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'Open to suggestions': Kenosha County Sheriff looks for help solving systemic issues

Posted at 5:56 PM, Sep 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-12 13:42:34-04

KENOSHA — Nearly three weeks after the unrest in Kenosha after Jacob Blake was shot by police, things are starting to get back to normal.

“Trying to figure out what the new norm is for us,” Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said. “It’s a work in progress for us. It’s obviously better here in Kenosha than it was. A lot better.”

Physically, the heavy fencing around the courthouse and other government buildings is down. Cement barriers blocking roadways are gone too. However, remnants of the unrest that gripped the city still remains.

Plywood boards on the windows of businesses. Charred street where garbage trucks were torched by protesters. Rubble of buildings slowly being cleaned up. Local officials estimate the damage could cost anywhere from $30 million to $50 million.

“I look forward to Kenosha healing from what we see here,” Beth said. “It’s getting there.”

Healing the physical destruction could take years. Healing police-community relations may take longer. For his role in bettering systemic issues facing law enforcement, Sheriff Beth says he’s open to suggestions.

“For the last three weeks, we’ve been in a defense mode,” Beth said. “How we can protect the city and breaking things down. I’m starting to get phone calls from people wanting to come talk to me and meet with me. We’ll start those next week and I look forward to their ideas and thoughts they have. I’m looking for ideas. I hear the complaint and if everybody thinks I have the answers on how to make it better, I don’t.”

Beth says he has meetings set up with local pastors and is working to set up meetings with other community members. It’s steps Sheriff Beth is taking to collaborate and come up with strategies to better relations.

“I suppose you can always try harder,” Beth said. “Sometimes, we become complacent in our jobs. All law enforcement is willing to change. We just need to know how to do it and make it effective.”

For the last three weeks, Kenosha’s name has been a household name as a result of the unrest related to the Jacob Blake shooting. For Beth, who was born and raised in Kenosha County, it’s hard for him to see how things unfolded.

“For years, I’ve heard about the riots in the 60s,” Beth said. “I never experienced it and I never wanted to experience it. I never wanted the knowledge of that. But now, I’ll be able to tell my grandkids someday, the riots and protests of 2020, I was in the middle of all of that. Be able to explain some stories, what I learned, people I saw, people I met. Nice people on both sides of the fence. It was a learning experience. One way or another, it was.”

Sept. 13 will mark three weeks since Blake was shot by police. Investigations continue but we are still waiting for more official information about what happened before the shooting. Meanwhile, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Ill. continues to sit in an Illinois jail, charged with shooting and killing two protesters and injuring a third. Within two days, authorities had charges and a description of the events that had happened. It poses questions about why it takes longer for investigations for officer involved shootings compared to those involving citizens.

“I don’t have that answer,” Beth said. “Two different agencies handling it.”

When asked about whether the Kenosha police officer who shot Jacob Blake should face similar repercussions as Rittenhouse, Beth refused to comment.

Whenever a decision comes down on the investigation into the shooting of Jacob Blake, Beth says they are preparing now to avoid any of the violent unrest seen three weeks ago.

“We’re going to do our best to be prepared for whatever happens,” Beth said. “I believe, no matter how the decision comes out, some will like it, some won’t like it. We’ll be calling in resources to make sure Kenosha stays as calm as it is right now.”

While the violence, destruction, even death, is what will unfortunately be remembered from the unrest, Beth says it is the actions of peaceful demonstrators that can have the greatest impact on making change.

“I can’t see riots ever saying it made anything better,” Beth said. “The protests, people that were here, the people trying to make a peaceful change for different things, absolutely. But to have people come from outside of the City of Kenosha, come in here and burn small businesses down and scare people, making phone calls and putting out bogus social media pages, that doesn’t help anything.”

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