Despite a week of violent threats from police and armed militias, the residents of Kenosha, Wisc., turned out for a fourth straight night of protests in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot seven times in the back as he tried to enter his car on Sunday night. He survived the shooting but is partially paralyzed.
As the Washington Post reports, between 60 to 100 demonstrators gathered again in the city to protest against the Kenosha Police Department.
“Although an eight-foot-high fence guarded the courthouse, the riot police who repeatedly fired tear gas at protesters Tuesday were nowhere to be found,” writes the Post. “After 10 p.m., a group of about 100 people began marching out of the square and into the street.”
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t arrests in Kenosha. Earlier that afternoon, members of the nonprofit group Riot Kitchen, which provides free meals to protesters and those experiencing homelessness, were arrested by unidentified law enforcement officers, who pulled up in an unmarked van.
Video of the arrest shows officers pulling up in two black vans to arrest the Riot Kitchen members, who were sitting in a silver van at an intersection at the time. Officers arrived with their guns drawn, with one officer proceeding to smash the passenger side window of the vehicle and drag out the woman who had been sitting inside.
The scene was reminiscent of federal tactics in Portland, Ore., earlier this summer, where agents were seen pulling up to protesters and throwing them in the back of unmarked vehicles. Earlier on Wednesday, Donald Trump vowed to send federal enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha.
It’s unclear what agency the officers in the video were with. Neither the Kenosha police department nor the Department of Homeland Security provided information about the arrests.
There was also visible tension throughout the city, the Post reports.
Throughout Kenosha, plywood covered windows of businesses, from corner bodegas to nursing homes. Many bore messages in paint that pleaded with looters to pass them by: “Children Upstairs,” “Disabled and Blind on Second Floor” and “Elderly Live Here.”
While large groups of armed militia members stayed away from Kenosha on Wednesday, many businesses did have locals out front with guns. Used car lots, bars and even Froedtert Kenosha Hospital, located on the corner where the first shooting took place Tuesday night, had armed guards outside.
Still, without police in riot gear and armed militias vowing protection, protesters were free to assemble and disperse as they saw fit. It was a striking contrast to the previous nights. On Monday, while attempting to enforce an 8 pm curfew, police armed with rubber bullets sprayed teargas on a crowd that had gathered peacefully at the county courthouse. And on Tuesday, armed militias attacked protesters, unencumbered by police. Among them was 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who was among a group of men claiming to protect a gas station. Rittenhouse fired upon protesters; two people were killed, and another one seriously injured.
While Kenosha police charged Rittenhouse with first-degree murder, it was still unclear as of Thursday morning whether he was charged with one or both killings. According to his social media feeds, Rittenhouse was a supporter of law enforcement and had been a member of cadet programs for local police and fire departments, reports The Post. Kenosha District Attorney Mike Gravely is expected to share the final charges against Rittenhouse publicly on Thursday.
As we look at the protests that have cropped up around the country in the last few months, there are a few important ideas that we must hold at once. The most obvious is that it is a tremendous act of will and power for protesters to continue to step out onto the streets of Kenosha, despite the violence from police and militias. The second is that there is a validity to the rage of activists and organizers for racial justice around the country, and the violence that occurs during protests does not and should not disqualify this movement nor its message.
But it’s also valuable to properly examine the factors that contribute to violence at mass demonstrations. On the second night of protests in Kenosha, demonstrators maintained the peace until police used force against them. And as distressing as it is for residents to see property damage on their storefronts and residential blocks, the only killings at these protests have been at the hands of a young white man, one who admired police, acting as a vigilante against the activists agitating for change.
There was no such presence in Kenosha on Wednesday night, the same night NBA players—and scores of other athletes behind them—decided to withhold their labor to make clear that enough was enough.
And there was peace.
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