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“On a Hunting Spree”: Wisc. Rep. David Bowen Says Cops Turned Blind Eye to White Militias in Kenosha

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Image Credit: Julio Rosas/

The police shooting of Jacob Blake has sparked massive protests across the country and in Kenosha, where a white teenager opened fire on Black Lives Matter protesters and killed two people. Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old self-declared militia member and avid Trump supporter, was apprehended in Antioch, Illinois, after fleeing Wisconsin. He has been charged with murder. Wisconsin state Representative David Bowen, who has attended racial justice protests in Kenosha, says he “witnessed firsthand” how freely organized white supremacists targeted protesters without interference from law enforcement, and accuses police of giving Rittenhouse the “Dylann Roof treatment,” managing to arrest him without incident, while unarmed Black people are frequently met with deadly force. “This is Exhibit A and Exhibit B of why we need to transform law enforcement and public safety in Wisconsin and in this country,” Bowen says.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Justice Department says it’s launching an independent investigation into the police shooting of unarmed Black man Jacob Blake, whose shooter was identified Wednesday for the first time as white Kenosha police office Rusten Sheskey. Sheskey shot Blake in the back seven times at point-blank range as he was getting into his car on Sunday — his three children, aged 3, 5 and [ 8 ], in the car. He has been left paralyzed from the waist down. Sheskey has been placed on paid administrative leave and has not been charged with a crime.

The shooting sparked massive protests across the country and in Kenosha, where a white teenager opened fire on Black Lives Matter protesters Tuesday, killing two people. Seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a self-declared militia member and avid Trump supporter who was spotted front row at one of President Trump’s rallies in January, was apprehended in Antioch, Illinois, Wednesday after fleeing the state. He’s been charged with murder. On social media, Kyle Rittenhouse posted frequently in support of the pro-police “Blue Lives Matter” movement, posed with guns, and appeared in a photo when he was just 15 years old wearing a police uniform as part of a “Public Safety Cadet Program.” The shooting victims have been named as 26-year-old Anthony Huber and 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum.

Eyewitness videos of Rittenhouse’s Tuesday night rampage show a shooter with a long gun falling to the ground and shooting into a crowd as protesters attempt to disarm him. Later videos show police then allowed Rittenhouse to leave the scene even as people attempted to identify him as the shooter. This is independent videographer Brendan Gutenschwager speaking on CNN.

BRENDAN GUTENSCHWAGER: [The shooter just] got up and proceeded to walk towards the line of police, that were there in the BearCat and a couple vehicles. And he basically just walked right up to them, with the gun still out in front of him, and spoke with them for a few seconds. I couldn’t make out what he said. I know that after a few seconds, the cops were not happy with him standing that close. He was literally right outside of the cop car’s doors, which, prior to that, for the past two hours leading up to that, anybody that got that close was getting fired at with tear gas or peppers, bullets or, you know, something like that. And he just basically talked to them. They told him to step away from the vehicle. And he continued walking and took off, basically.

AMY GOODMAN: This all comes as damning video from earlier in the night show Kenosha police offering armed vigilantes water, as well as supportive words.

POLICE OFFICER: We got to save a couple, but we’ll give you a couple. We appreciate you guys. We really do.

ARMED VIGILANTES: Thank you! Thank you!

AMY GOODMAN: “We appreciate you guys. We really do,” the police said.

At a news conference Wednesday, Kenosha Police Chief Dan Miskinis blamed protesters for the deadly shooting.

POLICE CHIEF DANIEL MISKINIS: The curfew is in place to protect. Had persons not been out involved in — in violation of that, perhaps the situation that unfolded would not have happened. So, the last night, a 17-year-old individual from Antioch, Illinois, was involved in the use of firearms to reserve — excuse me, to resolve whatever conflict was in place. The result of it was two people are dead. This is not a police action. This is not the action, I believe, of those who set out to do protests. It is the persons who were involved after the legal time, involved in illegal activity, that brought violence to this community.

AMY GOODMAN: This all comes as the Republican National Convention wrapped its third night with Vice President Mike Pence calling for law and order in the streets of American cities. And President Trump tweeted Wednesday he was sending the National Guard to Kenosha.

Well, for more, we go to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where we’re joined by state Representative David Bowen. He was in Kenosha for the protests.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Can you start off by telling us what you saw in the streets of Kenosha Tuesday night, the killings took place?

REP. DAVID BOWEN: Sure. Thank you for having me on.

And I literally witnessed firsthand a massive amount of organized white supremacists driving around in pickup trucks, targeting protesters. And they were there not to try to defend businesses, as they make it seem. They were not there to attempt to get a point across. They were there to hurt people. They were armed, and they were using chemical irritants. They were harassing protesters. And even from the video, it looks like they are in coordination with the Kenosha law enforcement that were there, literally.

