Wisconsin’s governor summoned the National Guard for fear of another round of violent protests on August 24, after the violent police shooting of a Black man recorded on video turned Kenosha into the nation’s latest flashpoint city in a summer of racial unrest.
Governor Tony Evers said 125 members of the National Guard would be in Kenosha by night with responsibility for guarding infrastructure and making sure our firefighters and others involved are protected. County authorities also announced an 8:00 p.m. curfew.
“I know folks across our state will be making their voices heard in Kenosha and in communities across Wisconsin. Every person should be able to express their anger and frustration by exercising their First Amendment rights and report on these calls to action without any fear of being unsafe,” said Governor Evers. “This is a limited mobilization of the National Guard focused on supporting the needs of local first responders to protect critical infrastructure, such as utilities and fire stations, and to ensure Kenoshians are able to assemble safely.”
The move came after protesters set cars on fire, smashed windows and clashed with officers in riot gear Sunday night, August 23 over the wounding of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, who was hospitalized in serious condition. In a widely seen cellphone video, made by 22-year-old Raysean White from his window across the street, Blake was shot in the back as he leaned into his SUV while his children sat in the vehicle.
Tensions flared anew on Monday, August 24, after a news conference with Kenosha Mayor John Antarmian, originally to be held in a park, was moved inside the city’s public safety building. Hundreds of protesters rushed to the building and a door was snapped off its hinges before police in riot gear pepper-sprayed the crowd, which included a photojournalist.
“Serving our fellow Wisconsin citizens and assisting civil authorities during times of need is one of core missions in the National Guard,” said Maj. General Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general. “Our Citizen Soldiers and Airmen are well-trained and prepared to assist in any way we can in an effort to preserve public safety.”
Police in the former auto manufacturing center of 100,000 people midway between Milwaukee and Chicago said they were responding to a call about a domestic dispute on August 23. They did not say whether Blake was armed or why police opened fire, they released no details on the domestic dispute, and they did not immediately disclose the race of the three officers at the scene.
Governor Evers was quick to condemn the bloodshed, saying that while not all details were known, “what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called for an immediate, full and transparent investigation, and said the officers must be held accountable.
“This morning, the nation wakes up yet again with grief and outrage that yet another Black American is a victim of excessive force,” said former Vice President Biden, just over two months before Election Day in a country already roiled by the recent deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. “Those shots pierce the soul of our nation.”
Governor Evers and Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes also announced Executive Order #84, calling the Wisconsin State Legislature into a Special Session on policing accountability and transparency convening at noon on August 31.
“I am calling for a Special Session of the Legislature to take up the package of legislation we announced earlier this year,” said Governor Evers. “We must begin the long but important path toward ensuring our state and our country start to live up to our promises of equity and justice. I am urging the Legislature to rise to this occasion and give this special session the urgent and productive effort this moment demands and that the people of Wisconsin deserve.”
On June 19, in the wake of widespread pleas for justice following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Governor Evers called for the legislature to take up a series of policing accountability and transparency measures. As of August 24, more than 130 days since the Wisconsin State Legislature last passed a bill, the Legislature has not convened to take up the measures.
“We know we cannot remedy the systemic racism built into all of our systems with just this package of bills, but that does not mean we should stand still,” said Lt. Governor Barnes. “For over two months, our legislative leaders have ignored the calls for change from people in every part of our state, and now another Black man is fighting for his life due to the actions of law enforcement. The people of our state are done waiting for the Legislature to act, and so are we.”