As DA's decision looms in Jacob Blake shooting, Kenosha braces for civil unrest and National Guard mobilized

Blake was shot in the back by a police officer and paralyzed in August.

January 05, 2021, 9:51 AM

With stores that were set ablaze during a summer of civil unrest still lying in ruin in Kenosha, Wisconsin, business owners and city leaders are bracing again for violence as the local district attorney prepares to say if criminal charges will be filed against a white police officer in a shooting that left Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, paralyzed.

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael D. Graveley has said he will announce a decision on the case soon, prompting the mayor to propose an emergency declaration he said is intended to prevent a replay of the damage to businesses that occurred in August and led to a shooting that left two protesters dead and an Illinois teenager charged with homicide.

The Kenosha City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve Mayor John Antaramian's emergency declaration "regarding potential civil unrest." Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers mobilized 500 state National Guard troops to Kenosha to support local law enforcement efforts in case violence breaks out. Evers, a Democrat, said he marshaled the National Guard in response to a request from local authorities.

PHOTO: Jacob Blake Sr., father of Jacob Blake, holds a candle at a rally on Jan. 4, 2021, in Kenosha, Wis.
Jacob Blake Sr., father of Jacob Blake, holds a candle at a rally on Jan. 4, 2021, in Kenosha, Wis.
Morry Gash/AP

Blake's relatives and community members questioned the precautionary steps taken by city and state leaders. One local activist, Billy Violet, told the city council it is "basically showing no trust in the community" and warned preemptive plans could backfire and incite anger.

"What’d they bring the National Guard in for? To deliver mail?" Blake's father, Jacob Blake Sr., said during a news conference Monday night in Kenosha before participating in a candlelight vigil and march calling for justice for his son and other Black people across the nation killed in confrontations with police.

Blake Sr. said he wants to see the officer who shot his son in the back, Rusten Sheskey, be charged with attempted murder.

"He tried to kill my son. He didn’t try to take him down," Blake Sr. said.

Over the weekend, Antaramian and Police Chief Daniel Miskinis released a list of "precautionary community safety measures" to be imposed for up to eight days after Graveley announces his decision and include a curfew, a designated demonstration space, road closures and limitations on city bus routes.

PHOTO: Activists show support for Jacob Blake Jr. during a vigil near the Kenosha County Courthouse on January 04, 2021 in Kenosha, Wis.
Activists show support for Jacob Blake Jr. during a vigil near the Kenosha County Courthouse on January 04, 2021 in Kenosha, Wis. Jacob Blake Jr., 29, was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer on Aug. 23, 2020 and and was left paralyzed from his injuries.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

"Our responsibility to public safety is paramount and we are preparing for a number of possible public demonstrations and safety efforts," Antaramian and Miskinis said in a joint statement.

Graveley is mulling the evidence in the Aug. 23 incident in which Blake was shot multiple times in the back by Sheskey. The prosecutor has only said his decision on whether to charge Sheskey will be announced within the first two weeks of January.

Blake’s shooting came amid national protests over the deaths of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly eight minutes, and Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician fatally shot in her apartment in March by Louisville, Kentucky, police officers serving a no-knock search warrant (though the officers claim they knocked and announced themselves).

Blake's shooting unfolded after Sheskey and another officer responded to a report of a domestic dispute, according to the Kenosha Police Department statement. They deployed a stun gun while attempting to arrest Blake, the police department said.

PHOTO: A sign which reads "Kenosha Strong" is displayed amidst the debris in Kenosha, Wis., Nov. 2, 2020. A Kenosha police officer was caught on video shooting Jacob Blake repeatedly in the back on Aug. 23, 2020.
A sign which reads "Kenosha Strong" is displayed amidst the debris in Kenosha, Wis., Nov. 2, 2020. A Kenosha police officer, responding to a call about a domestic dispute, was caught on video shooting Jacob Blake repeatedly in the back at close range on Aug. 23, 2020. Blake, a Black man, survived but is partially paralyzed.
Wong Maye-E/AP, FILE

The stun gun, however, had little effect on Blake and investigators allege he broke free of the officers and walked around his vehicle, "opened the driver's side door, and leaned forward" before Sheskey fired seven shots into Blake's back, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation, which led the investigation.

The Kenosha Professional Police Association, the union representing Sheskey, claims Blake was armed with a knife and "forcefully fought" with the officers who tried to subdue him.

Following the shooting, Blake told authorities he had a knife in his possession but denied brandishing it. Investigators said they later recovered a knife from the driver's side floorboard of Blake's vehicle. The Wisconsin DOJ has yet to say whether Blake was holding that knife during his interaction with police or had the knife in his car.

Those closest to Blake, including his parents, say Blake is a loving and devoted father who did not deserve what happened to him.

Three of his children -- ages 8, 5 and 3 -- witnessed the shooting and were "absolutely devastated" by what they saw, Blake's attorney, Ben Crump, has said. Blake's oldest child was celebrating his birthday when his father was shot, Crump said.

PHOTO: A man on a bike rides past a city truck on fire outside the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., Aug 23, 2020, during protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
A man on a bike rides past a city truck on fire outside the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., Aug 23, 2020, during protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Mike de Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA Today via Reuters

The shooting was captured on cellphone video that was posted on social media and went viral, prompting days of large-scale protests in Kenosha that were mostly peaceful during the day but turned violent at night. The Kenosha Area Business Alliance reported that $50 million in damage occurred from instances of violence, looting and fires. Thirty-five small businesses were destroyed.

During a protest in Kenosha on Aug. 25, three protesters were shot, two fatally, allegedly by a then-17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse. The teenager, who is now 18, was arrested and charged with multiple counts, including first-degree intentional homicide in the death of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Anthony Huber, 26, and attempted first-degree intentional homicide in a shooting that left 22-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz wounded.

Following a Dec. 3 preliminary hearing, Rittenhouse was ordered to stand trial on the charges. His lawyers claim he opened fire with an AR-15 rifle in self-defense and cited multiple videos they say show him being chased and attacked by protesters.

The lawyers said Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha, about 21 miles from his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, on the day of the shooting to answer "his patriotic and civil duty to serve" the city "during a destructive insurrection."

PHOTO: Protesters march with the family of Jacob Blake during a rally against racism and police brutality in Kenosha, Wis., Aug. 29, 2020.
Protesters march with the family of Jacob Blake during a rally against racism and police brutality in Kenosha, Wis., Aug. 29, 2020.
Stephen Maturen/AFP via Getty Images

Rittenhouse was released from custody in November on $2 million bail backed by "Silver Spoons" actor Ricky Schroder.

Rittenhouse is scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday in Kenosha County Circuit Court. He has not yet entered a plea to the charges, but his lawyers say he plans to plead not guilty.

Grosskreutz and the parents of Huber each filed $10 million claim notices last week against the Kenosha Police Department and the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department, alleging negligence by the law enforcement agencies for failing to prevent the shootings. Claim notices are generally a precursor to a lawsuit.

The city and county of Kenosha have yet to publicly respond to the claim notices.

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