When the sun rose on Kenosha Wednesday, Aug. 26, former Marine Tim Thompkins said his hometown felt like a battlefield. Smoke lingered in the air from buildings and cars set ablaze the night before. Empty tear gas canisters and pepper bullets littered the streets. Homes were boarded up, and businesses ravaged.
Tuesday, Aug. 25, marked the third night in a row in which protesters filled the streets demanding justice for Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black Kenosha resident who was shot in the back seven times by police. The city, county, and state sent police in SWAT gear and armored trucks to subdue the protests — and Kyle Rittenhouse, a white 17-year-old from Illinois who filled his social media accounts with “Blue Lives Matter” posts, allegedly shot and killed two protestors before walking past police and leaving the crime scene.
But for Thompkins and other Black residents, the unrest in their city speaks to an entrenched history of systemic racism in Wisconsin, where, according to one study, Black people are incarcerated at a rate 10 times higher than whites.
“The police come into our neighborhoods, don’t know who we are, and act like an occupying force,” Thompkins says. “We are not the enemy. But they treat us like one.”
An Injustice Watch analysis of public spending data for Wisconsin’s 10 most populous cities found that the three cities with the highest percentage of Black residents — Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Racine — allocated larger shares of their 2020 general budgets to policing. Most of the funds are spent on salaries, benefits, and overtime pay for the officers. The police departments in our analysis are also a lot whiter than the cities they serve.