Two days after police shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back — leaving him paralyzed from the waist down — unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, turned deadly, with two people shot dead in what may have been a confrontation between protesters and a member of an armed militia. Authorities said a third person was shot but did not sustain life-threatening injuries.
On Wednesday afternoon, Kenosha police announced that 17-year-old Illinois resident Kyle Rittenhouse had been detained and charged with first-degree intentional homicide in relation to the shootings. “What I can’t tell you is what led to that disturbance, what led to use of deadly force,” Kenosha police chief Daniel Miskinis said in a press conference. Miskinis added that the homicide is currently being investigated by the criminal division of the Wisconsin Department of Justice and that the two victims were a 26-year-old resident of Silver Lake, Wisconsin, and a 36-year-old from Kenosha. The victim who survived the shooting was a 26-year-old from West Allis, Wisconsin.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that the shootings happened just before midnight. Initially, authorities were looking for a man with a long gun and stated they were confident the suspect would be apprehended shortly based on videos already circulating widely on social media. The New York Times reports that the violence occurred near a gas station that had become the center of the chaos, after police dispersed protesting crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets from the courthouse downtown:
There, a group of men with guns stood outside, promising to protect the property and verbally sparring with the arriving protesters. As the night stretched on, the gas station became a tense gathering spot, with bystanders watching from parked cars and people milling around in the street, arguing and occasionally shoving each other.
Videos documenting the shooting spread across social media, though it was difficult to match up police accounts with what transpires in the footage. In one clip, shots ring out in a parking lot and a white man with a long gun hovers near a man on the ground, then runs off while appearing to tell someone he’s on the phone with: “I just killed somebody.” A group of men then administer first aid to the victim, who appears to have been shot in the head. (Warning: graphic footage below.)
In another, longer video, what appears to be the same man runs down the street as a group of men, seemingly identifying him as the shooter from the previous incident, chase and accost him. He falls down and, as the men begin to beat him, fires a series of shots, hitting someone. He then walks down the street and attempts to surrender to police, who do not immediately apprehend him.
Authorities stated that Rittenhouse was arrested about 15 miles south of Kenosha in Illinois and that he “fled the state of Wisconsin with intent to avoid prosecution.” In a video from before the shooting, Rittenhouse appears to have spoken with a Daily Caller reporter. “People are getting injured and our job is to protect this business,” the suspect says. “And my job also is to protect people. If someone is hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle; I’ve gotta’ protect myself, obviously. But I also have my med kit.”
Ever since Blake was shot repeatedly as his kids sat in his car, Kenosha has seen civil unrest reminiscent of the aftermath of the George Floyd killing in Minnesota earlier this year. Cops and protesters have faced off over three nights, with small groups of protesters among larger peaceful crowds sometimes smashing windows, setting fires, and looting stores. Blake’s mother has called for calm and prayer. On Tuesday, some protesters threw objects at police officers and attempted to overturn a fence at the courthouse.
But before the shootings, damage had been restricted to buildings and property.