We are at this point in this state we’re witnessing the unfolding and the unraveling of the point of what we are trying to do in transforming the system, of transforming the way that we institute public safety. And this is Exhibit A and Exhibit B of why we need to transform law enforcement and public safety in Wisconsin and in this country, for sure. People are not in this position of advocating for changing the system only to be harassed and surveillanced and targeted. They are in this position because they are tired of witnessing that we will end up with a future that is the status quo. And law enforcement have shown that they are more tied to defending the status quo rather than accepting change. Lawmakers that I’m trying to work with in the state Capitol are refusing to hear the pleas for change from people. They would rather try to blame and point the finger of why these things are happening, after the fact. People are focused on really instituting change right now.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play for you Vice President Pence in his acceptance speech, being renominated as vice president by the Republican Party, speaking at Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Last week, Joe Biden didn’t say one word about the violence and chaos engulfing cities across this country. So let me be clear: The violence must stop, whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha. Too many heroes have died defending our freedom to see Americans strike each other down. We will have law and order on the streets of this country for every American of every race and creed and color.

AMY GOODMAN: What was amazing from this clip, Vice President Pence made no mention of police brutality or the recent police shootings that have taken place or the murders in Kenosha. What he did do is talk about a security guard, this horrific murder in Oakland, California, of the federal security officer David Patrick Underwood, and he introduced his relative in the audience, but failed to mention that Underwood was killed by an Air Force staff sergeant with ties to the far-right “boogaloo” movement. Do you see a connection, David Bowen, between not saying that, when he talked about Oakland, and then, in Kenosha, not talking about Kyle Rittenhouse, the man who’s been charged with first-degree murder, 17-year-old, part of the white militia movement, who was in the streets Tuesday night?

REP. DAVID BOWEN: And yeah, this is exactly what we are seeing here in Wisconsin. When you are not willing to call out police state — police and state-sanctioned violence, you’re using your silence to cosign and give a message to these white supremacists that they can go around attacking people. And you are not about law and order, Vice President Mike Pence. You are welcoming that violence. You are cosigning that violence. Your silence is much louder than the claims that you try to make now, after the fact.

We are really focused right now on transforming the system. And I know that he talked about not defunding the police, but we clearly can see: What good is law enforcement if they are not keeping track of these groups? This identified shooter came across for this active shooter situation — this was a mass shooting. He came across state borders to come here. No law enforcement were investigating, were surveillancing, were looking into the whereabouts and the plans of these groups, when they know that they are violent, when they know that they have a history of targeting people. What good is law enforcement if it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do?

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play for you, Representative Bowen, the right-wing Fox News TV host Tucker Carlson drawing widespread condemnation after he appeared to justify the actions of the Kenosha shooter.

TUCKER CARLSON: How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order, when no one else would?

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, on Twitter, far-right media pundit Ann Coulter said, “I want him as my president.” She’s talking about the shooter. Representative Bowen?

REP. DAVID BOWEN: Right. And unfortunately, it’s very clearly showing that Jacob Blake actually was a part of providing public safety that day; he was then turned into the target and a problem while police showed up to try to make him a problem. But he was focused on serving and protecting his community, and he was shot in the back seven times, and he may not walk again. If this is the direction that the extreme, I would say, far right want to move into, where they are upholding violence and targeting of citizens by these white supremacist groups, clearly, this is exactly where we are as a country. And it is very unfortunate that talking heads on the right are defending his actions, because, literally, they are cosigning the death and the removal of people that are advocating for Black lives. And this is where we are. I’m not surprised.

But I must say that people that stand against that must be louder. They must be more involved. They must be more engaged. And we cannot accept that. We must get out and make that change, in every aspect of the spectrum of change, whether that’s voting, whether that’s being involved on the streets, whether that is fighting back. We cannot allow them to win this. We must be able to make sure that we are transforming the system that they love, that they benefit from. They want to ensure that things stay the same. They want the status quo to continue, to be allowed to remove Black bodies from spaces where they feel like that they don’t belong. And that is a system that we are tearing down and we are rebuilding with a new system that will be accountable to Black and Brown people, that will be accountable to the communities that they serve.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, speaking in Kenosha during the protest, right before the shooting, in a video that was posted on Twitter, as he holds this long gun. He says he and other militia members don’t have nonlethal weapons and are there to defend property. He’s speaking to the far-right media outlet The Daily Caller.

KYLE RITTENHOUSE: We’re protecting from the citizens, and I just got pepper-sprayed by a person in the crowd.

INTERVIEWER: So you had nonlethal, but you didn’t respond?

KYLE RITTENHOUSE: We don’t have nonlethal.

INTERVIEWER: So you guys are full-on ready to defend the property?


AMY GOODMAN: Not clear actually who he was talking to in that video, but that is Kyle Rittenhouse. Your response, Representative Bowen?

