Kenosha Residents Recommend Many Changes As City Begins Listening Sessions

Sep 21, 2020

The first community listening session in Kenosha in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting and subsequent unrest has produced a list of potential changes for the city.

Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian and some Black clergy held the event Sunday, nearly one month after police officer Rusten Shesky severely wounded Blake, after responding to what police say was a domestic incident. Several nights of civil unrest followed, including fires and the deaths of two Black Lives Matter protesters

Kenosha teacher Chenessa Brown told the audience that she's worried about additional trauma among children in the city.

"They shouldn't have to have panic attacks whenever they see police officers just roaming down the street, and they do. So, how do we tell these kids they're safe when we know they're not,” Brown said.

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Kenosha resident Gary Richel says the police force needs more Black officers. He says he'd also like to know why law enforcement didn't seem to pay more attention early on to Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teenager accused of using a rifle to fatally shoot Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum during the protests.

Gary Richel, of Kenosha, speaks at Sunday's event that was held at Journey Church.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

"Something should have happened to that young man. He should not have been able to walk our streets with an automatic weapon. I think that's the biggest travesty of the protests,” Richel said.

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Another speaker, Alvin Owens, requested more de-escalation training for Kenosha police. 

People also called for broader changes to Kenosha, beyond the police force. Cynthia West says the city needs more youth programs, park access and ways to help the homeless.

"C'mon now. We are in Kenosha. Some of us born and bred. Some of us are transient. However we got here, we're here,” West said.

Kenosha resident Cynthia West (left) speaks as Ken Bergeron, of the U.S. Department of Justice, listens.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

A community relations specialist from the U.S. Justice Department, Ken Bergeron, helped set up the sessions and ran the discussion. But the department emphasizes it's neutral about whatever changes the city may make. 

Antaramian didn't say much after the listening session, even though there were repeated calls for him to spend more in the neighborhoods.   

The mayor did respond, favorably, to the call for more mental health services.

"Because it's not something the city can do on its own. It's something that has to be done with the [Kenosha] county and the hospitals because there's total need of change,” Antaramian said.

Community listening sessions in Kenosha are also scheduled for the next three Sundays.

The Wisconsin Justice Department is scheduled to release the report on the shooting of Blake soon.