After two protesters were murdered by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday night, the city’s Chief of Police Dan Miskinis appeared to imply in comments to media that it was the murdered protesters themselves who were to blame.
Rittenhouse had traveled from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha in order to join other militia members who had gathered there armed with rifles and other weaponry, purportedly to defend businesses and other property in the area against demonstrators who were protesting the police-perpetrated shooting of Jacob Blake earlier this week. Late Tuesday night, the teenager shot and killed two protesters, injuring a third, but was able to walk by law enforcement even as witnesses alerted the officers to Rittenhouse’s actions.
“He just shot someone,” an unidentified person on a video featuring Rittenhouse can be heard saying to police.
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Rittenhouse was transported back to his home that evening. The following day, he was charged with first-degree intentional homicide and labeled a “fugitive from justice” after leaving Wisconsin “with the intent to avoid prosecution for the offense.” He was later arrested and detained by Antioch police.
Miskinis, in discussing the individuals Rittenhouse killed, seemed to place the responsibility for those deaths on the victims themselves, citing a curfew law that had been in effect when the crime happened.
“Everybody involved was out after the curfew,” Miskinis said. “I’m not going to make a great deal of it, but the point is that the curfew is in place to protect. Had persons not been out in violation of that, perhaps the situation that unfolded would not have happened.”
Miskinis also appeared to downplay the shootings that Rittenhouse committed, stating that in his view the teen had used his weapon that night “to resolve whatever conflict was in place” at the time.
The actions of law enforcement in Kenosha on Tuesday evening have been widely criticized, particularly regarding their interactions with militia members that came to the city, including Rittenhouse. In video recordings that have been posted to social media, officers are seen interacting with the teenager and other militia members he was associated with, handing them water bottles and thanking them for their presence that evening.
“We appreciate you guys, we really do,” one officer said directly to Rittenhouse just moments before he shot at and killed protesters.
Aside from the murder charges he now faces, Rittenhouse may have also violated a state gun law, a matter that law enforcement on Tuesday evening didn’t seem to care much about. According to Wisconsin statutes, no person under the age of 18 may openly carry a weapon, including rifles like the one Rittenhouse was wielding, unless they’re doing so for hunting purposes or for self defense.
Miskinis was not the only person in the state making controversial accusations of blame toward other individuals. Republican lawmakers, too, are trying to imply that the blame for protesters being shot at and killed rests at the feet of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Speaking on a right-wing radio program on Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos faulted Evers for not sending enough state national guard troops to Kenosha and for initially refusing federal troops that were offered by President Donald Trump to go to the city. “Those people did not have to die and because of Tony Evers’s actions, they’re dead,” Vos said.
Evers has reportedly relented and agreed to allow a federal presence to enter the city, according to tweets from Trump. Federal troop presences in other cities have led to an escalation of violence by police forces. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown explained in July how federal troops in Portland earlier this year made matters worse for that city, for example.
“Things were beginning to calm down. Then Trump’s troops arrived,” Brown said in an interview with PBS. “And it’s simply like pouring gasoline on a fire.”