Revealed: Group that called to continue lockdowns, release prisoners was against curfews in Kenosha

KENOSHA, WI — A group that called for the continuation of Wisconsin’s lockdown and the release of prisoners due to Covid-19 came out against an emergency curfew authorized in a city ravaged by rioters.

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On Sept. 8, the ACLU of Wisconsin sent a letter to Attorney General Josh Kaul suggesting there was no legal basis for the curfew issued by Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth on Aug. 24, one day after the shooting of Jacob Blake, which led to protests and then violent riots that included fatal shootings, arson and looting.

The curfew was in effect through Labor Day and then lifted when Mayor John Antaramian decided that, in consultation with law enforcement, it was appropriate to remove it:

“After consulting with local law enforcement agencies, I have decided the curfew is no longer needed.

“The last several nights have been relatively peaceful in the community, and in the judgment of law enforcement, it is appropriate to remove the curfew.

“However, criminal activity will not be tolerated and arrests will be made if needed. I am hopeful there will be no need to reinstate the curfew in the near future.”

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ACLU of Wisconsin’s letter also demanded an investigation into law enforcement’s alleged actions against protesters and members of the press.

The ACLU also insisted that the Kenosha District Attorney dismiss all charges for those who violated the curfew.

The letter stated in part:

“The curfew was illegal.

“Law enforcement arrested at least 94 people for curfew violations in Kenosha on the nights between August 23 and September 2, yet the curfew was never legally promulgated.

“The curfew times were announced by the Office of the Sheriff of Kenosha County, but the sheriff lacked authority to issue a curfew. Under Wisconsin law, an emergency measure, like a curfew, requires an action of the local government, in this case the County Board or the County Executive.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin also claimed the curfew was enforced in a discriminatory and arbitrary way:

“There were at least 94 citations issued for curfew violations between August 23 and September 2. From our observation and other reports, it appears that the vast majority of citations, if not all, were issued to people advocating for racial justice or protesting police bias and brutality.

“On the other hand, white militia members carrying semi-automatic weapons after the curfew were not cited. As you know, this included local law enforcement not arresting Kyle Rittenhouse as he walked past them after just shooting and killing two people on the streets of Kenosha.

“This discriminatory enforcement of the illegal curfew, which clearly is related to whether the police agreed or disagreed with the message of the persons arrested, reflects clear retaliation for exercise of first amendment rights of expression and assembly.

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“Such retaliation resulted in arrested persons spending hours, and in some cases more than a day, in police lock-ups in violation of their rights. We call for an immediate investigation and accountability for those responsible for such discriminatory enforcement of the curfew.”

Yet on April 24, ACLU of Wisconsin’s Executive Director Chris Ott released a statement supporting Wisconsin’s “Safer at Home” order, which involved restrictions on personal liberty, banning large gatherings, staying home and closing non-essential businesses:

“Measures like this that infringe on personal liberty can be justified when they keep others safe, as long as they are grounded in science and facts – and not discrimination. For example, while laws against texting and driving certainly infringe personal liberties, they can protect others from distracted drivers and save lives.

“Likewise, government officials may temporarily limit in-person gatherings in circumstances where medical and scientific experts agree that assemblies of people pose an immediate and grave risk to public health.

“That is why, for reasons of public health and safety, the ACLU of Wisconsin does not oppose Wisconsin’s ‘Safer at Home’ order, recently extended to May 26. Evidence clearly shows that measures such as limiting the size of gatherings and physical distancing can slow or stop the spread of COVID-19.”

On May 13, a press release contained the following statement by Ott, who noted “emergency orders can be necessary during crises”:

“Public health experts have been clear that prematurely lifting social distancing measures will have serious and deadly consequences, especially for vulnerable communities. Today the Wisconsin Supreme Court chose to ignore those warnings, jeopardizing the health of all Wisconsinites and further endangering people of color and members of other vulnerable communities who already faced the greatest risk from this virus.

“COVID-19 has laid bare the pervasive racial injustice that permeates every aspect of our society, deepening existing racial disparities and infecting communities of color at terribly disproportionate rates.

“Given this reality, it was incredibly disheartening to hear remarks made in the courtroom that demeaned and discounted the experiences of those most affected by the pandemic. The assertion that the scores of outbreaks occurring in meatpacking facilities were somehow acceptable because they don’t impact ‘regular folks,’ or the absurd equating of the safer-at-home order with Japanese-American internment, were painful to hear.

“Emergency orders can be necessary during crises like a pandemic, as long as they are grounded in science and consistent with the need to protect the health, safety, and civil liberties of us all.

“Specifically, Wisconsin’s safer-at-home order has been instrumental in allowing Wisconsinites to stay home from work and protect themselves from infection.

“While some will still have the option to work from home and do what’s necessary to stay safe, a significant portion of people across the state, particularly people of color and those with low incomes, have now had that protection removed, even as COVID-19 continues to spread.

“Despite today’s ruling, we urge employers not to force people back to work before it is safe to do so or before childcare is available.

“We also encourage state leaders in the legislative and executive branches to make a serious effort to work together and continue to follow the advice of medical experts and make decisions that prioritize the health of Wisconsin residents and protect those who are most in danger.”

Will lawsuits clarify how one defines a crisis and establish who can congregate or will political axes continue to be thrown?

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