Group says curfew violations should not depend on whether cops agree or disagree with who’s out late.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin on Wednesday said the Kenosha Police Department and Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department unfairly enforced a curfew against protesters while armed militia members “seem to have been given a free pass” during demonstrations against police brutality in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting.
The group also wants the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is currently investigating the Blake shooting, to investigate local law enforcement’s response to the protests.
The ACLU’s calls are the latest volley the civil rights organization has launched against local authorities in Kenosha. Late last month, the group demanded Police Chief Dan Miskinis and Sheriff David Beth resign or be fired over their handling of the unrest that followed the shooting of Blake, a Black man, by a Kenosha cop seven times in the back at point-blank range on Aug. 23.
Ninety-four people were given citations for violating the curfew that was in place during the unrest, and, according to the ACLU, “the vast majority, if not all,” of those citations were given to protesters—not the armed militia members who roamed the streets during the protests. One of those militia members shot three demonstrators, killing two of them, on Aug. 25; the gunman, a 17-year-old from Illinois, is claiming self-defense.
“This discriminatory enforcement of the illegal curfew, which clearly is related to whether the police agreed or disagreed with the message of the persons arrested, reflects clear retaliation for exercise of First Amendment rights of expression and assembly,” the ACLU wrote in a letter to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.
Although Miskinis and Beth would disavow the militia groups the day after the deadly militia shooting, a sheriff’s deputy was caught on camera the night of the shooting handing out water to the gunman and at least one other militia member while telling them, “We appreciate you guys.” In another video, police were seen driving right past the gunman immediately after he shot two people.
Further, the ACLU says the curfew itself was not issued in a legal manner because Beth issued it.
“Emergency ordinances, like countywide curfews, must be authorized by local governments, not law enforcement personnel,” the ACLU said.
On those grounds, the organization is demanding that all 94 curfew citations be dismissed. However, Beth, as the county sheriff, is both an elected official and a law enforcement officer, so it is unclear if the ACLU’s argument would hold up.
The ACLU is also demanding that the Department of Justice open an investigation into local law enforcement’s use of force during protests. Officers seriously wounded a number of people in protests, in some cases requiring medical attention for wounds inflicted by rubber bullets to the head. They also shot tear gas and pepper balls at crowds.
“It should be obvious that the Kenosha Sheriff and the Kenosha Police Department cannot investigate these events,” the ACLU wrote. “Virtually the entire contingent of personnel of both agencies were involved in these events. For the same reasons that you [the DOJ] are investigating the shooting of Jacob Blake, you must undertake an investigation of the subsequent events in Kenosha.”