Two people were killed and another wounded during a third night of protests in the US city of Kenosha in Wisconsin after a police officer shot a Black man in the back seven times, paralysing him.
Gunfire at the demonstration erupted at about 11:45pm on Tuesday (04:45 GMT Wednesday) with at least three people hit, the Kenosha Police Department said.
The third gunshot victim was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, a statement said.
Social media video showed a gun battle among civilians with several people rushing a man with a long gun who apparently had been knocked to the ground. The video shows him firing at the people rushing towards him, one of whom falls to the ground. Several other shots are heard in the background.
The New York Times reported police were investigating whether the shooting “stemmed from a conflict between self-styled militias guarding a gas station and demonstrators”.
Earlier, police had fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters angered by the shooting of Jacob Blake Jr, a 29-year-old Black man, who was struck from behind at point-blank range in a hail of bullets fired on Sunday by police who were following him with guns drawn as he walked away from them to his car and opened a door to the vehicle.
Police in riot gear skirmished after dark with about 200 demonstrators defying a nighttime curfew outside a court and an adjacent park in the centre of Kenosha, a city of about 100,000 people in southeastern Wisconsin.
Several military-style armoured patrol vehicles were seen manoeuvring around the court building, firing tear gas at the crowd, many of whom hurled water bottles, firecrackers and other objects back at police. When police ordered protesters to disperse, the crowd responded by chanting “Black lives matter”. Police then fired rubber bullets.
The disturbances came hours after Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers declared a state of emergency and promised to deploy additional National Guard troops in a bid to restore order in the town, while the mother of the man who was shot publicly appealed for calm.
‘My son matters’
A bystander captured the shooting of Blake in video footage that immediately went viral, unleashing outrage over the latest in a long series of instances in which police have been accused of using indiscriminate lethal force against Black Americans.
Blake, who had been attempting to break up a quarrel between two women, was struck by four of the seven shots fired at him, all by one officer, and there was “no indication he was armed”, according to civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who represents the Blake family.
Three of his young sons – aged three, five and eight – were sitting inside the car and saw their father being shot, Crump said.
The police have not explained why Blake was shot.
At a news conference earlier on Tuesday, Blake’s parents expressed their anguish over the shooting while condemning the looting, vandalism and arson that had occurred over the past two nights, overshadowing peaceful street protests.
“They shot my son seven times. Seven times! Like he didn’t matter,” Jacob Blake Sr, his voice crumbling with emotion, told reporters. “My son matters. He’s a human being and he matters.”
Lawyers for the family said one of the policeman’s bullets shattered Blake’s spine and others damaged his stomach, colon, liver and an arm.
“It’s going to take a miracle for Jacob Blake Jr to ever walk again,” Crump said, adding that the family intended to bring a lawsuit “to hold wrongdoers accountable”.
Julia Jackson, Blake’s mother, said her son “has been fighting for his life”, but called for unity, saying she was praying for police officers. She also said her son would disapprove of damage done to the city, saying: “It doesn’t reflect my son or my family.”
Jacob Blake’s sister Letetra Widman added: “I’m not sad. I don’t want your pity. I want change.”
‘Damage and destruction’
Officials, blaming outside agitators for much of the lawlessness surrounding protests, said some three dozen fires were set on Monday night, mostly in a predominantly minority neighbourhood where numerous businesses were burned.
Seeking to restrict outside traffic into the city, authorities blocked off all exit ramps leading from Interstate-94 into Kenosha County from the adjacent city of Racine south to the Illinois border along Lake Michigan.
Traffic barriers and heavy fencing were also erected on Tuesday around a cluster of public buildings in the city centre, including the courthouse, police department and sheriff’s headquarters, in an effort to protect them from possible arson or vandalism.
Governor Evers called for calm in a statement.
“We cannot allow the cycle of systemic racism and injustice to continue,” he said. “We also cannot continue going down this path of damage and destruction.”
Family and protesters are demanding that the officers involved in the shooting, who have been placed on administrative leave, be fired and prosecuted.
Video captured by a neighbour shows Blake walking towards the driver’s side door of his four-wheel-drive car, away from two officers who were pointing guns at his back. After he opens the door and leans into the car, one of the officers is seen pulling on his shirt then shoots him in the back, seven shots ring out.
The shooting is under investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which has not released any details. Kenosha police have referred all questions to the state investigators.
The shooting occurred three months after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and racism.