Catholics in Kenosha, Wisconsin, are praying for peace after a third night of violence following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
“The evil that they see is not everything,” a staffer at St. James Parish in downtown Kenosha told CNA on Wednesday, in reference to widely circulating video of riots and shootings in the area.
“Just remember that when you pray and when you act in peace and in love,” the parish employee said, “there’s a lot of good in the world too.”
The employee requested anonymity in light of incidents of doxxing and other harassment taking place amid the unrest.
On Sunday, video footing was published online showing a police officer shooting a Black man, later identified as Jacob Blake, in Kenosha late Sunday afternoon. A statement from the police department later that evening said that officers had been responding to a domestic dispute at the scene of the shooting. Three officers involved were placed on administrative leave.
Blake was shown in the video walking away from several police officers who had guns drawn, around the front of a car toward the driver-side door. As Blake opened the door and attempted to get into the car, one officer grabbed him from behind and then shot him multiple times. Another officer stood behind with a gun drawn and pointed at Blake. Seven shots were heard in the video.
Blake was taken to a Milwaukee area hospital. He is paralyzed from the waist down and it would be a “miracle” if he walked again, his family’s lawyer said on Tuesday.
Protests and riots ensued in the town of Kenosha on Sunday night and have continued into Wednesday. The Kenosha Police Department reported on Wednesday morning that two people died from a shooting on late Tuesday night, with a third victim injured. Video published online, and alleged to be footage of the fatal shootings, showed a man running down a street carrying a rifle, pursued by several participants in the protests. The man falls to the ground before opening fire on pursuers. CNA has not independently verified the authenticity or sourcing of that video footage, which police are said now to be reviewing.
On Wednesday afternoon, The New York Times reported that police had arrested Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, in Antioch, Ill., and been charged with first degree intentional homicide.
Videos also showed peaceful protests, along with rioters looting and burning businesses and public buildings, assaulting a business owner and a police officer. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that armed groups of people were also seen on Tuesday evening guarding businesses, among them a gas station and a dry cleaners.
The mother of Blake urged protesters to remain peaceful on Wednesday. “As I pray for my son’s healing--physically, emotionally, and spiritually--I also have been praying even before this, for the healing of our country,” she said at a press conference. “God has placed each and every one of us in this country, because He wanted us to be here.”
The parish of St. James is across the street from a used car lot that was burned by rioters on Monday.
The staffer at St. James said the church property sustained some vandalism on Monday night, but suffered far less damage than other neighboring properties including the used car dealership shown being torched in a viral video. While a crowd reportedly gathered outside the church on Monday, one demonstrator directed the rest away from the church toward another property, the staffer said.
As to the extent of the damage, several windows were smashed on church property and the word “burn” was painted on the front door of the church, while an upside-down cross was painted on the exterior of the church building.
The words “god is dead” were painted on construction equipment on the parish school property, with other profanities painted on construction equipment.
The staffer, a life-long Kenosha resident, told CNA that the unrest was “heartbreaking to see.” Of the shooting and the subsequent protests and riots, “things like this don’t happen,” the staffer said, “and so when they do” then “nobody knew how to handle it.”
The staffer said that in his view, many participating in the protests and riots “are not from Kenosha.” Local volunteers have been helping the church and the town clean up from damage.
Local Catholics are also asking priests to join in praying the rosary and exorcism prayers, the staffer said. “There are a lot of people who are just trying to get as many people as possible to pray for everything that’s going on, and for peace and for our community to be safe again.”
In a video from St. Joseph’s Academy in Kenosha, Fr. Todd Belardi asked students to pray for justice and peace and leading them in the rosary.
On Monday, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki also prayed for Blake’s healing and for peace in the community.
“Violence can never be the means to attain peace and justice.,” he said in a statement, emphasizing that “the sins of violence, injustice, racism and hatred must be purged from our communities with acts of mercy, with the protection and care for the dignity of every human person, with respect for the common good, and with an unwavering pursuit of equality and peace.”
“The Church stands as a beacon of hope,” said Listecki.