REP. DAVID BOWEN: Well, first off, whenever you have a situation where a 17-year-old is crossing state lines, it’s illegal for a 17-year-old to even have an assault weapon, an assault rifle. To that degree, you know, we have a problem. And I think the biggest thing that I can sense right now is for this false claim that there was a defense of property — you don’t walk around shooting people away from a property that you supposedly were there to defend, this tire shop, that has ties to this white supremacist movement. But it’s very clear that they were on a hunting spree. This was not the defense of property. And we should be very clear about that.

I remember, when I first got involved in social change, I went to a KKK rally right here in Milwaukee at the age of about 14 years old. And we were a part of the opposition to the KKK, to making sure that they knew that they could not come to this rally, they could not come to this city and try to spread their hateful views and would not find the opposition there. And I remember seeing children with folks that came with the KKK, and thinking about how they would take their views and grow up with them. And this is exactly what I’m seeing right now.

He’s 17 years old. He believes in these white supremacist views, and he’s using it lethally. He’s using it to hurt other people. And he’s not even being held accountable for it. He’s being handed water. He’s being given the Dylann Roof treatment of — you know, you get treated well, you get acclimated, after you literally take people’s lives.

And this is a horrible direction for our country to move into. And the leaders and the silence by those on the right to be able to cosign this is very dangerous, and it shows that we have a — we need to hold them accountable even more to stop this fascism that we’re seeing in our country.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Dylann Roof, the murderer of nine parishioners and their pastor at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, was picked up by police and then taken to Burger King for lunch.

If you could talk about what’s going to happen to the police officer? It has been quite astounding that day after day we heard nothing from Wisconsin authorities or the local police department talking about what had happened, identifying the white police officer, Sheskey, who shot seven times, point-blank range, into the back of Jacob Blake.

And by the way, for people to know, in reading various Instagram, Facebook entries, it looks like Jacob Blake’s grandfather is the minister, the pastor, the civil rights leader from Chicago by the same name, Jacob Blake, who led a movement there around desegregating housing at the time of Dr. King being shot in Chicago. This, I believe, is his grandson.

But the fact that Jacob Blake now lies in a hospital, paralyzed from the waist down, undergoing one operation after another.

We first heard officer Sheskey’s name yesterday in the news conference that the attorney general, the sheriff held. And we understood that there’s two investigations going on. Apparently, the Department of Justice has opened one, and the Wisconsin attorney general, because that’s the law now, after a previous police murder of a young man. And it says that if in Kenosha a police officer kills someone, that it must be independently investigated. But then the Kenosha County DA said that he will be the one to decide, once the investigation is done, if there is enough evidence there to bring charges. Is that right? So, the attorney general doesn’t — does he then prosecute the case?

REP. DAVID BOWEN: That is correct. And that’s why state law needs to be changed, so that there can be special prosecutors selected to handle this. For the Kenosha DA to be able to then handle charges after an independent body does the investigation, there should be an independent prosecutor. So, unfortunately, that law has not been passed yet. It is one of the laws that have been proposed in the past, and I’m sure that you will see more of that in the future. But it’s very clear that the Kenosha DA does get the chance to make the decision on prosecuting, the same way that we’ve seen other cases. But we’ve seen too many times where the prosecutor does not step up to really hold law enforcement officials accountable, especially when they work closely with them.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response — we’re about to talk about this unprecedented sports action that’s taking place in professional sports all over the country. You’re from Milwaukee, Representative David Bowen — the Bucks and the Brewers. Talk about the significance of them refusing to play.

REP. DAVID BOWEN: Well, first off, activism is in the lifeblood of Milwaukee. It comes in our history. We have the longest youth march in U.S. history at 200 days. And that was during the civil rights movement and fair housing fight.

You know, the fact that we have amazing athletes that play for our local teams, that are willing to really stand up and fight for our community and fight for change, literally shows you the difference in where we come from, the difference in how we are all tied together. Whether you make millions of dollars and you’re an athlete, or you’re a working-class person right here in the city of Milwaukee, we are all tied together.

And I’m so proud to be a Bucks fan. I’m so proud to be able to stand with individuals even in the athletic and sports world that are saying, “We need change, and we are going to use our platforms to do it, too. We’re going to use our jobs, our livelihoods to fight for it, too.” And that’s exactly what we need to see. If we don’t get it, we will shut it down. And that is exactly what they did, and I’m proud of them.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Wisconsin state Representative David Bowen. Next up, we look at how professional athletes — basketball, baseball, soccer games came to an unprecedented halt Wednesday, after the Milwaukee Bucks players refused to take the court in support of Black Lives Matter and against the killing of Jacob Blake. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” by Jimmy and David Ruffin. And during that break, we showed the pictures of Jojo Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, both murdered in Kenosha as they marched in the Black Lives Matter march. And also we showed images of Jacob Blake laying paralyzed in a hospital bed.

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