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In wake of shootings, Kenosha mayor backs police brass despite calls for resignations

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Kenosha, Wisc., Mayor John Antaramian told reporters Friday that he has no intention of requesting the resignations of Police Chief Daniel Miskinis or County Sheriff David Beth, despite calls from various civil rights groups for both men to step down following the recent police shooting of Jacob Blake and the deaths of two protesters amid ongoing unrest in the Wisconsin city. 

“I think when you look at what has occurred over the last week and all activities going on,  everyone is doing the best that they can,” Antaramian said at a press conference on Friday. 

The Wisconsin city of roughly 100,000, which sits just north of the Illinois border on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, has become the latest center of civil unrest over police violence after Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot by police in the back at least seven times on Sunday as he opened the door to his parked car. 

The shooting, which was captured on video by a bystander, quickly sparked outrage and protests demanding justice devolved into violence and looting  on Sunday and Monday night, prompting city officials to declare a state of emergency and impose a curfew. The unrest also attracted members of a local militia and various other armed civilians, including Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old who was arrested in Illinois Wednesday, on a warrant from Wisconsin that identifies him as a suspect in the shooting of three people during Tuesday night’s protests, killing two and injuring one. 

On Thursday, the ACLU and a coalition of prominent civil rights leaders, including Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Reverend Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network, issued separate statements condemning the response of Kenosha’s top law enforcement officials to the Blake shooting and the events that followed. 

Kenosha Sheriff David Beth speaks at a news conference on August 26, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisc. Beth and other local officials discussed the recent civil unrest surrounding the police shooting of Jacob Blake. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Kenosha Sheriff David Beth speaks at a news conference on August 26, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisc. Beth and other local officials discussed the recent civil unrest surrounding the police shooting of Jacob Blake. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Specifically, the groups expressed outrage over widely-circulated video footage from Tuesday night’s protests that raise questions about the behavior of police before and after the shootings. 

Video taken shortly before the first shooting appears to show police officers fraternizing with a group of armed civilians, including Rittenhouse, who claim to be protecting a nearby business, offering them water and expressing appreciation for their presence. The video was taken after dark, when a curfew was in effect. Additional footage from after the shootings shows Rittenhouse, still armed, walking in the street with his hands up toward police vehicles, while the officers inside appear to ignore him. Bystanders can  be heard on the tape trying to get the attention of police and identifying Rittenhouse as the suspect. 

At a press conference Wednesday, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth had attempted to justify the apparently blatant failure to apprehend Rittenhouse — who proceeded to leave the state and return home to Antioch, Ill. — by suggesting that his deputies may have been too distracted by all the people running and “screaming” and “nonstop radio traffic” to notice the gunman apparently attempting to surrender right in front of them. 

“In situations that are high stress, you have such an incredible tunnel vision,” Beth said. 

Meanwhile, Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis appeared to suggest that the victims were in part to blame for being out on the street, as “everybody involved” in the Tuesday night shooting “was out after the curfew.”

“Had persons not been out in violation of that, perhaps the situation that unfolded would not have happened,” Miskinis said. Both men dismissed officers’ apparently friendly interactions with armed militia members, stating simply that such groups had not been invited to assist law enforcement at the protest.

In the ACLU’s statement calling for Beth and Miskinis to resign, Chris Ott, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, charged that “Their actions uphold and defend white supremacy, while demonizing people who were murdered for exercising their first amendment rights and speaking out against police violence.” The ACLU also cited a video of a 2018 press conference which had begun recirculating online this week, in which Beth called for five people of color who’d been arrested for shoplifting to be put into “warehouses” and “lock[ed] away for the rest of their lives.” Beth previously apologized for the comments after they prompted backlash. 

On Friday, both he and Miskinis attempted to course correct, while offering little in the way of new information. 

Miskinis started by stating that his previous comments about the role of curfew in Tuesday night’s shootings had been “misconstrued.”

“In no way was my comment earlier intended to suggest that by being out after curfew those people were responsible for their deaths,” Miskinis told reporters Friday. 

Asked again to address why Rittenhouse was able to leave the scene, and then the state, after allegedly shooting three people, Miskinis doubled down on the claim that the officers seen driving past Rittenhouse were “very unlikely to have heard  anything being said around them,” while adding a new line of reasoning that Rittenhouse was just one of many people walking around the area with weapons, and at the time there was “nothing to suggest” that he was the gunman. 

Rittenhouse was arrested in Antioch, Ill., where he lives, after he was charged with first-degree intentional homicide in Kenosha. On Thursday, prosecutors in Kenosha County filed several more charges against the teenager, according to court records. Rittenhouse now faces five felony charges, including first-degree reckless homicide and first-degree intentional homicide, as well as one misdemeanor count for possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor. 

A protester was shot in the chest in Kenosha on August 25, 2020, during the third day of protests over the shooting of a Black man Jacob Blake by a police officer. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A protester was shot in the chest in Kenosha on August 25, 2020, during the third day of protests over the shooting of a Black man Jacob Blake by a police officer. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Rittenhouse is in jail in Illinois, pending extradition to Wisconsin. During a status hearing Friday morning, a judge in Lake County agreed to delay the teen’s extradition proceedings until September 25, while his family obtains a private attorney. He has not been arraigned in Wisconsin and has not entered a plea.

Beth said that he hadn’t watched any of the videos that have been circulating on social media — including the one of Blake being shot in the back by a cop— except for the one showing a law-enforcement officer handing out water bottles to Rittenhouse and other armed militia members, telling them, “We appreciate you guys, we really do.”

Beth first claimed that, while the word “SHERIFF” can be seen in big, block letters along the side of the camouflaged armored vehicle in the video, “it wasn’t one of our BearCats.” 

As for the officers’ tolerating armed civilians on the street during a violent demonstration, after curfew, “I support the second amendment,” he said. “The people that have been here carrying guns they haven’t been arrested because that’s a right they have.” 

But “are we asking for them to come in and support things? I’m not,”  he said.

For his part, “I’ve made it clear my opinion on armed militia out in the street,” the mayor said. “We do not want you here… Stay away.”

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