Civil rights groups led by Forward Latino gathered in Kenosha on August 24 to offer words of support and healing to a traumatized community with a unified press conference, until altered plans by Kenosha Mayor John Antarmian threw the effort into turmoil.

Social tensions became inflamed 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.

Civil rights groups organized an emergency press conference on the shooting of Jacob Blake by kenosha police department, and news outlets had taken positions in a park across from the court house after the location changed to accommodate the Mayor’s appearance.

Darryl Morin, National President of Forward Latino, coordinated the event, which ended up in close proximity to Black Lives Matter protestors who were demonstrating across the street. Upon arriving at the press conference area, leaders spoke with Morin about participation and an understanding was reached that provided them with a voice while preserving the intention of the press conference.

Just as speaker were set to begin, journalists began receiving messages that Mayor Antarmian would not attend. Instead, he was planning to hold his own press conference inside the safety building, where only members of the press would be allowed access. The change came without communications to the Civil Rights groups, or regard for their effort to help calm the public with a unified display of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

After communicating with the Mayors office, Morin was told that Antarmian would wait for the groups to relocate so they could still combine the press conference at the new location. However, as the crowd approached the safety building and members of the media attempted to enter, police blocked the public from entering. COVID-19 policies restricted the number of individuals that could be inside the building, but the crowd felt that the selection of the location with this restriction was intentional and it triggered already raw feelings.

Before Morin, Pardeep Kaleka, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, and other representatives from the Civil Rights groups could reach the new location, Mayor Antarmian came out of the building to address the crowd.

It was a sincere attempt to engage the public, but a total misread of the crowd’s temperament in view of what he planned to say. His effort merely enraged the people around him, and he withdrew. In his wake, protestors tried to follow and were met with pepper spray and police clad in riot gear.

Not only did Mayor Antarmian fail to defuse the situation, and throw gasoline on a smoldering fire, but his hamfisted effort sabotaged the work of those community leaders who were attempting to offer healing to a wounded community. The genuine compassion Mayor Antarmian later showed inside for the private press conference was overwhelmingly overshadowed by the unnecessary mess he left outside.

This video segment and collection of images document the scene, where an opportunity to ease tensions was thwarted and resulted in convincing Governor Tony Evers to call for a curfew and deploy the Wisconsin National Guard.

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Lee Matz

These headline links feature the daily news reports published by Milwaukee Independent about the George Floyd protests, the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement that followed, and their impact on the local community in for 8 months from May to December of 2020.