MADISON, Wis. – The shooting by police in Wisconsin of a Black man sparked strong words of condemnation and a demand for Republicans to take action from the state's Democratic governor, who said he stood by those who demand justice. Republicans and the police union countered Monday that the governor went too far, urging caution in making any judgments about what sparked the shooting.
The divergent reactions to the shooting Sunday by Kenosha police is just the latest example of the deep divide in Wisconsin, a key presidential battleground state that has been at the forefront of partisan battles for the past decade ranging from redistricting to union rights. More recently, Republicans ignored Gov. Tony Evers' call to do away with in-person voting for the state's April presidential primary in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cellphone footage posted on social media Sunday appeared to show police shooting Blake multiple times in the back as he opened a door and leaned into an SUV. The state Department of Justice said officers were responding to a domestic incident, but it has not released more details. Blake was in serious condition Monday at a Milwaukee hospital.
Protests erupted in Kenosha in the hours after the shooting, sparking concerns of more unrest across the country similar to what was seen after the May death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. Chris Ott, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said the shooting “looks like attempted murder."
“Exhale,” said Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard, a retired police officer from Racine, which is next to Kenosha. “Everyone should take a deep breath. ... We must let law and reason, not emotion, guide the next steps.”
But Evers was passionate in his response, saying he stands with everyone who has demanded justice, equity and accountability and against excessive use of force when engaged with Black people.
“While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country,” Evers said.
Wanggaard was among Republicans who condemned Evers for his comments, which were issued just as protesters took to the streets in Kenosha and clashed with police.
“The best leaders attempt to diffuse situations, not escalate them,” Wanggaard said. “Evers’ statement was irresponsible and inflammatory. He jumped to conclusions without first having all the facts. At a time when stereotyping situations is especially risky, Evers stereotyped every police interaction with people of color — harming both.”
Pete Deates, president of the Kenosha police union, called Evers’ statement “wholly irresponsible.”
“As always, the video currently circulating does not capture all the intricacies of a highly dynamic incident,” Deates said in a statement. “We ask that you withhold from passing judgment until all the facts are known and released.”
Evers called a special session of the GOP-controlled Legislature starting Aug. 31 to pass a package of police reform bills he put forward in June, following Floyd's death. The Legislature has not taken any action on the measures and can't be forced to vote on them in in the special session, either. The bills would ban the use of chokeholds by Wisconsin police officers, as well as limit other uses of force.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Monday said he was creating a task force to examine police policies and standards, racial disparities, educational opportunities and public safety. Vos said by calling for a special session, the governor “is choosing to turn to politics again by dictating liberal policies that will only deepen the divisions in our state.”
Evers said he didn't expect Vos to take action on the bills.
“In general, he seemed to be unmoved by my request,” Evers said.
Wisconsin Republicans echoed a law-and-order theme that President Donald Trump has been using in his reelection campaign, including during stops to Minnesota and Wisconsin last week. While calling for peaceful protests, Wisconsin Republicans also urged patience given the ongoing investigation.
Jim Steineke, Republican majority leader of the Wisconsin Assembly, didn't call out Evers by name but urged elected officials to “resist the temptation to rush to judgment.”
“The frustration and anger that many in our communities are feeling must be met with empathy, but cannot be further fueled by politicians’ statements or actions that can stoke flames of violence,” Steineke said.
Evers, in the second year of his first term, has been stymied by Republicans who control the Legislature and have it as their goal in November to build majorities strong enough to override any gubernatorial veto. The state also is at the forefront of the presidential race, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week emphasizing the recurring message that “it's all riding on Wisconsin.” Trump won Wisconsin by less than a percentage point in 2016.
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