Lt. Gov. Barnes decries militia groups: ‘We can’t even act surprised.’
A teenager involved in a right-wing militia allegedly shot three people, leaving two dead and one injured, late Tuesday night in Kenosha on the third day of protests after a police officer shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, multiple times in the back at point-blank range.
All three shootings on Tuesday were caught on camera in graphic videos. In the first, a young man, later identified as Kyle Rittenhouse, a white 17-year-old from Antioch, Ill., appears to shoot a white man in the head with a rifle before fleeing the scene.
The shooter appears to be on the phone and can be heard saying what sounds like, “I just killed somebody,” as he runs away. In a second video, Rittenhouse appears to be shown running away from a group of protesters, falling down, and shooting two white men, one who hit him in the head with a skateboard and another who was coming toward him.
In the second video, Rittenhouse is seen walking away from the scene and toward multiple police vehicles, who let him pass without incident as they drive toward the shooting. Rittenhouse was not arrested in Kenosha, even though he walked right past the police while holding a rifle.
Rittenhouse was charged with homicide Wednesday in Kenosha County and arrested as a fugitive in Illinois, according to a criminal complaint published by digital news site the Daily Dot.
The Kenosha Police Department confirmed early Wednesday morning two of the shooting victims died and the third suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Police Chief Daniel Mikinis announced in a Wednesday afternoon press conference that the two people killed were a 26-year-old Silver Lake resident and a 36-year-old Kenosha resident. The injured person is a 26-year-old West allis resident, Mikinis said. He did not release any other identifying information, nor did he name Rittenhouse at the press conference.
Speaking with news site Democracy Now! on Wednesday morning, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes did not mince words in condemning the shooting and armed militia groups who patrol protests in an effort to intimidate demonstrators.
“We can’t even act surprised that this happened,” Barnes said in a video interview with the website. “Because this is what they’ve been saying that they are gonna do—whatever armed militia group. They don’t do those quasi-military tactical trainings for nothing. They are preparing for an event, and something like this, where people are standing up demanding racial justice in this country, is a perfect opportunity for them to strike. And that is what you saw in that video.”
Reggie Jackson, head griot at America’s Black Holocaust Museum and co-owner of consulting company Nurturing Diversity Partners in Milwaukee, told UpNorthNews he was not surprised by the shooting and that he hopes it will help spark change and cause the public to take right-wing militias more seriously.
“When we warn people that these types of people are dangerous, and they don’t believe us, hopefully this will be a clear message that we’re not imagining how dangerous these militia groups are,” Jackson said.
The events marked another night of violence in Kenosha after Blake’s shooting on Sunday. Gov. Tony Evers deployed the National Guard on Monday to the city of about 100,000 after demonstrations gave way to violence, looting, and destruction.
Despite a curfew for all of Kenosha County east of Interstate 94, demonstrations continued well into the night. Evers announced Wednesday he is sending another 500 National Guardsmen to Kenosha. The curfew in Kenosha for Wednesday is 7 p.m., earlier than previous nights.
Chris Ott, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said the militarized response in Kenosha—both from police and militia groups—has inflamed tensions, not soothed them. He also offered condolences to the two protesters killed in the shooting.
“No one should lose their lives—whether at the hands of law enforcement or armed militias—for expressing their outrage, disappointment, exhaustion, or vision for a better future,” Ott said.
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the armed militia patrolling Kenosha protests is “like a vigilante group.”
Mikinis, Beth, and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian all said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference that armed militia groups are more harmful than helpful to police efforts. Beth said armed militias “create confrontation” and sow confusion.
Beth told reporters during the press conference that he heard there was a militia group who wanted to be deputized to help quell the unrest.
“Oh, hell no,” Beth said of his reaction when he heard groups wanted to be deputized. “Last night was probably the perfect reason why I wouldn’t.”
He said he believes the shooter was part of that group but later partially walked the statement back saying he was not sure.
In another video, Rittenhouse introduced himself to a reporter by saying he was “with the local militia.”
Rittenhouse was interviewed earlier in the night by a reporter with the right-wing news source BlazeTV. In the video, Rittenhouse says he was pepper-sprayed by protesters before he is asked if he responded with non-lethal means.
“We don’t have non-lethal,” Rittenhouse replied.
Rittenhouse was spotted in another clip with one other man armed with a rifle. In that clip, they receive water from a Kenosha County Sheriff’s deputy.
“We appreciate you guys, we really do,” the deputy told Rittenhouse.
In response to questions about the deputy’s interaction with Rittenhouse, Beth dismissed concerns about the appearance of the authorities welcoming militias’ help.
“Our deputies would toss a water to anybody,” Beth said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “If someone came walking past, I don’t care if they’re a protester or who they are.”
He also defended the officers and deputies who simply let the still-armed alleged shooter walk past them immediately following the shooting. Beth said officers may have had “tunnel vision” in the high-stress scenario.
State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, said in a statement Wednesday that those deputies and officers’ actions warranted an FBI investigation into Kenosha law enforcement due to their failure to arrest Rittenhouse at the scene and their apparent support of the militia.
“These actions represent an abdication of duty on the part of the Kenosha Police Department, and investigators should not only prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law, but they should also work with the affected community in order to determine viable paths forward to maintain public safety while making sure nothing like this ever happens again,” Brostoff said.
State Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, blamed the violence on Republican inaction in a statement. Republican legislative leadership has not called lawmakers into session in more than four months, even as the coronavirus pandemic worsens and calls for racial justice continue.
“The question for us, Wisconsin, is when are we going to make Republicans do their jobs, or do we continue to sit idly by and watch this state burn to the f–king ground?” Johnson said.
The police shooting of Blake came about three months after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, a killing that sparked global protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Blake survived the shooting in which an officer shot him as many as seven times, but he is paralyzed from the waist down, according to his family.
The vicious shooting led Evers and Barnes to once again call for the legislature to pass a series of police-reform bills that Republicans have ignored for over two months. The governor and lieutenant governor first pushed in June for the Legislature to pass those bills, which would enact reforms such as banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants, two techniques that have led to the deaths of unarmed Black people in recent years.
“I am urging Republican leadership to rise to this important movement in history to put people before politics and to put the lives of Black Wisconsinites above politics and to give this special session an urgent and productive effort that this moment demands and the people of Wisconsin deserve,” Evers said in a Monday statement.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, responded by instead forming a task force on racial inequality, public safety, and police policies.
Barnes called Vos’ task force “a cop out” in a tweet.
The Tuesday night militia shootings have already caused concern across the state.
Protest planners in Eau Claire are working with police to ensure safety measures, such as monitors along the streets that the protest march will travel between the event’s starting point at Randall Park and its finish at the Eau Claire Claire County Courthouse, said Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, a Black UW-Eau Claire history professor who is involved with planning the protest.
Those monitors will be on the lookout for suspicious behavior, Ducksworth-Lawton said. In addition, she said, people will be stationed at various points of the march to take video footage, a possible deterrent to bad behaviors and a means of documenting those actions if they occur.
“We’re going to have to prepare for violence,” Ducksworth-Lawton said, noting she is receiving messages from relatives in Louisiana and Atlanta asking how close Eau Claire is to Kenosha because they are concerned for her safety. “When you see what happened in Kenosha, you have to be worried about possible violence at events like this. We’re going to do what we need to do to make sure something similar doesn’t happen here.”
UpNorthNews reporter Julian Emerson contributed to this report.