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On the 2-year anniversary of Kenosha unrest after the Jacob Blake shooting, Tim Michels criticizes Tony Evers' response to the riots

Molly Beck
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

KENOSHA – Republicans running for the highest state offices toured downtown Kenosha Tuesday to mark the second anniversary of the violence and destruction that plagued the southeastern Wisconsin city for days that summer, a centerpiece to their campaigns against Democratic incumbents. 

Governor hopeful Tim Michels and attorney general candidate Eric Toney met with U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, law enforcement officers, and Kenosha officials and criticized Gov. Tony Evers for his response to the riots. 

"You can fix buildings, you can rebuild businesses, but the fear that I still heard in people's voices today — the concern that they have that this could happen again because they see no change in Madison. That's what November is all about," Michels told reporters following a roundtable discussion with law enforcement, local officials and local business owners affected by the 2020 riots. 

Tony Evers doesn't regret his handling of the Kenosha unrest

Evers said Monday he has no regrets about how he handled the unrest in Kenosha in 2020.

"Obviously violence and the results that happened are not acceptable in any stretch of the way, but we worked with the leaders in Kenosha and every time they asked us for something — even the very first day — we did exactly what they wanted us to do," Evers said in a campaign stop in West Allis.

Evers said blaming him now, is "ridiculous." 

"It's a dead issue, obviously we want Kenosha to recover and move to a better place, but at the end of the day, blaming me for that situation is just dead wrong and it's just politics as usual," Evers said.

Kenosha erupted in violence in the days following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was carrying a knife at the time. Blake was paralyzed after being shot at close range multiple times.

More:Jacob Blake withdraws his lawsuit against Rusten Sheskey, the Kenosha officer who shot him in the back

Jacob Blake shooting came two months after George Floyd murder

The incident came just two months after the murder of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes, which enraged swaths of the country and pushed legislative debates over police policies. Most of the hundreds of protests that materialized following Floyd's murder in 2020 were peaceful but some, like those in Madison and Kenosha, turned violent. 

Michels, Toney and Steil walked a city block, stopping to view a building and car lot that was burned during the riots, before the roundtable event.

Kenosha officer Pablo Torres told the group his concern for his family's safety became so great during the unrest that he gave his teenage daughter a shotgun to protect herself while he was gone. 

Torres was the focus of an investigation and a lawsuit after two separate on-duty shootings, one fatal, during a 10-day period in 2015.

During the Kenosha rioting, Kyle Rittenhouse, then 17, killed two protesters and wounded a third. Rittenhouse claimed he shot the men in self-defense and a Kenosha County jury acquitted him of all charges in November 2021. 

Timeline:How the Kyle Rittenhouse case played out following the shootings in Kenosha

When the National Guard arrived in Kenosha

Evers received a request on the Monday after the Sunday incident from Kenosha officials for Wisconsin National Guard members to help local law enforcement. Initially, Evers sent 125 members on that Monday.

The number grew to 250 members on Tuesday of that week, when National Guard officials began discussions with other states for potential support and when the Rittenhouse shooting occurred

Five hundred members were in Kenosha on Wednesday and the number grew to 750 members on Thursday. By Friday, 1,000 Wisconsin National Guard troops were in Kenosha in addition to 500 guardsmen from Arizona, Alabama and Michigan. 

Steil said Evers should have deployed far more before Tuesday to prevent the rioting that preceded the Rittenhouse shooting.

More:Evers announces $600 million tax plan including 10% income tax cut using state budget surplus

Corrinne Hess of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.

Contact Molly Beck at Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.

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