Sheriff says two dead in clashes on third night of unrest following police shooting of Wisconsin Black man

A third night of street protests over the police shooting of a Black man erupted into gun violence late Tuesday and early Wednesday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing two people and wounding one, police said.

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Social media videos showed people screaming amid close-up images of gunshot wounds after a night of skirmishes, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets, had appeared to ease.

Crowds chased a man running down the street with a rifle after they believed he had shot another man. One pursuer took a flying kick at him after he fell to the ground, and another tried to grab his weapon. He appeared to be shot at close range and fell to the ground.

The shooting that broke out shortly before midnight killed two people and wounded a third who was expected to survive, the Kenosha Police Department said in a statement.

The city of Kenosha has been rocked by protests since Sunday, when police shot Black American Jacob Blake in the back at close range as he walked away from two officers and opened his car door, according to a bystander video that went viral. Three of his young sons were in the car, witnesses said.

Blake, 29, was hit by four of the seven shots fired and left paralysed and “fighting for his life”, his family and lawyers said on Tuesday, hours before the latest round of civil unrest broke out in the lakefront city between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Anti-racism protesters also clashed with police in Portland, Oregon, and Louisville, Kentucky on Tuesday night, part of a wave of national Black Lives Matter protests that have continued since the May 25 death of a Black man in Minneapolis, George Floyd, who was pinned to the street under the knee of a White police officer.

Police arrested more than 60 people in a protest march in Louisville, Kentucky organised for Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed in March by police officers who burst into her apartment.

‘Like a vigilante group’

The Kenosha protests have drawn self-styled militias, patrolling the streets with rifles. Usually White men, they have weapons slung over their shoulders or at the ready while standing guard outside businesses to protect them from looters or arsonists.

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth told the New York Times and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that one person was shot dead and two were wounded.

“They’re like a vigilante group,” Beth told the Journal Sentinel, though he said he was unsure if the man at the centre of the outburst was linked to such a group.

Beth predicted the main suspect would be caught, telling the newspaper: “I feel very confident we’ll have him in a very short time.”

Videos showed the suspect running with his rifle and others giving chase, believing he had already shot someone.

The gunman warded off his pursuers by firing at them at close range and the crowd dispersed. Other shots were heard in the background.

‘My son matters’

One of the Blake family’s attorneys said on Tuesday it would “take a miracle” for Jacob Blake to walk again, while calling for the officer who opened fire to be arrested and others involved to lose their jobs.

“But my son matters. He’s a human being and he matters,” said Blake’s father, who is also named Jacob Blake.

Blake was in surgery Tuesday, said attorney Ben Crump, adding that the bullets severed his spinal cord and shattered his vertebrae. Another attorney said there was also severe damage to organs.

“It’s going to take a miracle for Jacob Blake Jr. to ever walk again,” said Crump.

The legal team plans to file a civil lawsuit against the police department over the shooting. Police have said little about what happened, other than that they were responding to a domestic dispute. The officers involved have not been named. The Wisconsin Department of Justice is investigating.

Police fired tear gas for a third night Tuesday to disperse protesters who had gathered outside Kenosha’s courthouse, where some shook a protective fence and threw water bottles and fireworks at officers lined up behind it. Police then used armoured vehicles and officers with shields pushed back the crowd when protesters ignored warnings to leave a nearby park.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers had called for calm Tuesday, while also declaring a state of emergency under which he doubled the National Guard deployment in Kenosha from 125 to 250. The night before crowds destroyed dozens of buildings and set more than 30 fires in the city’s downtown.

“We cannot allow the cycle of systemic racism and injustice to continue,” said Evers, who is facing mounting pressure from Republicans over his handling of the unrest. “We also cannot continue going down this path of damage and destruction.”

‘Very unpleased’

Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, said the damage in Kenosha does not reflect what her family wants and that, if her son could see it, he would be “very unpleased”.

She said the first thing her son said to her when she saw him was he was sorry.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to be a burden on you guys’,” Jackson said. “’I want to be with my children, and I don’t think I’ll walk again.’”

Three of the younger Blake’s sons – aged 3, 5 and 8 – were in the car at the time of the shooting, Crump said. It was the 8-year-old’s birthday, he added.

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

In the footage, Blake walks from the sidewalk around the front of his SUV to his driver-side door as officers follow him with their guns drawn and shout at him. As Blake opens the door and leans into the SUV, an officer grabs his shirt from behind and opens fire. Seven shots can be heard, though it isn’t clear how many struck Blake or how many officers fired.

Blake’s father told the Chicago Sun-Times that his son had eight holes in his body.

‘This is not justice’

Anger over the shooting has spilled into the streets of Kenosha and other cities, including Los Angeles, Wisconsin’s capital of Madison and in Minneapolis, the epicentre of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer following Floyd’s death.

Hundreds of people again defied curfew Tuesday in Kenosha, where destruction marred protests the previous night as fires were set and businesses vandalised. There were 34 fires associated with that unrest, with 30 businesses destroyed or damaged along with an unknown number of residences, Kenosha Fire Chief Charles Leipzig told the Kenosha News.

“Nobody deserves this,” said Pat Oertle, owner of Computer Adventure, surveying the damage on Tuesday. Computers were stolen, and the store was “destroyed”, she said.

“This accomplishes nothing,” Oertle said. “This is not justice that they’re looking for.”

US Senator Ron Johnson and US Representative Bryan Steil, both Republicans, called on the governor to do more to quell the unrest. Steil said he would request federal assistance if necessary.

Evers continued to call for protesters to be peaceful: “Please do not allow the actions of a few to distract us from the work we must do together to demand justice, equity and accountability.”

Blake’s family also called for calm.

“I really ask you and encourage everyone in Wisconsin and abroad to take a moment and examine your hearts,” Blake’s mother said. “Do Jacob justice on this level and examine your hearts … As I pray for my son’s healing physically, emotionally and spiritually, I also have been praying even before this for the healing of our country.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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