Civil rights leaders demand accountability in Kenosha police shooting

Anger boiled overnight into the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, where local civil rights leaders and citizens are demanding transparency from police and other officials following the police shooting of a 29-year-old Black man Sunday.

Jacob Blake, 29, was in serious condition at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee on Monday after being shot by officers in what police said was a response to a “domestic” incident report.

Few details about Blake’s shooting have been released but bystander video posted on social media enraged local residents, who took to the streets Sunday night to demand answers. It appeared in the video that Blake was walking in front of a vehicle to try to get into the driver’s seat when officers fired their weapons, shooting Blake in the back several times.

Anthony Davis, president of the NAACP Kenosha branch, said on Monday that distrust in leadership is at the heart of the protests that erupted overnight.

“We’re looking for some leadership somewhere, to make some changes, to make the people feel that they’re part of this country and part of this community and part of this state,” Davis said.

Davis was among a group of local civil rights leaders who were supposed to speak with Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian on Monday. But a last-minute change to an indoor location, where protesters were not allowed, erupted in chaos as residents demanded the right to be present.

The local NAACP leader said that residents’ emotions have run high in Kenosha and that they want to be heard.

“The African American community here always feels that we’ve been left out when it comes to things of this nature,” Davis said. “This kind pushes a lot of African American away, one of the biggest things in this community, it drives them away from voting because there is no trust. No matter who is in office, they feel like they don’t trust them.”

Davis said the primary concern, outside of Blake’s serious health battle, is beginning to heal the community through transparency and accountability. If it weren’t for local citizens with cell phone recordings, Davis said, there would be even fewer answers available because of a lack of body cameras used by the local department.

“I just pray that some way, somehow, we find a way to bring people together on all sides here and do the right thing,” David said. “This man shouldn’t have been shot like this. That’s all we can say from the video. It shouldn’t have happened.”

Darryl Morin, president of Forward Latino and founding member of the Community Coalition for Quality Policing, was also supposed to speak at Monday’s press conference. He said that there is a dramatic lack of trust between the community and police officers in Kenosha.

Morin said that local civil rights organizations are demanding to hear Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis’ plans and efforts so far on improving community-oriented policing. They are also asking for evidence to be shared along with a public review of the department’s use of force policy and training methodology.

“There’s been a sense of frustration by many,” Morin said. “There is a feeling that this police chief is not engaging with the community in a complete, thorough, and empathetic manner. And that has reverberations.”

That frustration has been elevated not only in the Black community, but globally among all communities following the fatal arrest of George Floyd in Minneapolis this May, Morin said. Miskinis signed a joint statement in June with other Kenosha law enforcement agencies after Floyd’s death pledging to address bias in policing, according to The Journal Times in June.

A country where minorities fear engaging with police while also espousing freedom and equality should not be acceptable to anyone, Morin said.

“Unless there is some extreme circumstance that has yet to be known, these officers should be arrested for the attempted murder of Jacob,” Morin said. “Seven shots at point-blank range when two officers are right there, nearby, in front of his children is simply unconscionable and should not be tolerated by anyone in law enforcement.”

The Kenosha Police Department said the division of criminal investigations for the Wisconsin Department of Justice would investigate the shooting and deferred requests for comment there.

A Wisconsin law, sign by Gov. Scott Walker in 2014, requires that an independent investigation be conducted for killings by police.

Michael Bell, Sr., whose fight for police accountability since his son was shot and killed by Kenosha police in 2004 led to the bill’s passage, was at his home Sunday night, about seven minutes from where Blake was shot.

He said on Monday that he phone began to “go crazy” when he sat down to dinner that night as friends began to send him the video of Blake’s shooting.

“I felt the horror of that,” he said. “I saw a family member jumping up and down just outside the door and remembered my daughter and wife witnessing my son’s death so I understood what they must have felt.”

In 2004, a Kenosha police officer followed Michael Bell Jr. after observing his driving, and the two got into a struggle when the 21-year-old resisted arrest, according to The Kenosha News. During the altercation, one officer shouted that Michael Bell, Jr., had his gun and another officer shot and killed the young man.

The Kenosha Police Department determined in a matter of days that the shooting was justified, but the Bell family has spent years challenging the police’s narrative. Bell held a press conference last year with findings from the family’s own private investigation and requested a special prosecutor reopen his son’s case.

Over the course of nearly 16 years, Michael Bell, Sr., has made it his life’s work to demand legislative changes. He has spent tens of thousands of dollars on billboards and newspaper ads to help keep his son’s story alive.

Michael Bell, Sr., said he recognizes that if he, a white military veteran, had to fight that hard, he can understand the desperation in the minority community to be heard. While he still holds hope his son’s case will be revisited, Michael Bell, Sr., said that he hopes the Blake family gets the investigation his son never received.

“If it wasn’t for social media and the cell phone no one would believe the atrocities that police were committing,” he said.