KENOSHA, WISCONSIN (AP) — A white, 17-year-old police admirer was arrested on Wednesday after two people were shot to death during a third straight night of protests in Kenosha over the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake.
Kyle Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, about 24.14 kilometres from Kenosha, was taken into custody in Illinois on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide in the attack on Tuesday that was largely captured on cellphone video. The shooting left a third person wounded.
“I just killed somebody,” the gunman, carrying a semi-automatic rifle, could be heard saying at one point.
In the wake of the killings, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers authorised the deployment of 500 members of the National Guard to Kenosha, doubling the number of troops in the city of 100,000 midway between Milwaukee and Chicago. The governor’s office said he is working with other states to bring in additional National Guard members and law officers. Authorities also announced a 7pm curfew, though protesters ignored it again on Wednesday.
Protesters marched past the intersection where two people were shot on Tuesday night, stopping to gather around the spot where one person was shot, and to pray and lay flowers. Daijon Spann said he decided to join the demonstration because one of those killed the night before was a friend.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “I couldn’t just sit there and watch my friend die.”
Evers, a Democrat, issued a statement asking those who wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights to “please do so peacefully and safely” and urging others to “please stay home and let local first responders, law enforcement and members of the Wisconsin National Guard do their jobs.
“A senseless tragedy like this cannot happen again,” Evers said.
As of early yesterday, the protests were mostly peaceful, in contrast to the violent clashes that marked earlier nights of protests. There were no groups patrolling with long guns as they had on previous nights, and protesters stayed away from a courthouse that had been the site of standoffs with law enforcement.
In Washington, the Justice Department said it is sending in more than 200 federal agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States (US) Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The White House said up to 2,000 National Guard troops would be made available.
The dead were identified only as a 26-year-old Silver Lake, Wisconsin, resident and a 36-year-old from Kenosha. The wounded person, a 36-year-old from West Allis, Wisconsin, was expected to survive, police said.
“We were all chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ at the gas station and then we heard, boom, boom, and I told my friend, ‘That’s not fireworks’,” 19-year-old protester Devin Scott told the Chicago Tribune.
“And then this guy with this huge gun runs by us in the middle of the street and people are yelling, ‘He shot someone! He shot someone!’ And everyone is trying to fight the guy, chasing him, and then he started shooting again.”
Scott said he cradled a victim in his arms, and a woman started performing CPR, but “I don’t think he made it”.
According to witness accounts and video footage, police apparently let the gunman walk past them and leave the scene with a rifle over his shoulder and his hands in the air as members of the crowd were yelling for him to be arrested because he had shot people.
As for how the gunman managed to slip away, Sheriff David Beth described a chaotic, high-stress scene, with lots of radio traffic and people screaming, chanting and running — conditions he said can cause “tunnel vision” among law officers.
Rittenhouse was assigned a public defender in Illinois for a hearing today on his transfer to Wisconsin. The public defender’s office had no comment. Under Wisconsin law, anyone 17 or older is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.
Much of Rittenhouse’s Facebook page is devoted to praising law enforcement, with references to Blue Lives Matter, a movement that supports police. He also can be seen holding an assault rifle.
In a photograph posted by his mother, he is wearing what appears to be a blue law enforcement uniform as well as the kind of brimmed hat that state troopers wear.