Eyewitness to Wisconsin shootings: 'He came with a gun and was picking fights'
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Kenosha, Wisconsin’s third night of Black Lives Matter demonstrations took a violent turn when a civilian armed with an assault rifle began shooting, killing two people and severely injuring another. Video of the event shared widely online shows the shooter walking away from the scene. On August 26, police arrested 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who had expressed strong support for the pro-police Blue Lives Matter movement on his Facebook page. Eyewitness and Kenosha local Ryan Cartwright told the FRANCE 24 Observers how the shooting unfolded.
Protests have been ongoing in Kenosha since a video showed a white police officer shooting Jacob Blake, a Black man, several times in the back as he was trying to get into his car where his three children were inside on August 23. Demonstrations continue despite a city-wide curfew imposed on August 25 and increased police presence in the city.
Cartwright has attended the protests in Kenosha since they began. He describes the moment before the shooting began on August 25:
We struggled up and down with the police. They pushed us back even farther and eventually, around 63rd Street and Sheridan, there’s a car dealership, the police cracked down too hard and the crowd started to disperse. That’s when people started breaking some windows and someone decided to open fire.
The first shooting occurred at the Car Source dealership on Sheridan Road in central Kenosha. Rittenhouse is seen on video leaving the scene saying, "I just killed somebody".
An excerpt of a video posted to Twitter shows the moment that Rittenhouse says 'I just killed somebody'. In the full version of this video, which the FRANCE 24 Observers is not publishing due to its graphic nature, Rittenhouse’s first victim is seen with a gunshot wound to his head.
Protesters began chasing him. My brother’s friend tried to tackle him but got shot in the chest. Then a third man tried to draw his sidearm and shoot this guy who was shooting protesters. He got shot in the arm. I think he’s alive at the moment, but the other two are dead.
In the video below, Rittenhouse is seen being chased down Sheridan Road. He trips and falls, then sits up and aims his gun. He fires four shots as several people nearby fall to the ground. As onlookers yell for medical help, the shooter gets up and continues walking in the middle of the street.
Warning: Graphic content
(Warning, Graphic/Violent)Brendan Gutenschwager (@BGOnTheScene) August 26, 2020
A crowd chases a suspected shooter down in Kenosha. He trips and falls, then turns with the gun and fires several times. Shots can be heard fired elsewhere as well, corroborating reports of multiple shooters tonight #Kenosha #KenoshaRiots pic.twitter.com/qqsYWmngFW
A video posted to Twitter on August 26, 2020 shows the moment Rittenhouse opened fire on several protesters who tried to subdue him.
As seen in the video, police cars and armoured vehicles arrived on the scene seconds after the shooting. Still armed and walking with his hands up, the Rittenhouse walked past two armoured vehicles, passed by a police car and then walked away. As the police arrive, someone in the background is heard yelling, “Hey, he just shot them, that dude right there!”
According to a police statement, police responded to reports of the shooting on Sheridan Road at 11:45pm.
Cartwright says Rittenhouse walked past police as he left the scene:
He didn't run from the police, he walked right up to them and said he had shot some people and they let him keep walking.
'He wasn't with the militias'
Online, rumours began to spread that Rittenhouse was part of a far-right militia. He was filmed earlier in the evening saying he was part of a group defending property in Kenosha. In the video, he says, "We don't have non-lethal [weapons]."
CONTEXT: I spoke with the alleged shooter earlier in the night who stated he was there to protect propertyELIJAH RIOT (@ElijahSchaffer) August 26, 2020
He did not make racist comments, condemn #BLM, or mention political motivations for his actions
He said that he was there to protect property & was carrying a firearm pic.twitter.com/ViYUB65tiy
A video posted to Twitter on August 26 shows Rittenhouse explaining why he was at the protest.
Cartwright saw Rittenhouse at various points throughout the protest:
He was antagonising the crowd all night. He wasn't with the militias, he wasn't from down here, he wasn't one of the protesters. He came with a gun and was picking fights with protesters. Those guys that were protecting the businesses are from here in Kenosha. There were a whole bunch of right-wing nuts out with guns, and there were a couple of local militias protecting businesses.
Armed civilians ‘called’ to Kenosha
Armed civilians were a visible presence on the third day of protests, according to Cartwright. While some of those armed were local civilians protecting properties like the car dealership and petrol stations, he said, others had responded to an appeal by the “Kenosha Guard”, a newly formed Facebook page that had posted a “call to arms” for armed citizens to come to Kenosha to protect property. Facebook deleted the page after the shootings.
Cartwright said that nearly all of the armed civilians he saw were white.
The militia people all came from neighbouring areas in Wisconsin and Illinois, because of the Facebook page. It’s difficult to identify what group individual people were with, but I know that the ones protecting the gas station and the car dealership on Sheridan weren't part of the Kenosha Guardians because we talked to them and they explained they were just locals.
Videos circulated online show one group of armed men guarding a Citgo petrol station in Kenosha on the same street the shootings took place, Sheridan Road. According to Cartwright, these armed civilians aided protesters while peacefully guarding private property and local businesses.
In a video taken on August 25, armed civilians stand outside of the Citgo petrol station on Sheridan Road in Kenosha.
Police to militias: ‘You can deal with the protesters’
In a video, one of the armed civilians is heard saying: “You know what the cops told us today: ‘We’re gonna push [the protesters] down by you because you can deal with them. And then we're going to leave.’”
My voice is actually in this video, it'sMy brother is the one filming this video and talking with this guy Im standing next to him. He's explaining how KPD intentionally pushed the protesters towards the armed militia with the intention of instigating and escalating the situation https://t.co/WRTjWeMHT8It's Rуаи (@ihatemealso) August 26, 2020
In video posted on Twitter August 26, an armed civilian says that police told him and other armed civilians they would let them 'deal with' the protesters. Kenosha police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cartwright, who witnessed the scene, says other armed civilians he met that night firmly rejected the idea that they cooperate with the police to target protesters:
They were disgusted by that. The armed men were actually really cool. They offered us medical treatment and they gave us water. They helped escort people past the police line through their cars so they could get home safely. They posted up on several streets and gave people bandages, ice packs. And they also saved the guy who had his arm shot. One of those militiamen put a tourniquet on it and likely saved his life.
The Kenosha Police Department did not respond to our request for comment regarding the above video or their investigation into the shooting.
Protests continued for a fourth night in Kenosha despite a citywide curfew imposed by police.
This article was written by Pariesa Young