Crime & Justice

Armed civilians in Kenosha taking justice into their own hands

By Susana Samhan

Washington, Sep 2 (efe-epa).- Kenosha, Wisconsin, resident Kevin Matthewson feared the worst when he saw on his mobile phone the video of a police officer shooting African American Jacob Blake seven times in the back elsewhere in the city, and he decided to act to protect his neighborhood amid the racial disturbances the shooting unleashed, issuing a call to arms to his neighbors and telling them to come out to “protect the community.”

“Right away, after the police officer shot the man in the back seven times, it was very evident that the police were outnumbered by angry folks. And I was angry, too. … But then it turned violent pretty quickly and people started burning down homes and buildings,” Matthewson told EFE from his home in Kenosha.

“That’s when I put a Facebook message out, and I said: ‘Our city’s under attack. Take up arms and let’s defend our city against these criminals, and let’s try to protect ourselves.'” he added.

The private detective and security contractor created a Facebook page for the so-called “Kenosha Guard,” one of the armed civilian militias whose members in recent days have gone out on the streets of cities around the country and there coming into conflict with Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

The result has been two deaths and one person wounded last week in Kenosha, along with one person arrested – white 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who is charged with murder for allegedly killing the two demonstrators and wounding the third with an assault rifle.

Rittenhouse had traveled from Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha to “protect” local businesses from “looters,” according to what the teen told The Daily Caller, a right-wing Web site, before the shootings.

After the incident, Facebook shut down the page of the Kenosha Guard, which had about 4,000 followers.

Matthewson said that Rittenhouse had no links with the Kenosha Guard adding that “It’s been said, … that him and some friends of his started their own type of militia but in that case we really don’t have all the facts right now.”

“The prosecutor charged him within a day, and the police officer … they’re going to take two months for the investigation. I don’t see how that’s fair, when a police officer shoots somebody it’s a two-month investigation, but when a citizen shoots somebody in a way they claim is self-defense within a day they’re charged with murder,” Matthewson said.

The 36-year-old father of two sons, ages 10 and 11, says he doesn’t identify himself as a “white supremacist” or a “racist,” and justified his formation of the militia group because of what he said is the need to maintain a “safe community” in the face of “agitators” or “trouble-makers” and “anarchists,” adjectives that President Donald Trump has used to refer to the people participating in the protests and racial altercations.

Matthewson said that Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democratic, delayed in rejecting the federal help offered by Trump, calling this one of the reasons he took to the streets.

Armed civilian groups, like the one Matthewson started, have been seen in other parts of the country like Portland, Oregon, where last weekend another person lost his life in clashes between Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter demonstrators that erupted because of the disturbances a few days earlier in Kenosha.

Despite these kinds of incidents, Matthewson denied that the fact that civilians are going out on the streets carrying assorted weapons could worsen the security situation.

“That’s the thing … When folks are out there burning down homes, it can’t get much worse than that. It can only get better, right? So, out here in the United States, we’re very strong supporters of the 2nd Amendment and the right to carry a gun for your own protection. It’s not vigilantism, because we’re not trying to enforce the law. We’re just trying to protect ourselves. So, it’s a role of self-defense only. Self preservation,” he said.

In addition, Matthewson said that he agrees with the demonstrators because he doesn’t like to see an unarmed person getting shot seven times. “Where I draw the line is where it starts to get violent and destructive, so I can’t support these protesters once they turn violent and start burning the city down. So, yeah, I don’t align with any of those extreme groups. I’m not racist; if you ask my family, my friends, they’d say the same thing.”

The situation has calmed down in Kenosha after the deployment of the National Guard and federal agents in that city, and Matthewson said that he had now decided to remain in his home.

Matthewson went on to say that now things are peaceful in Kenosha as a result of Trump sending in the “army,” adding that people have slept much better in the city on recent nights.

Tensions have increased over the past few months around the US after the death in May of George Floyd, a black man, who died after being subdued by a white police officer, his death sparking protests and racial disturbances.

Matthewson said he hopes that between now and the Nov. 3 presidential election, the violence will not resume, although he added that he was not very optimistic that things will remain calm.

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