KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) - Wisconsin’s governor called out the National Guard on Monday, and police in the city of Kenosha skirmished with protesters during a second night of unrest over the wounding of a Black man shot in the back by police as his three children looked on.
Ordering Guard troops deployed to Kenosha, on the shore of Lake Michigan 40 miles (65 km) south of Milwaukee, Governor Tony Evers also decried what he branded excessive force in the shooting of Jacob Blake, and called for a special legislative session to consider police reforms.
About an hour later on Monday afternoon, Kenosha’s mayor faced dozens of angry, jeering protesters demanding the arrest of officers involved in Sunday’s shooting. Some in the group tried to force their way into the municipal public-safety building adjacent to the courthouse when the mayor, John Antaramian, retreated from the heckling crowd.
The door was broken from its hinges, but police in riot gear drove the demonstrators back by dousing some with pepper spray.
Shortly after nightfall, scores of protesters defying a dusk-to-dawn curfew massed outside the courthouse, shouting and tossing water bottles at a line of sheriff’s deputies, who responded with volleys of tear gas and pepper balls.
A short time later, several truckloads of National Guard troops were seen rolling into the centre of town about a block away. Local media reported that exit ramps leading into the city from an Interstate-94 had been closed to traffic.
Blake, 29, was listed in stable condition following surgery, his father told news media on Monday. His three young sons witnessed the shooting from just a few feet away while sitting in their car, according to the family attorney, Ben Crump.
Video of the encounter taken by an onlooker showed Blake walking toward the driver’s side of a gray SUV followed by two officers with their guns drawn at his back. Seven gunshots are then heard as Blake, who appears unarmed, opens the car door and a woman nearby jumps up and down in disbelief.
It was unknown whether the officers saw something inside the vehicle that prompted them to shoot Blake. It was also not clear whether one or both officers opened fire.
Crowds soon gathered at the scene, and some demonstrators set fires and threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at police, leading authorities to close public buildings in the area.
GOVERNOR CALLS FOR TROOPS, EMPATHY
Evers, a Democrat, said he ordered Guard troops to Kenosha at the request of local officials to help maintain order after activists said they were organising further demonstrations for Monday night.
He also said police had shown a pattern of “excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with Black Wisconsinites.”
“We must rise to this movement and this moment and meet it with our empathy, our humanity and a fierce commitment to disrupt the cycle of systemic racism and bias that devastates Black families and communities,” Evers said in a public address.
Pete Deates, president of the city’s police union, accused the governor of rushing to judgment, calling Evers’ comments “wholly irresponsible.”
The shooting occurred three months after 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, sparking nationwide protests against police brutality and racism within the U.S. criminal justice system.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrat challenging Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election, called for the officers involved in Kenosha to be held accountable.
“The nation wakes up yet again with grief and outrage that yet another Black American is a victim of excessive force,” Biden said in a statement. “These shots pierce the soul of our nation.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin denounced the National Guard deployment as an unnecessary and “militarized” response to legitimate protests that “only serves to exacerbate tensions.”
Sunday’s shooting occurred as officers were responding to what they termed a “domestic incident.” Police immediately took the victim to a hospital, according to a police statement. Authorities gave no further explanation of what led to the shooting.
Attorney Crump, who also has represented Floyd’s family, said in a statement that Blake had been trying to de-escalate a domestic incident when the officers first shot him with a stun gun.
“As he was walking away to check on his children, police fired their weapons several times into his back at point-blank range,” Crump said.
The officers involved were placed on administrative leave while the investigation is underway, the Wisconsin Department of Justice said on Monday.
Reporting by Stephen Maturen in Kenosha, Wis.; Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Daniel Trotta and Trevor Hunnicutt. Writing by Nathan Layne and Steve Gorman. Editing by Mark Heinrich, Jonathan Oatis and Raju Gopalakrishnan
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