Cindy: I'm Cindy Rodriguez in for Tanzina Vega. Great to have you with us. In August, a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin shot a black man, Jacob Blake, seven times while responding to a domestic violence call. Blake was paralyzed. Yesterday, a big announcement from the Kenosha County district attorney.
Speaker 2: No Kenosha law enforcement officer in this case will be charged with any criminal offense.
Cindy: The shooting brought people into the streets in civil unrest in the days and weeks that followed. During the protests, Illinois, teenager, Kyle Rittenhouse killed two people and injured a third. Also coming yesterday in Kenosha was his not guilty plea. There's a lot to get to and we've got Gina Barton to help us understand it all. She's an investigative reporter covering criminal justice issues for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gina, thank you so much for being here.
Gina: Glad to be here.
Cindy: There's a lot to discuss here. Let's start with yesterday's announcement from the Kenosha County district attorney. Why aren't local prosecutors seeking charges?
Gina: The prosecutor explained his reasoning in that if he were to take a case against one of the police officers to trial, there would be a very effective self-defense plea available. That's because Jacob Blake did have a knife at the time he was shot. There's some dispute about what he was doing with that knife, whether he had threatened officers with it. The police say he did. He says he didn't. But in any case, the prosecutor seems to think a defense attorney could convince a jury that the officer acted in self-defense.
Cindy: Does this decision apply to all the officers involved?
Gina: The prosecutor spent about two hours explaining his decision not to charge Rusten Sheskey who actually fired the seven shots that hit Jacob Blake, but he did add that he was also not going to charge the other two officers who were on the scene, who did not fire. He also was not going to charge Mr. Blake with anything related to that day.
Cindy: Where is Rusten Sheskey today? Has he been fired?
Gina: No. All three of the officers who were on the scene that day are still with the Kenosha Police Department, but they are on administrative leave. I believe the next step will be for the police department to do an internal investigation about whether the officers violated any department rules. The only thing that theoretically could happen is if the US attorney decides to look into the case, there's still the possibility of civil rights charges being filed at the federal level. I don't think that's likely, but it could still happen.
Cindy: Now the city and state took steps to prepare for any potential unrest stemming from this decision. What did they decide to do? Was it necessary?
Gina: The city and criminal justice officials law enforcement in Kenosha on Monday started taking steps to prevent any rioting, looting, arson, property damage. They put fences and concrete barriers around the courthouse and the jail. It turned out not to be necessary. There was a vigil and a rather small march, but nothing got out of hand last night. I think that might be because of the weather. When this initially happened in August, it was 87 degrees. The night Jacob Blake was shot and now, of course, there's half a foot of snow on the ground and it's cold out.
Cindy: Have you heard from Jacob Blake's family yet?
Gina: Jacob Blake's family did have a gathering yesterday afternoon as the decision was being handed down and understandably they're disappointed. His uncle said they were given rocks and glass and they all feel that Jacob still needs justice and that there was no justification for him to be shot seven times.
Cindy: Gina, there's another development out of Kenosha, and that's that Kyle Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him. What is he claiming?
Gina: Kyle Rittenhouse is claiming self-defense. There was a gunshot that went off before Rittenhouse started shooting. It turned out not to be any of the people he ended up firing at, who had fired that gun as a warning shot, but he said he clearly acted in self-defense and has pleaded not guilty.
Cindy: Just remind us what he's being charged with.
Gina: Kyle Rittenhouse was being charged now with several different crimes, including two counts of homicide and one of attempted homicide for the man that he's seriously wounded. Also, he was 17 at the time, so he was too young to carry a gun, so he was charged with that. Also, curfew violation.
Cindy: He's out on bail, correct?
Gina: Right. Kyle Rittenhouse's bail was set at $2 million and there was a big fundraising campaign among right-wing groups and celebrities and people in favor of gun rights. He was able to post that and he's free now.
Cindy: Do you know who his defense team is?
Gina: Hi Rittenhouse's defense team has changed several times, but he's been represented by some famous national names, as well as local attorneys here in Wisconsin.
Cindy: What's been the response to yesterday's news from the families of those Rittenhouse killed.
Gina: I spoke with the attorney for the man who was seriously wounded by Rittenhouse and she said the victims of Rittenhouse feel similarly to the family members of Jacob Blake. The shooting of Jacob Blake was the thing that set off all of the violence that resulted in Rittenhouse shooting these three men. They feel that the officers need to be held accountable.
Cindy: I'm also wondering if there's been any meaningful reform in Kenosha since Blake's shooting and the subsequent protests.
Gina: The authorities in Kenosha have talked a lot about wanting to use the shooting of Jacob Blake as an opportunity to try and bring community members together. They've had several listening sessions where people have come together and talk about some of the race and racism problems in Kenosha. They're hopeful that after this process, they will be able to implement some meaningful reforms and also make the community a better place to live.
Cindy: Has there been any changes in the police department that bring more accountability to the police department?
Gina: One of the issues with Kenosha is that their police officers do not wear body cameras. Between the time Jacob Blake was shot in August and now, the police there still don't wear body cameras. They don't have body cameras. The biggest push that's been happening is to get all of the officers there equipped with those devices. The district attorney has said he's in favor of that, but so far it hasn't happened.
Cindy: That is Gina Barton. She's an investigative reporter covering criminal justice issues for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gina, we hope to check back with you as this case continues on. Thank you so much for joining us.
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