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On the ground with Kenosha protesters: “We want justice”

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 23 to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, which had occurred just hours prior. With emotions strong and tensions high, conditions were exacerbated further by excessive police force directed at protesters, including the use of tear gas and pepper balls. Liberation News was on the scene to talk to those on the front lines in the rebellion against police brutality. The police and rightwing violence our reporters witnessed was a harbinger of the racist killings to come perpetrated by Kyle Rittenhouse.

While the immediate anger against racist police terror was palpable to all, a local medic and activist working on the ground emphasized that the roots of Kenosha’s unrest go far deeper than the brutal attempted murder of Jacob Blake. By and large, Kenosha mirrors the plight of working class and Black communities across the Midwest and the nation as a whole. Straddled between Milwaukee to its north and Chicago to its south, Kenosha’s Black community bears the twin scars of deindustrialization and segregation. The disparity between white and Black families is seen by both the police and local racists out of uniform as “ghetto-like,” he told Liberation News.

Liberation photo

While neither the Kenosha Police nor the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department claim to be able to “afford” body cameras, records show that both outfits have taken ample advantage of the Pentagon’s 1033 program to equip themselves in the latest high-tech repressive equipment, including more than 2,000 semi-automatic rifles, nearly 200 .45 caliber pistols, an advanced combat optical gunsite scope kit, 60 night vision sniper scopes and more than 40 mine resistant vehicles (more commonly known as MRAPs). With this militarized mindset and protection from lax city officials, incidents of police brutality have increased year after year, with 18 federal suits filed against the Kenosha Police Department since 2005 over officer misconduct.

Speaking on the dominance of the local political establishment, the medic pointed to the reelection of County Sheriff David Beth, infamous for a recently-resurfaced 2018 rant during which he referred to the Black suspects in a theft case as “trash” who needed to be “warehoused.” Explaining why the sheriff is still in office, the medic alleged that the “the only people who vote in this area are the people allowed to,” in reference to Wisconsin’s felony disenfranchisement laws that disproportionately impact potential Black voters incarcerated or on parole in Kenosha county.

While at the Aug. 23 action in Kenosha, Liberation News witnessed a confrontation between a racist agitator wielding a knife and a group of protesters accused of property damage. This incident almost turned deadly when the agitator attempted to stab a young Black woman, provoking a running melee that ended only when a squad of local police intervened. Putting their backs to the knife-wielding agitator, police drew guns on the predominately Black protesters and threatened them with imprisonment, while offering no warning to the other party. This double standard towards those protesting a state murder, and those attempting to kill to “protect” other people’s property, foreshadowed the arrival of white militias in later nights that would see a teenage militiaman, Kyle Rittenhouse, shoot and kill two protesters after cooperating with local police, who welcomed their presence.

When asked why they came out to protest, a local Kenosha woman said of Jacob Blake’s condition: “Well you know they said he’s critical, but we’re gonna be critical tonight. We just want justice. That it. We want justice. Stop killing our f—ing people!” Shortly after commenting, protesters were forced to move away from tear gas and an advancing police line.

With regards to the officer who shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times, another protester who arrived from New Orleans to show solidarity with the people of Kenosha explained: “We want his ass in jail. I mean, yeah, that’s basically it. We want justice. They keep doing it. They keep doing it over and over again. Something’s gotta give.”

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