By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The people of riot-ravaged Kenosha were pleading for help from Gov. Tony Evers with each passing day of chaos and destruction.
When the governor finally did act, the help he sent was too little and much too late.
Emails from the nightmarish riots in late August paint a picture of a disconnected executive as large sections of Kenosha burned.
An email obtained by Empower Wisconsin in an unrelated open records request to the governor’s office shows a staff member from U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s office effectively telling Evers’ top aide to wake up and smell the smoke.
“Maggie – our office have received numerous calls from folks in Kenosha pleading for help,” wrote Julie Leschke, Johnson’s deputy chief of staff to Maggie Gau, Evers’ chief of staff, in a frantic email sent at 8 a.m. on Aug. 26 “They’re really scared and reporting that police are standing down and letting the rioters destroy and take over.”
Leschke asked the same question Kenosha city and county officials had been asking for three days.
“Will you be talking about steps the governor will be taking? Will he accept the President’s offer to help?” the Johnson staffer wrote.
The governor was slow to deploy the National Guard, and he failed to provide adequate support when he eventually consented. And Evers initially rejected federal law enforcement assistance from then-President Donald Trump in what clearly was an act of political pettiness.
Scores of businesses, government buildings and homes in Kenosha’s Uptown and Downtown districts were smashed up, looted and set on fire, many burning to the ground. The riots, which grew out of protests following the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man who repeatedly resisted arrest, left Kenosha businesses with a $50 million bill.
Johnson’s office said Gau never responded to Leschke’s email. The office, per usual, did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comment. Evers certainly seemed disinterested in the urgent requests Johnson, U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville) and other lawmakers had issued on Tuesday, Aug. 25, what turned out to be a deadly day in the the Kenosha riots.
“After another night of violence and destruction, I again ask for demonstrators to remain peaceful and also call on elected officials charged with the responsibility to maintain safety and security in Wisconsin to devote the manpower to do so,” Johnson tweeted that morning.
On the same day, the Kenosha Count Board sent a letter to Evers urging him to deploy an additional 2,000 National Guard member to protect the city. He sent 250.
The next day, after two rioters were killed and another injured, the board sent another letter, again seeking backup.
“Our country is under attack. Our businesses are under attack. Our homes are under attack. Our local law enforcement agencies need additional support to help bring civility back to our community,” the supervisors wrote.
A year later later, Kenosha’s scars remain.
“Governor Evers incited the Kenosha rioters when he issued a grossly irresponsible press release before he knew the facts stating, ‘While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.’” Johnson said in a statement. “He compounded his incitement by refusing to accept President Trump’s offer to immediately send a sufficient number of (federal law enforcement) to end the rioting. The press refuses to hold him accountable for his actions that exacerbated the riots. Hopefully, Wisconsin voters will.”