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Kenosha becomes latest racial flashpoint after police shoot Black man

Kenosha, Wisconsin, has become the latest flashpoint in ongoing national unrest over racism and police violence. Protests erupted Sunday night after an incident caught on video in which Jacob Blake, a Black man, appears to be shot by police, who said they had responded to a domestic disturbance. John Yang reports and talks to Zach Rodriguez, a member of the Kenosha County Board of Supervisors.

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  • Stephanie Sy:

    Kenosha, a city of about 100,000 that lies between Chicago and Milwaukee, has become the late flash point of racial unrest after a black man was shot and wounded by police.

    John Yang has the story.

  • John Yang:

    Protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, escalated overnight, with police using tear gas to disperse the growing crowds.

    A city truck was set on fire, buildings were vandalized, and there were standoffs with police. Daylight revealed more of the damage, row upon row of cars torched at a dealership, most of them destroyed.

    It all followed an incident caught on video which appeared to show police shooting 29-year old Jacob Blake multiple times in the back. Police say they had responded to a domestic disturbance. Eyewitnesses said Blake's children were in the car.

    Blake was taken to the hospital. State officials took charge of the investigation.

    Today, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers called a special session of the Wisconsin legislature.

  • Gov. Tony Evers, D-Wis.:

    We must see the trauma, fear and exhaustion of being black in our state and in our country. But equally important to our empathy is our action. As family members, as friends, as neighbors, as people, the duty to act rests on all of us and, perhaps most importantly, on us as elected officials.

  • John Yang:

    It comes amid a summer of nationwide protests over the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others.

    On Saturday, in Lafayette, Louisiana, there were calls for justice for another black man, Trayford Pellerin, fatally shot by police responding to a disturbance.

    In a Facebook post, Blake's father said his son is in stable condition after surgery. And, tonight, in Kenosha, about 125 members of the Wisconsin National Guard are assisting local officials.

    Zach Rodriguez is a member of the Kenosha County Board of Supervisors, and he joins us now.

    Thanks for being with us, Supervisor Rodriguez.

    As you have been out and about in the community — I'm sure are you were out and about last night and again today — what are you hearing? What are people telling you? What is the mood?

  • Zach Rodriguez:

    There's a lot of different moods going on tonight in the city I call home.

    There is anger, resentment, sadness, and, more than anything, there's a lot of questions.

  • John Yang:

    Questions about what happened, about why it happened the way it did?

  • Zach Rodriguez:

    Correct. What happened, why did it happen, and why did it happen that way?

  • John Yang:

    What was your reaction when you saw the video, when you — what was your reaction?

  • Zach Rodriguez:

    My heart dropped into my gut.

    I think that is the reaction of any decent person out there, regardless of who is firing the firearm or who is the victim or on the receiving end of that. It troubles me.

  • John Yang:

    The governor, Governor Evers, has called a special session of the legislature to deal with some transparency and accountability legislation for police statewide.

    How is that going to, do you think, address that anger and resentment that you say you feel in your community?

  • Zach Rodriguez:

    I have heard about the governor calling a special session, but I haven't read more into it yet.

    What I think is important is that we need community members to be part of committees, part of oversight committees, where our communities know, as a whole, that our police are being overseen by a board that's made up of the community that they — so that it can taken outside of the police department, and it's not just handled in-house, whether it's promotions or discipline or, God forbid, a situation that we find ourselves in today.

  • John Yang:

    What locally will be done as you move forward?

    The Wisconsin Justice Department is now involved in the — or in charge of this investigation. They have got a 30-day timeline to report back.

    What's going to be happening in the county and in the city to move forward now?

  • Zach Rodriguez:

    I think, right now, we're waiting.

    We're waiting to see when the DCI from the state Department of Criminal Investigations finishes their investigation. And I expect that to take some time. We go from there. We see — we wait for the DA. We see if he decides to file charges or not based on that evidence.

    But we have taken steps at the county level. I introduced legislation as a co-sponsor that made the promise to buy body cameras for our sheriff's deputies with this upcoming budget. We declared public health — or racism a public health crisis. Excuse me.

    And so we have taken these proactive steps to try to prevent a situation like this from happening in Kenosha County. And, tragically, we found ourselves in this situation last night.

  • John Yang:

    Were you surprised that it took the turn it did last night, setting a car dealership on fire, attempts to start fires in the courthouse, the sort of damage that was done last night?

  • Zach Rodriguez:

    Am I surprised? No? Am I disheartened? Yes. And I think our community as a whole is disheartened.

    I was on the scene of where the shooting happened last night prior to being downtown. And there were multiple people out there saying: Hey, we're here to protest. We're here to create lasting change. But that doesn't call for jumping on police cars, lighting them on fire, starting — breaking glass, looting, and destroying our community that we call home.

  • John Yang:

    Zach Rodriguez of the Kenosha County Board of Supervisors in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, thank you very much.

  • Zach Rodriguez:

    Thank you.

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