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Kenosha hopes for calm as Kyle Rittenhouse trial nears end

The 18-year-old fatally shot two men and wounded a third during protests after the police shooting of Jacob Blake last year.
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KENOSHA, Wis. — This city on Lake Michigan was quiet, calm and peaceful on Sunday, and many residents want it to remain that way as closing arguments in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse get underway Monday.

“Monday is coming, so, I mean, it’s kind of a little nervous,” said Kenosha resident Mike Lipp, 35.

Wisconsin has dispatched 500 National Guard troops, and hundreds of nearby police officers will also be available as a precaution to ensure public safety during the conclusion of the trial.

But the increased attention and the additional presence of law enforcement have taken a toll on the city, which isn’t as vibrant as it once was, said downtown resident Max Lewis.

“It’s affected the energy of the city in a negative way. It’s not the same. Everyone is trying to avoid the situation as well as keep an eye out on the situation,” Lewis said. “We’re a little dismayed by the situation. This case should have been cut and dry. You kill two people in the street, you get punished for it, end of story.”

Rittenhouse, 18, is charged with reckless homicide, intentional homicide and attempted intentional homicide after he shot two men and wounded a third during a night of protest and civil unrest in Kenosha in August 2020.

The unrest was a response to the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer after a domestic disturbance. Blake was paralyzed from the waist down.

“Kenosha is ready to move on,” Patrick Roberts, the pastor of First Baptist Church, said before his sermon Sunday. “Everybody has been calm, and the community understands that it needs to heal.”

Blake’s family feels the same but wants justice for the people Rittenhouse shot and killed.

“Well, I think very much they want to get this behind them,” said Justin Blake, 52, Jacob Blake’s uncle. “Most of the people believe he shouldn’t have been here with this weapon. Most of the people seem as though they want a conviction.”

He added: “For the Blake family, it’ll be a small token of victory, because these people were gathered around after coming from Jacob Blake’s rally.”

Since last summer, residents say, life has largely returned to normal in the city of 100,000 or so.

Around town Sunday, most of the streets were empty and not many people were out, perhaps because of the inclement weather and the cold.

However, one thing is clear: Kenosha residents are ready to put the past behind them and start anew.

“I would say Kenosha is doing pretty good. Everyone understands what’s going on. Obviously, it’s unfortunate circumstances that led to this, but I think everyone is waiting for a conclusion to get past this,” said Mark Amburn, 59, of neighboring Pleasant Prairie.

John Eason, an assistant sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said closing arguments and the verdict will be a pivotal moment for America.

“I think the mood in Wisconsin, not just Kenosha, is that they’re over the whole racial awakening. All signs are this is going to be the case that vindicates white people,” Eason said, adding: "If the peak of the country’s social justice reckoning was George Floyd, then this is the pendulum swinging back. This is the tipping point back.”

The Blake family, too, believes the trial has national implications.

“It’s about the state of Wisconsin and the nation,” Justin Blake said. “Either way, this case could set a precedent about gun rights.”

As the trial nears the end, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is asking visitors to stay away from Kenosha.

“I urge folks who are otherwise not from the area to please respect the community by reconsidering any plans to travel there,” he said in a statement. “The Kenosha community has been strong, resilient, and has come together through incredibly difficult times these past two years, and that healing is still ongoing.”

Roberts said in his sermon that it’s time for the community to come together.

“God responds to cries. So in order for the community of Kenosha to heal, we have to cry out in our prayers to God,” he said. “We know what’s going on, we see the news, we live here. Turn away from bad conduct, bad character. Turn away from evil, Kenosha, especially at night.”