Shooting in Kenosha brings cries of vigilantism

As dawn broke on Wednesday, Kenosha, Wisconsin was once again smoldering from more fires and riots overnight in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake. (We’ll return to Blake in a moment below.) The key event drawing media attention today was the shooting of at least three people, two of whom died as a result. The amount of confusion surrounding the shootings is making it difficult for the media to sort out precisely what happened, but that’s not stopping analysts from leaping to conclusions. The late-night shooting followed reports of groups of armed citizens patrolling parts of the city that hadn’t been burned and looted yet, so CNN has been blaring headlines all morning about “armed vigilantes in Kenosha.” Until we know the identity of the shooters (using the plural because, as you’ll see in a moment, there were at least two and possibly three people firing during this incident) it’s frankly impossible to say how it started and who began the gunplay. (Associated Press)

Two people died and one person was injured as shots were fired late Tuesday in Kenosha during the third night of unrest in Wisconsin following the shooting of a Black man by police, Kenosha police said.

The shooting was reported at about 11:45 p.m. in an area where protests have taken place, Kenosha police Lt. Joseph Nosalik said in a news release.

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said one victim had been shot in the head and another in the chest late Tuesday, just before midnight, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Beth didn’t know where the other person was shot, but his or her injuries are not believed to be life threatening.

The shooting was under investigation and no other information was released. The victims have not been identified.

Twitter user Brendan Gutenschwager captured some of the actual shooting and the subsequent departure of the shooter. You should be warned in advance that this footage will obviously be disturbing to some readers and shows someone being shot and possibly killed.

Here’s some more footage from the Associated Press taken in the same part of town as all of this was going down. As you will see, this looks like nothing but a war zone.

The rioting was completely out of control by the time the shooting went down. I’ve watched both of those videos multiple times on full screen with the volume turned on and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no way to piece together what happened. There were multiple confrontations between the rioters and some locals who were trying to prevent even more of the city’s businesses and public buildings from being looted and burned.

So were there “vigilantes” in the streets as many media outlets are claiming? One person’s vigilante is another person’s militia, I suppose. But some of the leaping to conclusions taking place thus far should qualify a few journalists for a spot on our Olympic diving team.

As for what started all of this, these riots are clearly in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday. I haven’t written about that particular shooting yet because, much like the current riots, there’s a lot of confusion as to how it all happened. Both the BLM protesters and many in the press are portraying Blake as yet another hapless Black person caught up in racist police violence. From what I’ve been able to gather thus far, however, the story is far more complicated.

The original video that made the rounds only showed Blake on the driver’s side of his vehicle, opening the door and either attempting to get in or reaching to grab something from inside. (Inconclusive as to which was the case, at least thus far.) At that point, he’s shot in the back six or seven times by either one or two officers. If that’s all the information you have to go on, it obviously looks bad for the cops.

There’s much more to the story, however. A second video recently emerged showing the earlier stages of the confrontation that took place on the sidewalk adjacent to the passenger side of Blake’s vehicle.

There’s a struggle taking place, with Blake obviously physically resisting the officers. One cop can be heard shouting for Blake to “drop the knife,” though I’ve not seen any compelling video of a knife being wielded yet. (The video is all quite shakey and grainy so it’s tough to say.)

And why were the cops interested in Blake to begin with? As it turns out, he has a rap sheet going back to at least 2015. Last month a warrant was put out on him for criminal trespassing, domestic abuse and sexual assault. On Sunday, the police were responding to a report of domestic violence, but it’s unclear whether or not that involved Blake in this instance.

The bottom line here is the question of what Blake was doing or, perhaps more importantly, what the police thought Blake was doing when he reached the driver’s side of his vehicle. Was he planning on getting in and driving away? Was he reaching for a weapon? (He allegedly has a history of incidents with firearms.) None of this provides us with any 100% solid answers at this point, but I’m simply saying that this incident is likely far more complicated than some of the media coverage would lead you to believe.

For what it’s worth, if Blake was unarmed when he reached the driver’s side of the vehicle, I think the police should have been able to put an armbar on him and take him to the ground without the need to open fire on him from behind. But since I wasn’t there attempting to make the arrest in the heat of the moment, I’m obviously just approaching this as a Monday morning quarterback. Before we jump to a conclusion about either the original shooting of Blake or what happened last night, we should probably wait until all the evidence is in. But no matter what the evidence shows, the burning and looting of Kenosha that’s going on right now is not a “protest” nor does it do any honor to Jacob Blake, be he an innocent victim or something else.