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ACLU demands resignation of Kenosha’s law enforcement officials over mishandling of unrest

The National ACLU, alongside its state chapter in Wisconsin, called for the local sheriff, chief of police, and mayor of Kenosha to immediately tender their resignations on August 27, arguing that the top law enforcement officials and city leader have failed in their duties.

The criticism comes in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake on on August 23, and their handling of subsequent protests in the city that culminated in the alleged killing of two Black Lives Matter demonstrators carried out by an underage militia-style vigilante armed with an AR-15 assault weapon on August 25.

“The curfew’s in place to protect. Had persons not been out involved in violation of that, perhaps the situation that unfolded would not have happened,” – Chief Daniel Miskinis, August 25, 2020

The civil liberties group condemned Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis and Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth for their handling of events in recent days, both in word and deed, and urged Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian to have the pair removed if they do not step down from their posts voluntarily. The ACLU said Antaramian should also resign. The organization is not the first voice calling for Kenosha officials to step down over recent days.

The protesters who were killed were allegedly shot by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who reportedly travelled from neighboring Illinois in order to attend an armed counter-protests in Kenosha, with the expectation of “hunting protesters.”

According to a statement by the ACLU and ACLU of Wisconsin:

Sheriff David Beth’s deputies not only fraternized with white supremacist counter-protesters on Tuesday, but allowed the shooter to leave as people yelled that he was the shooter. The sheriff excused this by saying his deputies may not have paid attention to the gunman because there were many distractions, including “screaming” and “hollering,” people running, police vehicles idling, “nonstop radio traffic,” and that “in situations that are high stress, you have such an incredible tunnel vision.” Sheriff Beth was also criticized last year after calling for five people of color who had been arrested for shoplifting to be put into warehouses “where we put these people who have been deemed to be no longer an asset.”

During the Kenosha Police Department’s first press conference in response to the Blake shooting and subsequent murders committed at protests, Police Chief Daniel Miskinis blamed the unidentified victims in Tuesday night’s shooting for their own deaths, saying the violence was the result of the “persons” involved violating curfew.

Chris Ott, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said resignations were the best course of action.

“The ACLU strongly condemns Sheriff Beth and Police Chief Miskinis’ response to both the attempted murder of Jacob Blake and the protests demanding justice for him. 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,” said Chris Ott, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “The only way to rectify these actions is for both Sheriff Beth and Police Chief Daniel Miskinis to immediately tender their resignations.”

Comments by Sheriff Beth from a press conference two years ago resurfaced amid the civil unrest, and put a national spotlight on past actions by Kenosha law enforcement officials. In his racially-charged rant, the Sherrif called five Black people arrested for felony shoplifting “trash” who should be locked in a “warehouse.”

“I think at some point society has to get so fed up that they are no longer willing to tolerate people who are not an asset to society. I think we have to create a threshold where, once you cross the threshold, Wisconsin, the United States, builds warehouses where we put these people who have been deemed to be no longer an asset, that are really a detriment, like these five people. I have no issue with these five people completely disappearing. At [this] point, these people are no longer an asset to our community, and they just need to disappear.” – Sheriff David Beth, January 25, 2018

The ACLU also urged Governor Tony Evers and Attorney General Joshua Kaul to investigate, or appoint a special counsel to investigate, and prosecute if warranted any crimes and civil rights violations committed against protesters, journalists, medics, legal observers, and others by federal, state, or local law enforcement.

In separate letters sent to Governor Evers and AG Kaul, the ACLU raised concerns about law enforcement’s militarized response to people protesting Sunday’s shooting of Blake by Kenosha Police Department Officer Rusten Sheskey. Two days after Blake’s shooting, two protesters were killed and another injured by an alleged white militia member, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who then was able to leave the scene without being apprehended by police.

“Unfortunately, the Kenosha Police Department and the Kenosha Sheriff’s Department have reacted in a militarized way to protestors. Most notably, when right-wing extremists arrived at the protests armed with automatic weapons, Kenosha law enforcement greeted them warmly, provided them water, and failed to enforce the curfew against them—even while aggressively enforcing the curfew against protesters,” the letter stated.

The letter also asked the leaders to conduct “a full and fair investigation of the actions of, and violence committed, by law enforcement at any level against members of our community,” the letter stated. “You have invited federal forces into our state. Now you must promise to hold them and any other law enforcement officials to account for their actions.”

“The Kenosha Police and Sheriff’s departments’ heavy-handed response to protesters, coupled with the influx of federal law enforcement, have inflamed tensions in an already contentious environment,” said Ott. “Federal, state and local law enforcement should be monitored to ensure that they are not violating the constitutional rights of protesters to free speech and assembly or unnecessarily escalating tensions on the ground. If they are found to have violated the Constitution or have committed crimes against those participating in demonstrations, they should be held responsible for their actions.”

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