Anti-racism protesters rally in Kenosha under National Guard’s watchful eye

Hundreds of protesters march at a rally for Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Saturday. (AP pic)

KENOSHA: About 1,000 people joined a mile-long march in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” as National Guard units stood by to prevent a resurgence of violence that rocked the lakeside city earlier in the week.

Jacob Blake Sr, the father of the 29-year-old black man whose shooting by a white police officer on Sunday sparked the unrest, called on protesters to refrain from the looting and vandalism that he said detracted from the push for progress.

“Good people of this city understand. If we tear it up we have nothing,” he told a gathering at a park that was the hub of protests in support of his son, Jacob Blake Jr. “Stop it. Show ’em for one night we don’t have to tear up nothing.”

The shooting of Blake, in front of three of his children, turned the mostly white city of 100,000 people south of Milwaukee into the latest flashpoint in a summer of US-wide demonstrations against police brutality and racism.

President Donald Trump said on Saturday that he would likely visit Kenosha, without providing details.

Blake, 29, survived but was left badly wounded and paralysed from the waist down.

Blake will likely participate via video from his hospital room in a court hearing next week about criminal charges that predated the shooting, his lawyer told Reuters on Saturday, adding he would plead not guilty.

Anger at Blake’s shooting, captured on video that went viral, led to street skirmishes, with protesters hurling firecrackers and bricks at police in riot gear who fired volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.

On Tuesday night three demonstrators were shot – two fatally – by a white teenager armed with a semi-automatic rifle.

In Kenosha on Saturday, people painted messages of unity on boards protecting storefronts after many businesses were burned to the ground in arson attacks and vandalism. And residents hoped the calm would hold for a fourth night.

Yet outrage over Blake’s shooting has not diminished. Protesters, some wearing “Justice for Jacob” masks, spoke about the need for a reckoning with racial injustice.

“We are tired,” said Darius Johnson, 27, of Milwaukee. “There is no excuse for this kind of racism. It could have been any one of us, my brother, my sister. It needs to stop.”

The 17-year-old suspect in Tuesday night’s killings, Kyle Rittenhouse, surrendered to the police on Wednesday near his home in Illinois close to the Wisconsin border.

Kenosha officials have been criticised for videos showing law enforcement agents giving him water before the burst of violence and acting chummy with armed militia men in the streets.

Since mid-week, the unrest has subsided in Kenosha. By Friday, more than 1,000 National Guard soldiers were on the ground, many from out of state.

Self-defence argument

Rittenhouse is being held without bond and awaiting an extradition hearing on returning him to Wisconsin to face six criminal counts, including first-degree intentional homicide, reckless endangerment and unlawful possession of a firearm.

His lawyers have indicated he would argue self-defence.

Blake, who has undergone multiple surgeries since the shooting, had been handcuffed to a hospital bed because of an outstanding arrest warrant.

The handcuffs were removed on Friday and officers guarding Blake stood down after the warrant was vacated, according to his attorney, Pat Cafferty.

The warrant was based on a criminal complaint filed against Blake in July.

The complaint shows that Blake’s ex-girlfriend, the mother of three of his children, told police Blake broke into her home on May 3 and sexually assaulted her before stealing her truck and debit card.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said this week that police confronted Blake when called to the home of a woman who had reported her “boyfriend was present” without permission, and officers tried to arrest him.

Kaul said efforts to subdue Blake with a Taser failed, and that investigators later recovered a knife from the floor of the car that Blake was leaning into when he was shot.

On Friday, the Kenosha police union defended the officers, saying Blake was armed with a knife, fought the officers and was given several chances to cooperate before they used deadly force.

Blake’s family and his attorneys have said he did not provoke or threaten the police.

“What gave them the right to attempted murder of my child. What gave them the right to think that my son was an animal,” Blake’s father told the crowd. “I’m tired of this.”