braces for civil unrest


(KENOSHA, Wash.) — With stores that were set ablaze during a summer of civil unrest still lying in ruin in Kenosha, Wisconsin, business owners and city leaders are bracing again for violence as the local district attorney prepares to say if criminal charges will be filed against a white police officer in a shooting that left Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, paralyzed.

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael D. Graveley has said he will announce a decision on the case soon, prompting the mayor to propose an emergency declaration he said is intended to prevent a replay of the damage to businesses that occurred in August and led to a shooting that left two protesters dead and an Illinois teenager charged with homicide.

The Kenosha City Council is scheduled to vote Monday night on Mayor John Antaramian’s declaration “regarding potential civil unrest.”

Over the weekend, Antaramian and Police Chief Daniel Miskinis released a list of “precautionary community safety measures” that include a curfew, a designated demonstration space, road closures and limitations on city bus routes.

“Our responsibility to public safety is paramount and we are preparing for a number of possible public demonstrations and safety efforts,” Antaramian and Miskinis said in a joint statement.

Graveley is mulling the evidence in the Aug. 23 incident in which Blake was shot multiple times in the back by Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey. The prosecutor has only said his decision on whether to charge Sheskey will be announced within the first two weeks of January.

Blake’s shooting came amid national protests over the deaths of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly eight minutes, and Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician fatally shot in her apartment in March by Louisville, Kentucky, police officers serving a no-knock search warrant (though the officers claim they knocked and announced themselves).

Blake’s shooting unfolded after Sheskey and another officer responded to a report of a domestic dispute, according to the Kenosha Police Department statement. They deployed a stun gun while attempting to arrest Blake, the police department said.

The stun gun, however, had little effect on Blake and investigators allege he broke free of the officers and walked around his vehicle, “opened the driver’s side door, and leaned forward” before Sheskey fired seven shots into Blake’s back, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation, which led the investigation.

The Kenosha Professional Police Association, the union representing Sheskey, claims Blake was armed with a knife and “forcefully fought” with the officers who tried to subdue him.

Following the shooting, Blake told authorities he had a knife in his possession but denied brandishing it. Investigators said they later recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of Blake’s vehicle. The Wisconsin DOJ has yet to say whether Blake was holding that knife during his interaction with police or had the knife in his car.

Those closest to Blake, including his parents, say Blake is a loving and devoted father who did not deserve what happened to him.

Three of his children — ages 8, 5 and 3 — witnessed the shooting and were “absolutely devastated” by what they saw, Blake’s attorney, Ben Crump, has said. Blake’s oldest child was celebrating his birthday when his father was shot, Crump said.

The shooting was captured on cellphone video that was posted on social media and went viral, prompting days of large-scale protests in Kenosha that were mostly peaceful during the day but turned violent at night. The Kenosha Area Business Alliance reported that $50 million in damage occurred from instances of violence, looting and fires. Thirty-five small businesses were destroyed.

During a protest in Kenosha on Aug. 25, three protesters were shot, two fatally, allegedly by a then-17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse. The teenager, who is now 18, was arrested and charged with multiple counts, including first-degree intentional homicide in the death of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Anthony Huber, 26, and attempted first-degree intentional homicide in a shooting that left 22-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz wounded.

Following a Dec. 3 preliminary hearing, Rittenhouse was ordered to stand trial on the charges. His lawyers claim he opened fire with an AR-15 rifle in self-defense and cited multiple videos they say show him being chased and attacked by protesters.

The lawyers said Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha, about 21 miles from his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, on the day of the shooting to answer “his patriotic and civil duty to serve” the city “during a destructive insurrection.”

Rittenhouse was released from custody in November on $2 million bail backed by Silver Spoons actor Ricky Schroder. Rittenhouse has not yet entered a plea to the charges, but his lawyers say he plans to plead not guilty.

Grosskreutz and the parents of Huber each filed $10 million claim notices last week against the Kenosha Police Department and the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department, alleging negligence by the law enforcement agencies for failing to prevent the shootings. Claim notices are generally a precursor to a lawsuit.

The city and county of Kenosha have yet to publicly respond to the claim notices.

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