In the aftermath of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, all eyes are on top law enforcement in Kenosha, Wis., as organizers and civil liberties groups around the country question the culture of policing that permeates the city. Among the officials under renewed scrutiny is Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth, whose comments about a group of Black defendants not being “worth saving” have resurfaced.
The remarks were made just two years ago at a press conference and concerned a case where five young Black people were charged with stealing $5,000 worth of clothing. As they sped away from police, the alleged shoplifters struck a 16-year-old driver in his car.
No serious injuries were sustained in the incident, but Beth let loose his personal feelings about the suspects at a news conference shortly afterward.
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, emphasis mine:
“I’m to the point where I think society has to come to a threshold where there are some people that aren’t worth saving,” Beth said. “We need to build warehouses to put these people into it and lock them away for the rest of their lives. These five people could care less about that 16-year-old who just got his driver’s license yesterday. They drove through a red light, they stole thousands of dollars worth of clothing, and they don’t care.”
“Let’s put them in jail. Let’s stop them from, truly, at least some of these males, going out and getting 10 other women pregnant and having small children. Let’s put them away. At some point, we have to stop being politically correct. I don’t care what race, I don’t care how old they are. If there’s a threshold that they cross. These people have to be warehoused, no recreational time in jails. We put them away for the rest of their lives so the rest of us can be better.”
Beth claimed his comments had nothing to do with the race of the suspects, whose ages ranged from 16 to 23 years old, though the stereotypes and ideas he leaned on say otherwise. He suggested the Black boys and men he arrested would go on to impregnate “10 other women;” his desire to see them unable to bear children reeking of racist eugenics. And this doesn’t even touch Beth’s view of criminality—which he spoke about as one would, say, about a rat infestation. The people who commit crimes are to be disposed of, erased and forgotten to the extent they can be.
As the Kenosha News reported at the time, Beth quickly walked his comments back, saying he had simply let his emotions get the better of him.
The Kenosha chapter of the NAACP met with him afterward, with chapter president Veronica King saying she felt the experience was a “learning lesson” for the sheriff.
“I don’t think it’s a reflection of the entire Sheriff’s Department,” she said. “I think he’ll have a much more prepared statement next time.”
But not everyone agreed with King. Alderman Anthony Kennedy called Beth’s apology the best “sorry/not sorry” he’d ever heard.
“You need to do better and you can do better,” Kennedy told the Kenosha News. “I’m not willing to give him a pass.”
Neither is the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, which called for Beth’s resignation this week. The group—along with many other local activists and organizers—also accused sheriff’s deputies of supporting armed militias at protests in Kenosha on Tuesday, writes the Washington Post. Seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse is accused of shooting and killing two protesters that night; as police responded to the sounds of gunshots, they walked past Rittenhouse, who was carrying a semiautomatic weapon. Witnesses at the scene told police he was the shooter.
Rittenhouse wasn’t arrested until the next day.
The ACLU also called for the Kenosha Chief of Police Daniel Miskinis to resign. In a press conference about the protest shooting on Wednesday, Miskinis blamed victims of the shooting for being outside past curfew.
“Everybody involved was out after the curfew. I’m not going to make a great deal of it but the point is the curfew is in place to protect,” said Miskinis. “Had the persons not been...in violation of that, perhaps the situation that unfolded would not have happened.”
Sheskey and another police officer remain on administrative duty as the state’s Department of Justice investigates the shooting; Kenosha District Attorney Michael Graveley will determine whether to charge the officers with a crime. Graveley is best known for his decision to charge a 17-year-old Black girl who killed her alleged sex trafficker in self-defense with murder, handing her an unfathomable $1 million bond. His office was investigating the accused child abuser, Andy Volar, at the time of his death but had not detained him, despite finding home videos of him sexually abusing underage girls—all of whom were Black.
Blake, meanwhile, is still receiving treatment at a Wauwatosa, Wis. hospital, where his family says he is currently shackled to his hospital bed, despite being partially paralyzed.