• The Star Staff

Blake shooting prompts tense protests and fires in several cities


By Julie Bosman


Peaceful marches in protest of a police shooting gave way to fires, destruction and looting in Kenosha as a strip of businesses in a central residential neighborhood was consumed in flames early Tuesday.


Residents emerged from their houses overnight to gape at billowing smoke that could be seen for miles. Lost in the blaze, neighbors said, was a mattress store, a storefront church, a Mexican restaurant, and a cellphone store. Less than a mile away, a probation and parole office was also on fire.


A line of National Guard members, called to Kenosha amid rising tension over the shooting Sunday of Jacob Blake, a Black resident who was shot by a white police officer, prevented anyone from getting close as firefighters worked to douse the flames.


“This is our town,” said Mike Mehlan, 33, a chef, as he stared at the buildings, stunned.


Mehlan said that just a half-hour before, he saw at least 20 cars pull up to a nearby gas station, break in and then head to the stores one block away. They entered the mattress store and set it on fire, he said.


In several other cities around the country overnight, there were demonstrations and, in some cases, flashes of destruction in protests that cited the shooting of Blake as the nation’s latest example of police violence.


In Kenosha, the worst destruction was limited to a relatively small area of the city, which is home to about 100,000 people, and some neighborhoods of Kenosha were quiet. At least one sheriff’s deputy was injured in the neck by a firework that was set off. It was uncertain whether there were arrests.


One resident said he had little problem with burning businesses to spur social change and reform to policing.


“It’s unfortunate, but it has to be done,” said Wayne Gardner, who lives around the corner.


Police offered little detail about what had happened in the shooting, saying only that an officer had shot Blake while responding to a domestic incident. Local and state officials have declined to provide information about the officers who responded.


Blake, 29, was in stable condition at a hospital. Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the family, said he had been told that Blake was attempting to intervene in an argument between two women when police arrived.


In a video taken from an apartment window across the street, several officers can be seen standing on a sidewalk next to a four-door SUV. The man identified as Blake, wearing a white tank top and black shorts, is seen walking along the passenger side of the vehicle, away from the officers, who are yelling. At least one of them points a gun at him.


Blake walks around the front of the vehicle and opens the driver’s side door. Several people can be heard yelling, and one officer is seen grabbing Blake’s shirt. As Blake opens the vehicle door, at least half a dozen shots are heard, while at least two officers can be seen with their guns pointed at him. The video, which is about 20 seconds long, ends shortly after the shooting.


The video spread quickly on social media, and demonstrators beyond Kenosha spoke of Blake in marches overnight. In Madison, Wisconsin, about 4,000 people gathered near the state Capitol and marched downtown, some smashing glass storefronts and setting dumpsters ablaze. A liquor store was looted.


In Portland, Oregon, where nightly protests have continued for nearly three months, a few hundred demonstrators began a march by chanting about Blake. The crowd later gathered outside a building for the Portland Police Association, and some demonstrators lit fires on the exterior of the building before police moved in, using tear gas, shoving protesters to the ground and making arrests.


In Seattle, some 200 people marched in solidarity with Kenosha. The group was led by a line of protesters holding shields, and occasionally a small group of musicians. Some protesters threw trash and then fireworks at the East Precinct police station, igniting a fire in front of the building. Some also broke windows at a Starbucks.


In Minneapolis, at least 11 people were arrested downtown, outside the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center, after authorities said protesters grew destructive during protests. Sheriff Dave Hutchinson of Hennepin County said protesters broke windows at a detention center and “threatened to breach the security of the jail.” One police officer suffered a broken hand during a confrontation with demonstrators, he said.


“We fully support peaceful protests, but we cannot — and will not — allow demonstrators to destroy property or jeopardize the safety and security of our inmates, our deputies and our jail,” the sheriff said.


In Kenosha, Chauncey Body, 44, watched the flames from the sidewalk.


“This hurts,” he said.


He said that if the fires were set in the name of protest, he believed in the conviction behind them.


“But this is a neighborhood. They’re putting lives in danger,” he said.


Kenosha, which has been engulfed in protests, unrest and destruction for two days, is under a curfew at night. Police officers attempted to disperse people who were standing outside, with little success. They used tear gas to try to clear people away.


Sheriff David Beth of Kenosha County said police were outnumbered.


“We’ve got 200 officers, I don’t know how many armored vehicles,” he said. “It’s not enough. It’s a battle we aren’t able to keep up with.”

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