Fanning the Flames

Governor Evers and Lieutenant Governor Barnes have been dangerously reckless in their response to rioting in Kenosha, and innocent people are paying the price

August 26, 2020

Guest perspective by Dan O’Donnell

July 7th was a monumental day for Gravity Gaming Lounge in Kenosha.

“Tomorrow Gravity will reopen to the public at 2pm!” owner Flint Estill posted on the video game lounge’s Facebook page.

For the first time since the Coronavirus pandemic forced it to close in March, Estill would again be able to serve his loyal customer base.  His small business had weathered an unprecedented storm and, against the odds, survived.

“We can’t wait to see all of you and hope in these weird times we can at least have some fun owning noobs together!” he joked.

Unfortunately, August 23rd proved to be an even more significant day for Gravity.

“We got looted,” Estill posted in the wee hours of Monday morning.  “Everything in the store was taken and the place was destroyed. For a business that was struggling to get back to normal and pushing through these hard times we will not be able to come back from this. The damage to our building and the cost to replace the exterior damage and to top it off to replace everything stolen is going to be catastrophic.  As we look to see the total costs, at this point we will be closing down completely.”

The Gravity Gaming Lounge wasn’t just Estill’s business; it was his dream.  And it died on Sunday night.

Supporters have launched a GoFundMe, but Estill had asked them not to.  Why?  Because “we do not feel comfortable taking others’ money when we know everyone is struggling and not just us.  We care for the community and the last thing we want to do with our given times is take something that someone else is more deserving of in this time.”

Estill, it seems, was perhaps the man in Kenosha least deserving of the grave injustice committed against him and, in a sad irony, it was committed in the name of justice for a shooting neither Estill nor Gravity had anything to do with.

A mob simply saw his business, his livelihood, and his dream as collateral damage.  To them, Jacob Blake’s life matters but Flint Estill’s really doesn’t, and neither do the lives of the other innocent victims of the carnage in Kenosha.

Their businesses and dreams just happened to be standing in the way, so they were burned to the ground.

And in the most sickening twist of all, Wisconsin’s Governor and Lieutenant Governor are holding the rhetorical matches.

At 10:35 pm on Sunday night, just before Gravity Gaming was looted and five minutes after a widely shared Facebook message indicated that rioting was to begin, Governor Tony Evers put out a statement preemptively justifying and all but encouraging the violence.

“Tonight, Jacob Blake was shot in the back multiple times, in broad daylight, in Kenosha, Wisconsin,” he (or, far more likely, a staffer) said.  “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.”

Even though he readily admitted that he didn’t actually know the circumstances surrounding Blake’s shooting, Evers fanned the (literal) flames by claiming that Blake was “mercilessly” shot and possibly killed by a Kenosha Police officer.

“We stand with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equity, and accountability for Black lives in our country,” Evers continued, as rioters began to march from the scene of the shooting to the Kenosha County Courthouse, looting stores and setting fires along the way.

Although he issued his statement late at night, when he rather obviously knew rioting could erupt, Evers didn’t say a single word about remaining peaceful.

Even after Kenosha burned Sunday night, he didn’t condemn the violence or caution against more of it in his more than five-minute address to the state Monday afternoon.

Instead, he let Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes dump even more verbal gasoline on an already simmering city.

“This was not an accident.  This wasn’t bad police work.  This felt like some sort of vendetta being taken out on a member of our community,” Barnes said before admitting that he too didn’t know all of the facts.  “The officer’s deadly actions attempted to take a person’s life in broad daylight.”

The closest either of Wisconsin’s so-called leaders came to calling for calm was Evers reminding rioters to “wear your mask and keep social distance as best you can.”

After hours of ridicule and harsh rebukes from Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature over his dimwitted incitement, Evers activated the National Guard…but authorized only 125 to be deployed to Kenosha.

Unsurprisingly, the city burned again Monday night, and just as unsurprisingly, neither Evers nor Barnes had a word of condemnation until Evers was apparently shamed into a halfhearted series of tweets on Tuesday afternoon.

“The ability to exercise First Amendment rights is a critically important part of our democracy and the pursuit of justice,” he said.  “But there remains a line between peaceful assembly and what we saw last night that put individuals, families, and businesses in danger.”

That was too little, too late for Flint Estill’s business, and Evers deployed just 250 National Guard troops to protect others.  The Kenosha Police Department and Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department told Evers that they needed at least 750 troops to restore order, but Evers ignored them.  The White House reached out and offered to deploy 500 federal troops to make up the difference, but Evers refused. 

Kenosha burned again, and two people were shot to death. 

Sadly, the city will keep burning and people will keep dying until this Governor actually starts to govern, until he allows local law enforcement and the National Guard to protect the innocent victims whose livelihoods and very lives are being destroyed. 

Games have always been Flint Estill’s life, but his life—and the lives of countless other others—have been ruined because, in part, Governor Evers has treated the deadly serious situation in Kenosha as a game.  He scores political points while an entire city loses. 

Now playtime is over, and it’s time for both Evers and Barnes to start acting like adults.