Kenosha police shooting: City awakens to air filled with smoke, smell of fire

KENOSHA, Wis. — The day dawned charcoal gray over the city Tuesday morning, but it was at times hard to tell if it was clouds or smoke dimming the light after a second night of protests and burning.

Businesses along a usually busy stretch of 60th Street near downtown were reduced to blackened rubble and firefighters were still dousing hotspots. Windows everywhere were shattered, stores looted.

Scott Carpenter stood outside what remained of the used furniture business his father started in the family garage 40 years ago.

“It saddens my heart. It hurts,” said Carpenter, 51.

All that remained inside the hollowed out store was the charred heating and cooling system that collapsed onto the showroom floor when the ceiling gave way.

Of the thousands of items the store carried, Carpenter said he managed to find a single undamaged one — a metal vase.

“I’m without a job, my daughter is without a job,” he said in a quiet voice. “It’s hurtful knowing the hatefulness is there and that other people are going to suffer just like us.”

A couple of doors down, at a law office, all of the windows were shattered.

“I feel like I’m in a movie,” said Jenny Eaton, who works in the office. “The probation and parole office is on fire, a man who spent all his life running a business now has nothing. I don’t know how this helps Black Lives Matter. At this point, all lives matter. Let’s get it together, America. This is doing nothing but putting us further into a recession.”

Phillip Marry owns the 92-year-old law office building where Eaton works. He pointed to some cinder blocks used to smash the building’s stained glass windows that “can’t be replaced.”

“It’s a sad day, a very sad day,” said Marry, who is a criminal defense lawyer.

He described the governor’s deployment of the National Guard as “too little, too late.”

He also said he understands the protesters’ frustrations. “But taking it out on business owners I don’t think is the right thing to do,” he said.

In the predawn hours, the smoke along 22nd Avenue was so thick it was impossible to see anything more than half a block away except the flashing lights of fire trucks. Firefighters stepped over the rubble of buildings in silence as they poured water on remaining hot spots.

Smoke was rising from what remained of the Department of Corrections building. Drivers slowed on 60th Street to take in the scene, as traffic gradually picked up for the morning commute.

Kenosha residents emerged from their homes to see the aftermath of a second night of unrest sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

“All this s—t right here is replaceable, but our lives are not replaceable,” said Wendell Coleman, a longtime resident. “The police, they harass anybody of color here.”

Other residents surveying the scene disagreed.

“This is totally f—ing senseless, this was not done by communities of upset people, this was done by have-nothing, do-nothing chaos agents,” said one man, Paul, who declined to use his last name.

Graffiti on buildings along 22nd Avenue, however, did not seem to corroborate Paul’s account.

“Our futures have been looted … LOOT BACK!” read one tag.

Regina Luckett, a former Chicagoan who has lived in Kenosha for six years, pulled over to watch as bulldozers began to clean up the DOC.

“The police system is messed up, it’s like they’re more aggressive to men and women of color,” Luckett said. “And I hate for it to come to this, but how else are they going to listen? It’s sad but it’s needed.”

Jeannine Field, director of the Kenosha Human Development Services next door to the DOC, said the crisis prevention center had to move its residents to another facility during the unrest.

“I think everything that happened last night here in Kenosha is an incredible tragedy, but Kenosha is a strong place and we’ll pull together and we’ll get through it,” Field said.

Streets leading to the city’s government buildings, including the county courthouse and public safety headquarters, remained sealed off to traffic Tuesday morning.

“The courthouse is a symbol to people, really to the entire country, of justice,” Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said. “To a lot of people, this area symbolizes law enforcement, first of all, and justice.”

Asked about the unrest, Beth said: “We’re hoping that most of the activity is done as of today, and if it is then we’re good. … We’re prepared to go more long-term if we have to, which we may.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. issued a statement Tuesday calling for an end to the unrest.

“Peaceful protesting is a constitutionally protected form of free speech. Rioting is not. It must not be allowed to continue,” Johnson said.

At Civic Center Park, across the street from the courthouse, a handful of community volunteers roamed the area picking up garbage.

“First and foremost I think we need to consider the shooting, and with everything going on here in the community I think that’s getting pushed to the back side — and it needs to be at the forefront of everything,” said Samantha Savaglio, who said she is a new mother.

“The situation is horrible and i think there definitely needs to be some reassessments and retrainings of the police force because what they did is unacceptable.”

Second night of protests

Kenosha, a city of about 100,000 people halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee along Lake Michigan, was rocked by protests for a second night Monday after Kenosha police officers shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, about 5 p.m. Sunday.

Shortly after midnight Tuesday, several businesses and vehicles were ablaze in Kenosha neighborhoods when a day of peaceful daytime protests erupted after dark.

Hundreds of protesters stretching several blocks marched ahead of a caravan of honking cars through the streets of Kenosha on Monday evening to denounce police abuse following the shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake on Sunday.

“Say his name! Jacob Blake!” the racially diverse group of peaceful protesters chanted, many of their fists raised.

“We want the officer who pulled the trigger fired, arrested and prosecuted,” said Clyde McLemore, a leader with the Black Lives Matter chapter of Lake County, Illinois, south of Kenosha across the state line.

But later Monday night, after an 8 p.m. curfew went into effect, a group of protesters leading the march — anticipating a clash with police — stopped a couple blocks from the Kenosha County Courthouse, where police had amassed, to tell any children in their ranks to go home.

Minutes later, the group approached dozens of officers with shields, helmets and other protective gear and began throwing water bottles and lighting off powerful fireworks that sent crowds of demonstrators running as they exploded.

So many fires

About 11 p.m., a mattress store at Roosevelt Road and 22nd Avenue burned uninterrupted in the city’s Uptown neighborhood for more than 20 minutes as dozens of people stood nearby and watched.

An empty fire station stood about 100 yards away, its firefighters and equipment fighting other blazes blocks away that made the sky glow red.

A wall of the two-story brick building that housed the mattress store came crashing down and sent people running to safer distances.

At the same time, a separate blaze burned a nearby Boost Mobile store and briefly caused a panic as bystanders wondered if people living in apartments above the storefront got out OK.

Spectators largely dispersed with the arrival of fire trucks, National Guard troops and police, who cordoned off the area.

“It’s ironic that Uptown, a black community, is burning,“ said Troy Williams, 30, a personal trainer who lives in the area and shook his head as he watched the flames.

“I definitely think it’s people from out of town that are setting things on fire. I don’t believe it’s Kenoshans doing it to their own city,” Williams said.

Looters had broken into the stores and set the fires, according to witnesses.

“I feel pretty terrible, honestly,” said a Kenosha man in his 20s who didn’t want his name used. “The city’s burning, you know, nobody wants to see that. There ain’t no reason for any of this.”

The man said the chaos seemed to snowball after groups of people began to shake light poles until they crashed to the street.

National Guard on scene

National Guardsmen waited in military vehicles in nearby side streets as the clash occurred and a group of protesters set up a medical aid station near the courthouse.

Other protesters who wanted no part in the confrontation kept their distance.

The confrontations capped off a wild day in Kenosha in the wake of the shooting of Blake, a father of six whose family has a history of community activism in Evanston.

Kenosha firefighters worked early Tuesday to put out fires started during a second night of civil unrest after a Black man was wounded by police.

Kenosha firefighters worked early Tuesday to put out fires started during a second night of civil unrest after a Black man was wounded by police.
Sam Kelly/Sun-Times

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