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Kenosha, Wis., Police Chief Daniel Miskinis' Reaction To Protesters' Deaths

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Law enforcement officials in Kenosha, Wis., have been mostly quiet since the police shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday. But after three protesters were shot, two of whom were killed, and a 17-year-old was arrested for those killings, the chief of police, Daniel Miskinis, went in front of cameras and said this.

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DANIEL MISKINIS: The curfew's in place to protect. Had persons not been out involved in violation of that, perhaps the situation that unfolded would not have happened.

CORNISH: Joining us now to talk about the Kenosha police chief is Gina Barton. She's a reporter with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Welcome to the program.

GINA BARTON: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: I want to talk about what Miskinis said, after what we heard earlier, about the suspect who's been arrested.

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MISKINIS: Last night, a 17-year-old individual from Antioch, Ill., was involved in the use of firearms to reserve - excuse me, to resolve whatever conflict was in place. The result of it was two people are dead.

CORNISH: What's the reaction to this idea, the way the police chief is describing, potentially, the shooter as someone who was there to resolve conflict?

BARTON: As you can imagine, the reaction has not been good here in Wisconsin. Today, the ACLU is calling for the police chief and the sheriff to resign, and people are really unhappy that he seems to be blaming the victims for being shot and turning an armed 17-year-old into some sort of hero.

CORNISH: He was also asked about the idea of armed groups, self-styled militias patrolling the streets of Kenosha and some videos of his officers allegedly offering them water, thanking them for coming out. How did the chief respond?

BARTON: The chief did not want to get into that in terms of - he said he wasn't aware that that had happened. The sheriff, however, said the sheriff's deputies would give water to anyone and people had called him and said, will you deputize citizens? And he said, oh, hell no because this is the very kind of thing that can happen when you do that.

CORNISH: What has his tenure been like, I mean, what - in terms of community relations?

BARTON: The police chief became chief in 2016. Before that, he was a deputy chief. So he's been in law enforcement in Kenosha for 20 years, and during that time, the relationship between the police and the community in Kenosha has not been good. Black, white, Latino, other races - it just hasn't been good across the board.

CORNISH: And what's his response to things like a police reform or movements like Black Lives Matter?

BARTON: This police chief is very law and order, very pro-keeping the safe - keeping the streets safe and kind of has tended to blame community members for any disorder that happens.

CORNISH: What, if anything, has he said about the officers involved in the shooting of Jacob Blake and community response to how he's handling it?

BARTON: He's said very little about the shooting of Jacob Blake, except to say that he's turned over that investigation to the state Department of Justice, and therefore he doesn't have very much information and can't really say very much about what happened. He's been very tight-lipped.

CORNISH: And the calls for him to resign - does he have a constituency of support or kind of what are analysts - or, sorry, local watchers saying about how he's being viewed?

BARTON: When he became chief, the common council debated for 7 1/2 hours before they came to a unanimous decision to appoint him chief. So he does have some support, but it's definitely not unanimous or overwhelming.

CORNISH: Is he expected to speak again anytime soon?

BARTON: He has said he's going to have press conferences every day or nearly every day. So we'll have to see what he says tomorrow. But at the news conference today, he did not walk back the statements he made yesterday.

CORNISH: That's Gina Barton with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.