Three people were shot, one of them fatally, as gunfire broke out on the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, early Wednesday on the third straight day of unrest sparked by the police shooting of a Black man, the New York Times reported, citing law enforcement.
Social media video showed a gun battle among civilians, with several people rushing a man with a long gun who apparently had been knocked to the ground. The video shows him firing at the people rushing towards him, one of whom falls to the ground. Several other shots are heard in the background.
Earlier police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters angered by the latest shooting of a Black man, whose family said he was left paralysed after being shot multiple times in the back by a white police officer.
Police in riot gear skirmished after dark with about 200 demonstrators defying a dawn-to-dusk curfew outside a court and an adjacent park in the centre of Kenosha, a city of about 100,000 people in southeastern Wisconsin.
Several military-style armoured patrol vehicles were seen manoeuvring around the court building, firing tear gas at the crowd, many of whom hurled water bottles, firecrackers and other objects back at police. When police ordered protesters to disperse, the crowd responded by chanting “Black lives matter”. Police then fired rubber bullets.
The disturbances came hours after Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers declared a state of emergency and promised to deploy additional National Guard troops in a bid to restore order in the town, while the mother Jacob Blake Jr, the man who was shot, publicly appealed for calm.
Blake, 29, a father of six, was struck from behind at point-blank range in a hail of bullets fired on Sunday by police who were following him with guns drawn as he walked away from officers to his car and opened a door to the vehicle.
Three of his young sons – aged three, five and eight – were sitting inside the car and saw their father being shot, according to civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who represents the Blake family.
‘My son matters’
A bystander captured the encounter in video footage that immediately went viral, unleashing outrage over the latest in a long series of instances in which police have been accused of using indiscriminate lethal force against African Americans.
Blake, who had been attempting to break up a quarrel between two women, was struck by four of the seven gunshots fired at him, all by one officer, and there was “no indication he was armed”, Crump said in an ABC News interview on Tuesday.
The police have not explained why Blake was shot.
At a news conference later in the day, Blake’s parents expressed anguish over the shooting while condemning two previous nights of looting, vandalism and arson that overshadowed peaceful street protests.
“They shot my son seven times. Seven times! Like he didn’t matter,” Jacob Blake Sr, his voice crumbling with emotion, told reporters. “My son matters. He’s a human being and he matters.”
Lawyers for the family said one of the policeman’s bullets shattered Blake’s spine and others damaged his stomach, colon, liver and an arm.
“It’s going to take a miracle for Jacob Blake Jr to ever walk again,” Crump said, adding that the family intended to bring a lawsuit “to hold wrongdoers accountable”.
Julia Jackson, Blake’s mother, said her son “has been fighting for his life”, but called for unity, saying she was praying for police officers. She also said her son would disapprove of damage done to the city, saying: “It doesn’t reflect my son or my family.”
Jacob Blake’s sister Letetra Widman added: “I’m not sad. I don’t want your pity. I want change.”
‘Damage and destruction’
Officials, blaming outside agitators for much of the lawlessness surrounding protests, said some three dozen fires were set on Monday night, mostly in a predominantly minority neighbourhood where numerous businesses were burned.
Seeking to restrict outside traffic into the city, authorities blocked off all exit ramps leading from Interstate-94 into Kenosha County from the adjacent city of Racine south to the Illinois border along Lake Michigan.
Traffic barriers and heavy fencing were also erected on Tuesday around a cluster of public buildings in the city centre, including the courthouse, police department and sheriff’s headquarters, in an effort to protect them from arson and vandalism.
Police shooting lays bare Wisconsin’s deep partisan divide (2:38)
Governor Evers called for calm in a statement.
“We cannot allow the cycle of systemic racism and injustice to continue,” he said. “We also cannot continue going down this path of damage and destruction.”
Family and protesters are demanding that the officers involved in the shooting, who have been placed on administrative leave, be fired and prosecuted.
Video captured by a neighbour shows Blake walking towards the driver’s side door of his four-wheel drive, away from two officers who were pointing guns at his back. After he opens the door and leans into the car, seven shots ring out, with one of the officers tugging at his shirt.
The shooting is under investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which has not released any details. Kenosha police have referred all questions to the state investigators.
The shooting occurred three months after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and racism.