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Evers Defends Protest Response, Tells Gunmen To Stay Away From Kenosha

Governor Also Called On GOP Lawmakers To Support His Special Session On Police Reform

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers. Wisconsin National Guard (CC-BY-NC-ND)

In his first visit to Kenosha since the police shooting of Jacob Blake and the alleged murders of two protesters that followed, Gov. Tony Evers stood by comments that were critical of police, defended his administration’s response to civil unrest, urged Republicans to work with him to address police violence and told people with long guns to stay away from the city.

During wide-ranging comments, Evers also criticized police over a report that Blake, who is recovering from multiple gunshot wounds and surgeries, is handcuffed to his hospital bed.

According to the state Department of Justice, police shot Blake in the back Sunday after a woman called reporting that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be there. The DOJ said officers fired seven shots at Blake after they tried unsuccessfully to use a Taser. The shooting happened around 5:15 p.m.

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Roughly five hours later, Evers issued his first statement on the shooting, saying that while all of the details were not yet known, Blake was not “the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement,” a comment some police groups called “premature, judgmental, inflammatory.”

Evers rejected those criticisms Thursday, saying he understood where police groups were coming from, but that they would have to “agree to disagree.”

“I see nothing wrong with stating facts, and the facts were pretty clear in this situation,” Evers said. “We want to respect law enforcement and we want them to do a good job. But I don’t think reciting the facts as we know it is a wrong approach.”

Evers was also critical of a report in the Chicago Sun Times that Blake was being handcuffed to his hospital bed while he recovers.

“I can’t imagine why that’s happening,” Evers said.

By late Sunday night, Kenosha protesters had set city vehicles on fire. Monday afternoon, Evers announced that at the request of local officials, he had authorized Wisconsin National Guard troops to support local law enforcement in Kenosha County. After Monday’s protests led to widespread arson in Kenosha, Evers announced Tuesday that he had authorized up to 250 National Guard troops.

On Tuesday, a massive police force used tear gas to drive protesters out of the public park outside the county courthouse. As protesters spread into the city, a group of them clashed with self-described militia who were guarding boarded up buildings with long guns. That’s when 17-year-old Illinois resident Kyle Rittenhouse allegedly shot three protesters, killing two and wounding another.

“I would like to disinvite all those people that are running around with long guns for no apparent reason,” Evers said Thursday. “It’s a recipe for disaster and it’s a recipe for us to marginalize that freedom of speech that we all value so much.”

Republicans have blamed Evers for Monday’s unrest and Tuesday’s fatal violence, saying the governor could have prevented it if he’d sent more troops more quickly. Evers disputed that.

“We have fulfilled every request that the leadership in Kenosha have asked for,” Evers said.

In addition to activating the National Guard, Evers called a special session Monday to take up a package of police accountability bills that he introduced in June following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The session is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 31.

“We’ve got 400 years of systemic racism in this country, and if we don’t do something about it, we’ll be repeating Kenosha in cities all over our country and in our state,” Evers said. “I’m counting on the Republicans to show up next Monday.”

While Evers can call a special session of the Legislature, he can’t force lawmakers to convene. GOP leaders have sent no signals that they plan to return to Madison next week.