US President Donald Trump's visit to Kenosha: What we need to know about the protests there
US President Donald Trump has visited the city of Kenosha in Wisconsin, ground zero of the most recent wave of social unrest sparked by the shooting of Mr Jacob Blake. He had travelled to Kenosha on Tuesday (Sept 1) despite objections from the governor of Wisconsin and the mayor of Kenosha, who feared his presence would further inflame tensions.
Mr Blake, 29, a black resident of Kenosha was shot in the back by a police officer on Aug 23. At first, a small group of protesters rallied to demand justice. But peaceful demonstrations soon turned into violent civil unrest that lasted for more than a week.
Police fired teargas at protesters, some of whom had set cars alight and robbed businesses. Right-wing activists brought firearms to push back these protesters. Among them was a 17-year-old supporter of Blue Lives Matter – a counter-movement founded in 2014 to defend the country’s law enforcers – who shot and killed two protesters and wounded a third.
What happened? Here is everything we need to know.
WHO IS JACOB BLAKE?
Mr Blake, 29, is a father of five from Evanston, Illinois. He moved to Kenosha, 85km away, several years ago for a job and his family.
His family has a history of community activism. Mr Blake’s grandfather was a preacher in Evanston and a local leader in the civil rights movement who had led a fight for fair housing in the city.
Mr Blake’s uncle said Mr Blake continued this tradition of public service and volunteered with a charity group that raises money for a community centre in Chicago.
Before the shooting, there was a warrant for Mr Blake’s arrest on charges of criminal trespass, domestic abuse and third-degree sexual assault but it is unclear whether the police who shot him were aware of the warrant. Mr Blake’s attorneys said his warrant has since been withdrawn.
WHY WAS JACOB BLAKE SHOT?
A video of the encounter captured by a witness shows Mr Blake walking away from two police officers and attempting to get into his SUV. The police officers had initially used a taser gun on him. But after Mr Blake opened his car door, one of the officers grabbed him by his shirt and fired seven shots into Mr Blake’s back.
Witnesses speculated that Mr Blake had wanted to check on his three young sons in the SUV. He survived but is paralysed from the waist down.
Wisconsin’s Attorney-General Josh Kaul said officers had been called to an address in response to a domestic incident and that they had recovered a knife from the floorboard on the driver’s side of Mr Blake’s car. But besides that, authorities gave no further explanation as to what really led to the shooting.
WHO SHOT JACOB BLAKE?
On Aug 26, the state Department of Justice identified the police officer who shot Mr Blake as Officer Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha State Department.
Mr Sheskey was a patrolman officer and was part of Kenosha Police Department’s bike unit. He has been placed on administrative leave along with the other officers present.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PROTEST?
In the wake of the shooting, hundreds of people rallied outside police headquarters in Kenosha. The largely peaceful demonstrations became violent as law enforcers clashed with protesters. The second night of the protests saw cars burned and buildings destroyed. Rioters vandalised and robbed several businesses.
Kenosha County had to put into effect a city-wide curfew as National Guard troops were deployed to suppress the protests. The fire department tallied 37 fires, along with medical services for numerous accidents, assaults, and injuries with traumas.
As the protests raged on, an armed white vigilante fired his assault rifle at protesters, killing two men and injuring a third. Police identified the protest shooter as Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old with white supremacist tendencies and who was affiliated with a local police cadet programme.
WHERE IS KENOSHA COUNTY?
Located in the south-east of Wisconsin, Kenosha is a former manufacturing hub with a population of around 100,000. South-east Wisconsin is said to be one of the most racially segregated regions in the country. The economic conditions of black residents here also ranked among the worst in the country, as pointed out by numerous studies.
Once heavily Democratic, the politics of Kenosha County today are split down the middle. The county voted to elect Mr Donald Trump as president in the 2016 election by a slim margin.
WHY ARE THE EVENTS IN KENOSHA IMPORTANT?
Mr Blake’s shooting occurred at a time when the US is grappling with the treatment of the African-Americans at the hands of its law enforcers.
Just three months ago, the shooting of Mr George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after he was pinned to the ground under the knee of a white police office in May, reignited debates about disproportionate violence against black people by police officers, and spurred large and sustained protests across the country.
Recent polls have suggested that about 15 million to 26 million people in the US participated in demonstrations in the month after Mr Floyd’s death. The figure would make the protests the largest movement in the country’s history, according to the New York Times.
Polls indicated that 57 per cent of Americans and 49 per cent of white respondents now believe that police are likely to use excessive force against African-Americans, compared to only one-third of Americans and one-fifth of white respondents in 2014.
The shooting of Mr Blake has further exacerbated the crisis and galvanised a movement calling for extensive police reforms and an end to racial injustices in the US.
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