Protesters stage a die-in for seven minutes Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. The protest came two days after Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey, who is white, shot Jacob Blake, a Black father, seven times in the back as he walked away from police and tried to get into a vehicle. Credit: Angela Major / WPR
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Jacob Blake is just the latest Kenosha resident whose shooting by police has sparked allegations of excessive force in a community that is no stranger to fraught relations between law enforcement and the public. 

Among the most highly publicized police shooting victims: 21-year-old Michael Bell Jr., a white man stopped for intoxicated driving in front of his home in 2004. A Kenosha police officer fatally shot Bell point-blank in the head after his colleague shouted “He’s got my gun.” Bell’s mother and sister, watching the struggle, yelled that Bell did not grab the officer’s gun. 

Protesters stage a die-in for seven minutes Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. The protest came two days after Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey, who is white, shot Jacob Blake, a Black father, seven times in the back as he walked away from police and tried to get into a vehicle. Credit: Angela Major / WPR

The family later received a $1.75 million settlement with no admission of fault by Kenosha. Bell’s father, Michael Bell Sr., was a driving force behind a 2014 bipartisan state law requiring that an outside agency investigate when an officer is involved with a loss of life. 

More recently, Kenosha police officer Pablo Torres shot and killed a suspect in 2015 — the same day he returned from mandatory leave after shooting and wounding a knife-wielding man 10 days prior. 

In 2018, following the arrests of five people for shoplifting and a high-speed chase that resulted in a collision with another car, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth made dehumanizing comments about the two Black women and three Black men from Milwaukee.

“Let’s stop them from truly, at least some of these males, going out and getting ten other women pregnant and having small children. Let’s put them away,” Beth said. “At some point we have to stop being politically correct — and I don’t care what race, I don’t care how old they are — if there’s a threshold that they cross, these people have to be warehoused.”

After Beth issued an apology, Ald. Anthony Kennedy told the Kenosha News he was not giving the sheriff a pass, calling the apology the best “sorry/not sorry” he had ever heard.

Said Chris Ott, executive director of ACLU Wisconsin: “Those comments he (Beth) made in the past are really, really troubling. He’s talking about some very serious measures really casually, and so that’s troubling.”

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Vanessa Swales / Wisconsin Watch

Vanessa Swales joined the Center as an investigative reporter in 2020. Swales is a multilingual British-American-Iranian reporter who has worked in London, New York, San Francisco and Málaga, Spain. She most recently completed a reporting fellowship at the New York Times. Swales is a graduate of the Spanish-language journalism program at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in investigative and data journalism. She previously worked for NBC Investigations, Reveal, Diario SUR and SUR in English.