By M.D. Kittle
Gov. Tony Evers’ schedule on the week of the August 2020 riots in Kenosha shows:
* Sunday, Aug. 23, the day the riots started — Nothing. His calendars are redacted. Why?
* Monday, Aug. 24 — Interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper; Press conference to announce special session on police reform bills, virtue signal for left base. Didn’t make it into the office until afternoon.
* Tuesday, Aug. 25 — Phone calls with Kenosha area leaders and President Trump; a briefing on the debacle at the Department of Workforce Development; COVID-19 update.
* Wednesday, Aug. 26 — After deadly night in Kenosha, the governor attended virtual meeting on broadband, served as panelist for liberal Aspen Institute virtual discussion; Call with the Badger State Sheriffs Association.
MADISON — What did Gov. Tony Evers’ schedule look like on Aug. 23, 2020 — the day all hell broke loose in Kenosha?
It’s hard to say. Evers’ staff redacted entries from the day, according to copies of the governor’s calendars obtained by Empower Wisconsin through an open records request.
The rest of the nightmarish week, which saw parts of the Lake Michigan city go up in flames amid riots and mob violence, Evers did an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, took a short call from President Donald Trump, and a lot of calls from law enforcement and Kenosha area officials who begged him to send in enough reinforcements to restore law and order to riot-ravaged Kenosha. The governor was able to work in a few hours on pardon reviews, an hour-long virtual panel discussion with the liberal Aspen Institute, and some briefings on his dysfunctional Department of Workforce Development — another fiasco Evers presided over.
We do know that shortly after the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man who repeatedly resisted arrest and reached for a knife during a domestic incident, Evers fired off an incendiary statement without having many of the facts. It was so bad, law enforcement officials asked the governor to stop because he was only making a horrible situation worse.
And things got much worse after the first night of riots following the Blake shooting.
For much of the week, at least through the worst three days in Kenosha, it appears Evers did what he has done throughout the pandemic: he hid at the Executive Mansion.
On Monday, Aug. 24, the day after the riots began, the governor didn’t make it in to his Capitol office until 12:45 p.m. according to the day’s calendar. He drove back to the executive mansion an hour and a half later, apparently to prepare for his big interview with Anderson Cooper in which he again vilified police while acknowledging he didn’t have all the facts.
“There’s a lot of pain there and anguish,” Evers told Cooper.
There would be much be more pain and anguish for the people of Kenosha in the hours ahead, as the governor slowly moved to help the same law enforcement officials he was incriminating.
The Democrat did have a brief call with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and then-Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, the leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature. He then held press conferences with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in which he signed one of his ceaseless executive orders, this one calling for a special legislative session on “policing accountability and transparency.” It would be months before an independent investigation, led by the black former police chief of Madison, issued its report clearing the officer who shot Jacob Blake of any wrongdoing and laying out the many reasons why the officer was justified in the use of force during a volatile arrest.
On Tuesday Aug. 25, it appears Evers began the day at 8:30 a.m. with a COVID Response Check-in call. He then checked in with Barnes and had a couple of briefings before breaking for lunch.
His afternoon was spent hearing an earful from Kenosha leaders, including Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian. By this time, Evers had initially turned down an offer of federal law enforcement assistance from the president. Evers had a call with Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and then the president mid-afternoon, according to the calendars.
The governor’s slow response would be too little and much too late. That night two rioters were killed and another injured by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who said he came to Kenosha to help protect businesses from looters and rioters and is now facing a trial on homicide charges.
Later in the afternoon, Evers had to take time for a Department of Workforce briefing. The agency was failing to issue payments to tens of thousands of unemployment Wisconsinites who had been waiing months for their jobless benefits.
On Wednesday Aug. 26, after a deadly and destructive night, Evers took time for a COVID-19 update, a conversation with his budget director, and a virtual meeting on broadband access. He also made an hour available for the Aspen Institute’s Back-to-School Week Panel Discussion. Evers had another brief conversation with Meadows, but much of the afternoon was spent on pardon reviews and a call with then-U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia. He also needed some time for a “pre-briefing” on the late-afternoon with the Badger State Sheriffs Association, which was not pleased with Evers’ handling of Kenosha.
The next day, Evers and Barnes finally made it to Kenosha. Perhaps they thought it was safe enough by then. As was widely reported at the time, Evers called Blake’s family that afternoon, met with the Kenosha NAACP, and spent some time at photo-ops with some of the businesses damaged in the riots.
Evers’ closed the week with little on his schedule regarding Kenosha. He had a half- hour meeting with Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy late morning and closed the day at 6:15 p.m. on a Zoom call with the Milwaukee Bucks.