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A still image from a cell-phone video shows Jacob Blake walking away from police moments before being shot seven times in the back in Kenosha on Aug. 23, 2020. A still image from a cell-phone video shows Jacob Blake walking away from police moments before being shot seven times in the back in Kenosha on Aug. 23, 2020.

A still image from a cell-phone video shows Jacob Blake walking away from police moments before being shot seven times in the back in Kenosha on Aug. 23, 2020.

Eric Litke
By Eric Litke August 28, 2020

Updated as of Sept. 4, 2020

A pair of controversial shootings in Kenosha unleashed an avalanche of reaction. From news conferences to social media, opinions and factual claims were plentiful.

It began Aug. 23, 2020, when a Kenosha police officer shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake seven times in the back. Blake survived but is paralyzed from the waist down, according to his family.

Violent protests ensued, prompting 17-year-old Illinois resident Kyle Rittenhouse to travel to the Kenosha protests with an AR-15 to protect property, police have said. In a confrontation Aug. 25, 2020, Rittenhouse allegedly shot three people, killing two. He has been charged with homicide.

Here’s a roundup of fact-checks from PolitiFact Wisconsin and PolitiFact National addressing key issues and widely circulated claims around those Kenosha shootings.

On Jacob Blake

Says Jacob Blake, shot by police in Kenosha, had a warrant for sexual assault and prior convictions for gun use

Blake did have an active warrant for sexual assault and several other crimes related to domestic violence at the time he was shot. (The sexual assault case is tied to a woman Blake knew, not a child, as some social media posts have claimed.)

But Blake was not convicted of any prior gun offenses. Charges filed in 2015 were ultimately dismissed at the request of prosecutors in 2018, who cited lack of witness cooperation and the age of the case.

We rated this claim Half True

Says Jacob Blake "declared he had a gun in the car and was going to go get it" and was "brandishing" a knife

At this stage, we have no way of knowing for sure what Blake said, but we know there was no gun. And we don’t yet know if the knife police later found in the SUV was there throughout the confrontation or held by Blake at some point. 

We do know Blake was not "brandishing" (definition: to wave menacingly) anything in the video taken by bystanders. Video shows Blake walking away from officers with his left arm swinging at his side, grasping some object. 

For our fact checks, the burden of proof is on the speaker. 

Due to the lack of evidence establishing these claims at this point, we rated this claim False.

On Kyle Rittenhouse

Says a photo shows accused shooter Kyle Rittenhouse’s mother, armed with a long gun, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on the night two protesters were killed and one injured.

The photo is not from that protest. It’s cropped from a larger image of a handful of people with guns standing outside the state capitol in Madison two days earlier.

We rate the claim False

Says video shows Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha, "was trying to get away from them" ... "fell, and then they violently attacked him."

Rittenhouse did fall as a crowd followed him, but Trump’s comments leave an incendiary and false picture: By the time he fell, according to criminal charges, Rittenhouse had already shot and killed one person that night. 

We rate the claim False.

 "Video showed police thank (Kyle Rittenhouse) & give him water prior to the killings"

Video taken 15 minutes before Rittenhouse allegedly shot and killed two people shows exactly that. Police thanked his group for their presence and gave them water — in response to a request from Rittenhouse.

We rated this claim True.

"At 17 years old Kyle (Rittenhouse) was perfectly legal to be able to possess that rifle without parental supervision."

Wisconsin law stipulates that "any person under 18 years of age who possesses or goes armed with a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor." On Aug. 27, prosecutors charged Rittenhouse with a misdemeanor count of possession of a dangerous weapon under the age of 18, according to court records.

We rated this claim False.

Suggests the alleged Kenosha shooter’s father is a deputy in the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department.

This is made up. We called the sheriffs department and they said they don’t know of any employee by that name. We checked with the City of Kenosha, and its human resources department told us no Rittenhouse has worked for the city in any capacity.

And Rittenhouse lives with his single mother in Antioch, Ill., not Kenosha.

We rated this claim Pants on Fire.

On the government response

"If I didn’t INSIST on having the National Guard activate and go into Kenosha, Wisconsin, there would be no Kenosha right now."

This claim from President Donald Trump is wrong on every level.

It’s a vast exaggeration to say the situation in Kenosha was so dire as to threaten its very existence. And many other factors played a role in the reduced violence in the days before Trump’s tweet.

But the most fundamental element of this claim is also completely wrong. National Guard troops were en route and even on the ground well before the Trump administration got involved.

The National Guard troops ultimately sent were deployed in Wisconsin by Evers and Knapp or sent from other states as part of agreements entered into by the states’ governors.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire

Says Tony Evers and Mandela Barnes "have participated in rallies that have done more to incite than calm the situation" in Kenosha

Barnes was present at a rally where a threat was made, but the event was overall a peaceful one, and reports of violence tied to Blake’s shooting came before the rally, not after.  

And Johnson himself, while praising Trump’s actions, has acknowledged things had been quiet for days before the Barnes speech -- and have remained so in the days since.

We rate the claim False.

Says Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, after police shooting of Jacob Blake, "did not call for peace. They did not encourage calm."

The governor did not call for peace and calm in his statement hours after the incident. But in a video statement posted the next day, Evers urged people planning to protest to "do so peacefully."

That said, his most direct comments — saying the Kenosha protests went too far — didn’t come until after the claim had been made by a state senator. 

We rated this claim Mostly False.

Other claims

In contrast to how a Black man who was shot by police was treated, Kenosha police officers "let an armed white supremacist walk right past them after shooting people."

Kenosha police did let Rittenhouse walk by and ultimately return home to Illinois after prosecutors say he killed two protesters and injured a third. 

But social media posts and profiles haven’t revealed any evidence linking him to white supremacist groups, according to a key organization that tracks extremist activity. 

We rate this claim Half True.

"Police are 20.8 times more likely to kill than be killed by a criminal."

FBI statistics and a national database show that this claim checks out: In 2019, police killed 999 people, and 48 officers were killed by a criminal act in the line of duty. Do the math and you get 20.8.

We rated this claim True

"BLM rioters just burned down a black church in a black community with a BLM sign out front."

A fire that was set at a used-car dealership adjacent to Bradford Community Church in Kenosha, Wis., burned the church’s sign, which said "Black Lives Matter." 

The church did not burn down, and the church’s minister said he does not think the church was a target. And while the church is near a primarily Black neighborhood, the congregation is largely white, the minister said.

We rated this claim False.

"Police training in Wisconsin is 21 weeks. A cosmetology license takes 40 weeks."

When you look only at training, cosmetologists are required to put in more time than police officers. The numbers in this claim are slightly off and actually understate the gap, but the underlying point still stands. 

But the claim doesn’t account for the additional education requirements needed to become a police officer: Cosmetology requires only a high school diploma, while police officers must have a two-year degree, generally in a related field. This also doesn’t factor in the assessments police undergo before they begin training or the continuing education requirements necessary to remain a police officer.

That leaves us with a statement that’s partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. 

Thus, we rated this claim Half True.

 

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Fact-checking the Kenosha shootings involving Jacob Blake, Kyle Rittenhouse