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Demonstrators chant in a march on August 26, 2020 in Kenosha, after a fourth night of civil unrest occurred following the shooting of Jacob Blake.   (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images) Demonstrators chant in a march on August 26, 2020 in Kenosha, after a fourth night of civil unrest occurred following the shooting of Jacob Blake.   (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Demonstrators chant in a march on August 26, 2020 in Kenosha, after a fourth night of civil unrest occurred following the shooting of Jacob Blake. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Eric Litke
By Eric Litke December 28, 2020

The debate over police use of force and social justice became a deeply local issue in August when a pair of shootings made Kenosha the epicenter of this national discussion.

It began Aug. 23, 2020, when a Kenosha police officer fired seven shots at 29-year-old Jacob Blake from behind at close range. Blake, who was ignoring officer’s commands as he got in a vehicle, survived but is paralyzed from the waist down.

Violent protests ensued, prompting 17-year-old Illinois resident Kyle Rittenhouse to travel to Kenosha and arm himself with an AR-15 to -- in his words -- defend local businesses. In a pair of confrontations Aug. 25, video footage shows Rittenhouse shooting three people, killing two. He has been charged with homicide, though his attorneys say he acted in self-defense.

In the aftermath, social media exploded with opinions — on who was in the right in each shooting — and an array of often-conflicting factual claims. 

Here are 10 of the claims we examined in the months that followed:

On Jacob Blake

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

— Facebook post

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 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

— Facebook post

At the time of the claim (and still at the end of 2020), we had 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.

— Facebook post

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

We rated 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."

— President Donald Trump

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 rated the claim False.

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

— Facebook post

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.

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."

— President Donald Trump

When Kenosha had cooled down several days after the shootings, Trump was quick to claim credit. But he’s 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 guard officials or sent from other states as part of agreements entered into by governors.

We rated 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

— U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin

Barnes, the lieutenant governor, 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 after.

We rate the claim False.

Other claims

"So far, out of 175 arrested in Kenosha, 102 were not from Kenosha. Rioting has become its own industry."

— Facebook post

The numbers were correct, but the implication connected to them was not. The majority of those arrested were from outside the city of Kenosha, but about 90% were from either Wisconsin or nearby Illinois. In other words, people one would expect to organically gather for a local protest spurred by a local event.

And most of those from farthest away can be traced to a single group that drove from the West Coast.

We rated this claim Mostly False.

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."

 — U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee

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 rated this claim Half True.

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

— Facebook posts

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.

Related: 

Top 10 fact checks of 2020 

Top election fact checks of 2020

Top Flip-O-Meter fact checks of 2020

Top Pants on Fire fact checks of 2020

Top COVID-19 fact checks of 2020

 
 
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