After five young, Black people allegedly stole about $5,000 of clothing, sped away from police and then crashed into a teenage driver in 2018, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth had a harsh message. Although no one was seriously injured, the maximum sentences the suspects could face were not long enough for the sheriff, the Kenosha News reported.
“These people have to be warehoused,” Beth, who is white, said at a news conference. The three men involved in the crime should be removed from society so that they could not father children, he suggested, adding that all five suspects, whose ages ranged from 16 to 23, should go to prison for life.
“We put them away for the rest of their lives so the rest of us can be better,” Beth said.
Although Beth swiftly apologized, his inflammatory comments resurfaced on Thursday as the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin called for his resignation. The group also charged that his officers offered support to armed militias at a Tuesday protest in Kenosha, before a 17-year-old allegedly shot and killed two protesters.
The ACLU also called for Kenosha police chief Daniel Miskinis to resign for appearing to blame the fatal shootings on the victims. Miskinis on Wednesday noted that the victims were violating a city curfew put in place to quell protests after one of his officers shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back on Sunday.
“Sheriff David Beth’s deputies not only fraternized with white supremacist counter-protesters on Tuesday, but allowed the shooter to leave as people yelled that he was the shooter,” the ACLU said in a statement calling for his resignation on Thursday. “Sheriff Beth was also criticized last year after calling for five people of color who had been arrested for shoplifting to be put into warehouses.”
Beth and Miskinis did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ACLU’s calls for their resignations.
Beth’s inflammatory comments came in January 2018 after the five suspects drove into Kenosha from a nearby town, stole clothing from a Tommy Hilfiger outlet and then sped away, pursued by a police cruiser.
The shoplifters blew through a red light and slammed into another car, driven by a 16-year-old boy who had just earned his driver’s license. Despite the close call, no one was seriously hurt in the crash, and all five suspects were promptly arrested.
But Beth suggested all the suspects involved were beyond redemption.
“I have no issue with these five people completely disappearing,” he said. “These people are no longer an asset to our community, and they just need to disappear.”
At the time, Beth’s remarks rankled many community leaders, from church leadership to local politicians. Beth later denied that his remarks were racially motivated and apologized if he had offended anyone, but he refused to walk back his statements and repeatedly defended his tough-on-crime rhetoric.
Now he’s under fire again over how his deputies treated armed militias in Kenosha in the lead-up to Tuesday’s deadly violence, as well as their failure to stop the alleged gunman after three people were shot. Kyle Rittenhouse was charged Thursday with first-degree intentional homicide in the fatal shootings.
As officers responded to the gunshots, they passed Rittenhouse even as other people in the crowd shouted that he was the shooter and urged police to arrest him. The teenage boy was arrested about 20 miles away in his hometown the next day.
Beth has said his deputies did not stop Rittenhouse because of confusion during the chaotic moments following the gunfire.
“There’s screaming, there’s hollering, there’s a squad car running, there’s bearcats idling and, if the officer happened to be in the car, the radio traffic was nonstop,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Although he has been criticized for his deputies’ actions on Tuesday night, Beth did condemn the armed men who showed up to the Kenosha protests, some from out of town, claiming to protect local businesses from looters.
At least one group of self-styled militia members asked Beth to deputize them to police the crowds in Kenosha, the sheriff said. His response was a resounding no.
“I had a person call me and say, ‘Why don’t you deputize citizens who have guns to come out and patrol the city of Kenosha?’ And I’m like, oh, hell no,” he said at a news conference Wednesday. “There’s no way I would deputize people.”