Kenosha, Wisconsin — Demonstrators took to Kenosha’s streets for the fourth night in a row Wednesday but the protests were mostly peaceful, in contrast to the violent clashes that marked the previous nights. Earlier in the day, a white, 17-year-old police admirer was arrested in the shooting deaths of two people during protests in Kenosha the night before. The disturbances were sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man.
Kyle Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, about 15 miles from Kenosha, was taken into custody in Illinois on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide in the Tuesday attack that was largely captured on cellphone video. The shooting left a third person wounded.
“I just killed somebody,” the gunman, carrying a semi-automatic rifle, could be heard saying at one point.
Also on Wednesday, state authorities identified the officer who shot Blake on Sunday as Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department. Sheskey shot Blake while holding onto his shirt after officers first unsuccessfully used a Taser, the Wisconsin Justice Department said. State agents later recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of the vehicle, the department said.
In the wake of the killings during the protests Tuesday night, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers authorized the deployment of 500 members of the National Guard to Kenosha, doubling the number of troops in the city of 100,000 midway between Milwaukee and Chicago. The governor’s office said he was working with other states to bring in additional National Guard members and law officers.
Evers, a Democrat, issued a statement asking those who wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights to “please do so peacefully and safely” and urging others to “please stay home and let local first responders, law enforcement and members of the Wisconsin National Guard do their jobs.”
“A senseless tragedy like this cannot happen again,” Evers said.
In Washington, the Justice Department said it is sending in more than 200 federal agents from the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The White House said up to 2,000 National Guard troops would be made available.
Authorities in Kenosha announced a 7 p.m. curfew, though protesters ignored it again Wednesday. Antioch instituted a curfew, from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., its website said.
In Kenosha Wednesday and early Thursday, there were no groups patrolling with long guns as they had on previous nights, and protesters stayed away from a courthouse that had been the site of standoffs with law enforcement.
Protesters marched past the Kenosha intersection where people were shot Tuesday night, stopping to pray and lay flowers.
The dead were identified only as a 26-year-old Silver Lake, Wisconsin, resident and a 36-year-old from Kenosha. The wounded person, a 36-year-old from West Allis, Wisconsin, was expected to survive, police said.
How Tuesday shooting unfolded
According to witness accounts and video footage, police apparently let the gunman walk past them and leave the scene with a rifle over his shoulder and his hands in the air as members of the crowd were yelling for him to be arrested because he had shot people.
One of the protesters in Kenosha Wednesday night was also there Tuesday night during the shooting. He told CBS Milwaukee affiliate WDJT-TV Kenosha police pushed peaceful protesters into the way of counter-protesters and police should be held accountable for what happened.
“I watched a man get shot down yesterday,” Cairo Thomas said. “I watched that. Nobody chastised him. Nobody was trying to burn down a property. They were literally cutting through the parking lot. And that 17-year-old murderer, which he is, he’s a murderer, that 17-year-old murderer decided to open fire and shoot this man in the head.”
As for how the gunman managed to slip away, Sheriff David Beth described a chaotic, high-stress scene, with lots of radio traffic and people screaming, chanting and running – conditions he said can cause “tunnel vision” among law officers.
Rittenhouse was assigned a public defender in Illinois for a hearing Friday on his transfer to Wisconsin. The public defender’s office had no comment. Under Wisconsin law, anyone 17 or older is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.
Details on shooting suspect
Much of Rittenhouse’s Facebook page is devoted to praising law enforcement, with references to Blue Lives Matter, a movement that supports police. He also can be seen holding an assault rifle.
In a photograph posted by his mother, he is wearing what appears to be a blue law enforcement uniform as well as the kind of brimmed hat that state troopers wear.
The sheriff told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that militia members or armed vigilantes had been patrolling Kenosha’s streets in recent nights, but he didn’t know if the gunman was among them. However, video taken before the shooting shows police tossing bottled water from an armored vehicle to what appear to be armed civilians walking the streets. And one of them appears to be the gunman.
“We appreciate you being here,” an officer is heard saying to the group over a loudspeaker.
Before the shooting, the conservative website The Daily Caller conducted a video interview with the suspected gunman in front of a boarded-up business.
“So people are getting injured, and our job is to protect this business,” the young man said. “And part of my job is to also help people. If there is somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle — because I can protect myself, obviously. But I also have my med kit.”
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is Black, said in an interview with the news program “Democracy Now!” that the shootings were not surprising and white militias have been ignored for too long.
“How many times across this country do you see armed gunmen, protesting, walking into state Capitols, and everybody just thinks it’s OK?” Barnes said. “People treat that like it’s some kind of normal activity that people are walking around with assault rifles.”
In Wisconsin, it’s legal for people 18 and over to openly carry a gun without a license.
Blake, 29, was shot in the back seven times on Sunday as he leaned into his SUV, three of his children seated inside. Kenosha police have said little about what happened other than that they were responding to a domestic dispute.