The Kenosha City Council on Monday night unanimously approved an emergency declaration as it looked to secure the city in anticipation of possible civil unrest ahead of Tuesday’s long-awaited charging decision in the Aug. 23 police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake.
The council voted 17-0 on the resolution, which took effect immediately upon Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley’s public announcement Tuesday not to criminally charge Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey for Blake’s shooting. According to the resolution, the emergency would remain in effect for eight days. It would automatically end at 11:59 p.m. on the eighth day unless otherwise extended.
Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back by Sheskey, a White officer, as Blake was entering an SUV, his children in the back seat, parked in the 2800 block of 40th Street. Police were attempting to arrest Blake on a warrant.
Blake’s shooting roused peaceful protests by day. But it also incited nighttime violence, including the shooting deaths of two Kenosha-area protesters, and more than $50 million in damage to businesses and property as a result of rioting and looting that ensued.
Ald. Holly Kangas said she had concerns about media releases, including one issued by police on Sunday, which appeared to restrict where people could protest. The release mentions preparations that include possible “designation of a demonstration space.”
“It looks like something that’s planned. It’s been put out there,” Kangas said. “If we were to do something like that, wouldn’t we be infringing on people’s constitutional rights?”
City Attorney Ed Antaramian said the matter of the designated demonstration space had not been discussed with his or the mayor’s office.
“The idea is to allow for peaceful protest. I think the mayor has indicated to ensure there can be peaceful protests,” he said. “Again, I can’t speak to the issue of having some designated area.”
No designated protest site
Mayor John Antaramian, however, said the city does not intend to designate a place for protests to take place. He said that police had looked at areas to suggest where protests could occur.
“If people are interpreting that in that way, that’s an incorrect interpretation,” he said.
The mayor said that the resolution does not specify where people can protest “nor do I have any intention of doing that.”
Kangas pressed further, saying that the releases have come across as though the city already knew “what was coming.”
“I find that to be really offensive,” she said, later adding that the perception marginalizes the community, particularly the Black community.
The mayor acknowledged knowing when the decision would be made but said he did not know what the announcement would be. He said he was not allowed to state the date of the ruling and that the district attorney was responsible for releasing information on the findings.
“The city has no knowledge — not the (police) chief, not me, not anyone else in the city has any knowledge of what the decision is,” Mayor Antaramian said.
Safety for all
Ald. Dominic Ruffalo said the emergency declaration does not take away people’s right to protest peacefully.
“But, it is our council’s and the city’s responsibility for safety for all people — the protesters, citizens, people going to work, our Police Department, everybody,” he said. “Violence, arson, looting, vandalism — that cannot be tolerated.”
Ald. Anthony Kennedy wondered how the mayor saw himself exercising authority in the declaration, once the district attorney has made the investigation findings public. The declaration gives the mayor certain powers, including setting curfew, in consultation with the police, Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department and the city’s legal counsel.
“It’s my intention to always make sure to keep the city out of trouble, particularly how we handle these,” Mayor Antaramian said.
Enforce the curfew
Ald. Dave Paff said he wanted to ensure that if curfew is enacted, that it also be enforced. He said during the first few nights a curfew was in place following Blake’s shooting but was not enforced. He said he understood that there was “quite a ruckus” and that law enforcement “had to get its bearings.”
However, Paff said, had curfew been enforced, the shootings by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse that led to the deaths of two protesters and severe injury to a third man would not have occurred. Rittenhouse is charged with first-degree intentional homicide for shooting and killing Anthony Huber, first-degree reckless homicide for killing Joseph Rosenbaum and attempted first-degree intentional homicide for shooting Gaige Grosskreutz.
“In defense of his own life, he unfortunately, deployed his tools and unfortunately there was some harm done,” Paff said. “I strongly feel there was an element of, maybe malfeasance, on the part of we not enforcing that curfew.”
Sheriff’s ‘state of emergency’
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth also issued an emergency declaration in the form of a memo Monday, ahead of possible civil unrest, as well as potential conditions for rioting and looting and risks to human life.
Beth, reached late Monday night, said the declaration was issued for the purpose of scheduling changes, if needed, in accordance with the deputy sheriffs’ contract. The sheriff issued a similar declaration in August.