(The Center Square) – After two nights of rioting, Wisconsin’s governor is drawing a line between protesters and the people who are looting and burning buildings in Kenosha. 

Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday said the First Amendment protects freedom of speech and the right to assemble. He said that is different than setting fires and stealing whatever you can. 

“There remains a line between peaceful assembly and what we saw [Monday] night that put individuals, families, and businesses in danger,” Evers said in a statement.

The governor’s words come after two nights of violence in the streets in Kenosha following the shooting Sunday of 29-year-old Jacob Blake. Blake by Kenosha police officers.

Blake, who had an active warrant at the time, was seen on video fighting off officers and moving to get into his car when the officer shot him. 

Evers once again said protests in Kenosha and other cities are alright. 

“We cannot forget the reason why these protests began, and what we have seen play out over the last two nights and many nights this year is the pain, anguish, and exhaustion of being Black in our state and country,” the governor’s statement read. “But as I said [Monday], and as I’ll reiterate [Tuesday] , everyone should be able to exercise their fundamental right – whether a protester or member of the press – peacefully and safely. We cannot allow the cycle of systemic racism and injustice to continue. We also cannot continue going down this path of damage and destruction.”

The governor’s statement follows a number of Republicans who criticized the governor for his initial comments that seemed to blame police for Sunday’s shooting. 

Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-R-Delafield, on Tuesday said the governor is a day late to the calls for peace and calm. 

“Following the shooting of Jacob Blake, Governor Evers issued a statement designed to fan the flames of outrage without having any of the details necessary to make such a judgement,” Kapenga said in his own statement. “In these situations, we should be getting facts through the investigatory process before rushing to judgment for political gain. If police officers break the law, then they should be held accountable to the full extent of the law, and vice versa.”

Kapenga said his statehouse office was trashed by an angry mob Monday night or early Tuesday morning. 

Madison saw its own protests and riots after Blake’s death. 

A mob there looted stores on State Street, set fires, and took their anger back to the State Capitol Monday night and overnight Tuesday.

Wisconsin Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson said the violence in the streets must not be allowed to continue. Johnson said Evers needs to call up more Wisconsin National Guardsmen to protect both cities. 

“Peaceful protesting is a constitutionally protected form of free speech. Rioting is not. It must not be allowed to continue,” Johnson said. 

Leaders in Kenosha are preparing for a third straight night of protests and violence. Another curfew is expected from 8 p.m. til 7 a.m. 

Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.

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