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Kenosha activists call for answers after video shows police forcefully arrest Black man

Kenosha police have launched an internal investigation into the incident

Matty Ring (CC BY 2.0)

Kenosha community leaders are calling for answers and transparency after a social media video appears to show an officer repeatedly hit a Black man police mistakenly believed was involved in a hit-and-run.

The Kenosha Police Department has since launched an internal investigation into the July 20 incident, which occurred about a month before the three-year anniversary of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, which led to days and nights of protests and unrest throughout the city.

Tanya McLean, the executive director of Leaders Of Kenosha, said she was bothered and concerned when she saw the video footage. She’s now calling on police to release their own body camera footage.

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“As soon as I saw the video, of course, I was very disturbed like everyone else,” McLean said.

In the nearly three-minute video widely circulated on social media, the man — who has since been identified as Jermelle English — can be seen holding a crying baby as police attempt to grab the infant and take English into custody. The video also appears to show an officer hitting English after police tossed him to the ground.

The people actually believed to have been involved in the hit-and-run were in a bathroom in the restaurant during the incident.

“At first I was just angry, then just broken-hearted and sad,” Kenosha Reverend Dr. Monica Cummings said about the video and incident. “Police-community relations need to improve.”

The video has garnered national attention and sparked outrage from local leaders, who gathered to hold a press conference last week. Alex Whitaker, the vice president of the Kenosha Coalition for Dismantling Racism, called for an independent review and investigation into the use of force.

“The brutality appearing within that video is unacceptable,” Whitaker said during the press conference.

Police said they were responding to a hit-and-run accident that caused a rollover at Highway 50 and Green Bay Road, according to a statement from the Kenosha Police Department.

“Suspects were described as 2 black males and 1 black female who fled on foot west towards Applebees,” the statement said. “Another witness stated that the female was carrying a child.”

The statement said an Applebee’s employee alerted them to “some suspicious people” inside the restaurant that they believed may be involved in the hit-and-run. Police said they attempted to detain the man as part of the investigation.

“The male attempted to leave against officers orders and was restrained. He resisted and the incident that was caught on camera unfolded from there,” the statement said.

In the video, English can be heard screaming for officer’s to let him go.

“I’m not doing sh–,” English said.

After an officer grabbed the child, the video shows English being thrown to the ground as one officer, who has not been identified by police, appears to hit him several times.

Meanwhile, the individuals responsible for the hit-and-run were inside a bathroom at the restaurant and were later arrested. Police are now investigating the incident.

“The investigation when complete will be comprehensive and dictate whether the officers acted appropriately or not and if any disciplinary action or additional training is deemed necessary,” the statement said.

English has been charged with disorderly conduct and resisting and obstructing an officer, according to online court records.

“English was told what the reason was that he was being questioned. He was uncooperative and attempted to leave while the investigation was taking place,” an email from Kenosha Police Lt. Leo Viola said. “The officers had legal authority to detain him and restrain him while they conducted their investigation.”

McLean said she believes the incident is an example that police and community relations have not improved after a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, on Aug. 23, 2020. McLean also wants to see the charges against English dropped.

“People are still hurting from 2020 — COVID, the incident with Jacob Blake. Honestly, I feel like things are just brewing again,” McLean said. “We all saw what happened in (2020) not just in Kenosha, but all across the country, when tensions were boiling high. It didn’t turn out well for any of us.”

Cummings said she wants to see police place an emphasis on de-escalating similar situations.

“The police need to approach people with respect and not with a sense of their guilty before being proven innocent,’ she said.

Cummings added that transparency between the public and the police goes both ways.

“It’s got to be a two-way street. If the police come to us needing information about what’s happening in a community, well they too have to inform us of when there’s a critical incident,” she said.

During the press conference, Kyle Johnson, Black Leaders Organizing Communities’s political director, said he wants Kenosha to be safe for everyone.

“Many people do not feel safe in their community. I am one of them,” Johnson said. “That reflects failure at many levels, and failure demands accountability.”

William Sulton is an attorney representing Jennifer Harris, who was working at Applebee’s as a manager on the night of the incident. Sulton said Harris has lost sleep after witnessing the events. Harris was also recently fired by Applebee’s after working there for 12 years.

“She was fired, we believe, due to police pressure,” Sulton said. “We’re not in the middle of a lawsuit, so I can’t prove that to you now, but that’s the only thing that makes sense here.”

Sulton said Harris wasn’t fired immediately after the incident, but rather soon after the video was posted online earlier this month. Harris told CBS58 she didn’t believe it was her fault the videos were posted.

Sulton also said Harris didn’t record the incident or take part in any media interviews herself.

“For her, this was a career,” Sulton said. “She really wanted to be a regional manager and make this a second home, if you will.”

“Applebee’s still has the opportunity to make things right,” Sulton said.

A media representative from Applebee’s didn’t immediately respond to a reporter’s email about the firing Monday afternoon.