‘Senseless tragedy’: Teen arrested after two shot dead at Jacob Blake protest

The Associated Press
·6-min read

A teen has been arrested after two people were shot dead following heated protests surrounding the police shooting of black man Jacob Blake.

Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, from the US state of Illinois, was taken into custody on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide. Antioch is about 24km from Kenosha where the protests are taking place.

The protests follow the shooting of Mr Blake, 29, on Sunday, which was captured on video.

It came just three months after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked a wider reckoning on race throughout the US.

Two people were killed Tuesday night and a third was wounded in an attack apparently carried out by a young white man who was caught on video opening fire in the middle of the street with a semi-automatic rifle.

Demonstrators carry a wounded person, during a clash with law enforcement in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
A wounded person is carried away after a clash with police. Source: Getty Images

“I just killed somebody,” the gunman could be heard saying at one point during the rampage that erupted just before midnight.

‘This cannot happen again’: Governor’s plea

In the wake of the killings, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers authorised the sending of 500 members of the National Guard to Kenosha, doubling the number of troops.

The governor’s office said he is working with other states to bring in additional National Guard members and law officers. Authorities also announced a 7pm curfew, an hour earlier than the night before.

“A senseless tragedy like this cannot happen again,” the governor, a Democrat, said in a statement.

“I again ask those who choose to exercise their First Amendment rights please do so peacefully and safely, as so many did last night. I also ask the individuals who are not there to exercise those rights to please stay home and let local first responders, law enforcement and members of the Wisconsin National Guard do their jobs.”

In Washington, the Justice Department said it is sending in the FBI and federal marshals in response to the unrest.

The dead were identified only as 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.

Protester describes moment gunman struck

Protester Devin Scott, 19, told the Chicago Tribune said he was with a group chanting “Black Lives Matter” when he heard gunshots.

“And then this guy with this huge gun runs by us in the middle of the street and people are yelling, ‘He shot someone! He shot someone!’ And everyone is trying to fight the guy, chasing him and then he started shooting again,” he said.

Mr Scott said he cradled a lifeless victim in his arms, and a woman started performing CPR, but “I don’t think he made it.”

An explosive device detonates on the front of an armoured vehicle as protesters confront police in front of the Kenosha County Courthouse during a third night of unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
An explosive device detonates of an armoured vehicle near the courthouse. Source: Getty Images

According to witness accounts and video footage, police apparently let the young man responsible for the shootings walk past them 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.

As for how that happened, Sheriff David Beth portrayed a chaotic, high-stress scene, with screaming, chanting, nonstop radio traffic and “people running all over the place” — conditions that he said can cause “tunnel vision” among law officers.

Accused praised law enforcement on Facebook

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.

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.

Other photographs include those of badges of various law enforcement agencies, including the Chicago Police Department. All of the badges have a black line across them — something police officers typically do with black tape when an officer is killed in the line of duty.

Demonstrators sit in the street, in front of law enforcement, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Wednesday was the third consecutive night of protests. Source: Getty Images

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 armed vigilantes had been patrolling Kenosha’s streets in recent nights, but he did not know if the gunman was among them. However, video taken before the shooting shows police tossing bottled water from an armoured 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.

The sheriff later defended officers by saying, “Our deputies would toss water to anybody.”

White militias ‘ignored for too long’

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes said in an interview with the news program “Democracy Now!” that the shootings were not surprising and that 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?” Mr Barnes said.

A protester launches a projectile toward police during clashes outside the Kenosha County Courthouse.
A protester launches a projectile toward police. Source: AAP

“People treat that like it’s some kind of normal activity that people are walking around with assault rifles.”

In Wisconsin, it is legal for people 18 and over to openly carry a gun, with no license required.

Witness accounts and video indicate the shootings took place in two stages: The gunman first shot someone at a car lot, then jogged away, stumbled and fell in the street, and opened fire again as members of the crowd closed in him.

A witness, Julio Rosas, 24, said that when the gunman stumbled, “two people jumped onto him and there was a struggle for control of his rifle.

“At that point during the struggle, he just began to fire multiple rounds and that dispersed people near him,” he said.

“The rifle was being jerked around in all directions while it was being fired.”

Adria-Joi Watkins poses with her second cousin Jacob Blake.
Jacob Blake and his cousin Adria-Joi Watkins. Source: AAP

Jacob Blake ‘may never walk again’

Jacob Blake’s father, who is also named Jacob Blake, said his son was shot seven times.

His lawyer, Ben Crump, said the bullets severed Mr Blake’s spinal cord and shattered his vertebrae.

“It’s going to take a miracle for Jacob Blake Jr to ever walk again,” Mr Crump said.

Three of the younger Mr Blake’s sons — aged 3, 5 and 8 — were in the car at the time of the shooting, Mr Crump said. He added it was the eight-year-old’s birthday.

Another Blake family lawyer said they would be filing a civil lawsuit against the police department over the shooting.

Police have said little about what happened, other than that they were responding to a domestic dispute. The Wisconsin Department of Justice is investigating.

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