By Brendan McDermid and Stephen Maturen
KENOSHA, Wis., Aug 27 (Reuters) - Relative calm returned to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Thursday after multiple nights of violent protests and two deaths, as activists pushed for charges against the white police officer who shot a Black man in the back, the incident which sparked the unrest.
Officials said on Thursday that Arizona, Alabama and Michigan would be sending National Guard troops to augment security forces in the city, which until Wednesday night had been the scene of clashes between protesters and police, as well as protesters and members of a mostly white armed militia.
"Last night was very peaceful," Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth told a news conference. "Hopefully, we are over the hump of what we have to face."
Kenosha's first night of calm since the protests came after Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul identified Rusten Sheskey as the officer who on Sunday fired seven shots point-blank into the back of Jacob Blake after the 29-year-old father opened his car door. Kaul also said investigators found a knife on the car floor.
That announcement - combined with the arrest of a 17-year-old suspected gunman charged with homicide - set the stage for what could have been another night of confrontation in Kenosha, a lakeside city of 100,000 about 40 miles (60 km) south of Milwaukee.
Prior nights drew an array of rifle-toting civilians, among them 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who was arrested on Wednesday in connection to Tuesday night's shootings that led to the death of two people and injury of another. Rittenhouse, a Blue Lives Matter supporter who is from in Antioch, Illinois, is due to appear in court on Friday morning to face extradition to Kenosha about 20 miles (30 km) away.
Shockwaves from the events in Kenosha were felt across the United States as professional athletes, starting with National Basketball Association players, went on strike and anti-racism protests intensified in other cities. Republican President Donald Trump criticized the boycotts on Thursday, saying the NBA had become "like a political organization."
Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, who is running with former Vice President Joe Biden to unseat Trump in the Nov. 3 election, on Thursday praised the NBA players and addressed the shooting of Blake, who is alive but was paralyzed from the waist down.
"It's sickening to watch. It's all too familiar. And it must end," Harris said in a speech. "It's no wonder people are taking to the streets, and I support them."
In Kenosha, after three nights of civil strife, about 200 protesters defied a curfew on Wednesday and marched peacefully through city streets, chanting, "Black lives matter," but law enforcement officers kept a low profile, and armed militia members were notably absent.
At a news conference on Thursday, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson lamented what he called a "pattern of killing Black people" and blamed Trump for creating a culture in which police were encouraged to use excessive force.
Activists, community advocates and the family of Blake called for the officer to be charged.
PLAYERS ON STRIKE
The strike by NBA players, led by the Milwaukee Bucks, triggered a wave of similar boycotts across various professional sports on Wednesday. NBA Executive Vice President Mike Bass said games could resume on Friday or Saturday, after players agreed not to boycott the rest of the season.
The Kenosha turmoil struck three months after the death of George Floyd after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck touched off nationwide protests over racism and police brutality.
In the shooting that sparked the latest wave of outrage, Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha police force, fired seven shots at Blake's back, hitting him four times in front of Blake's young children who were in the car. Sheskey was suspended for one day in 2017 for a driving-related infraction, but records disclosed so far do not indicate any pattern of excessive force..
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, one of the lawyers representing Blake's family, disputed the attorney general report that Blake had a knife and said he posed no threat, an assertion emphasized by Jackson and other activists at Thursday's news conference.
They also referred to video footage from the previous night that showed the white gunman who had just fired on protesters was able to walk past a battery of police without being arrested, saying it showed the stark contrast between how the police treated Blake and self-described militia members bearing firearms.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday called for the resignations of Sheriff Beth, Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, arguing they had mishandled the response to Blake's shooting and resulting unrest.
Regarding Beth, the ACLU also highlighted comments from 2018 when he said five people of color who had been arrested for shoplifting were "no longer an asset to our community, and they just need to disappear".
Beth, who apologized for the comments in 2018 after they triggered a backlash, did not respond to a request for comment. Miskinis and Antaramian also did not reply to emails seeking comment.
(Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Daniel Trotta, Ann Maria Shibu, Kanishka Singh and Barbara Goldberg; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Daniel Wallis and Aurora Ellis)
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