As Darkness Descends

Man with a weapon at a gun rights rally. Photo by Callen Harty.

Yesterday morning a friend of mine posted a warning on Facebook. There was an event page hosted by a militia group called Kenosha Guard. The event was “Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property.” The event page asked if there were “any patriots willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight from the evil thugs?” My friend posted it as a warning with a note to Kenosha friends to stay safe.

I made the mistake of reading some of the comments on that event page and saw additional ones today. The one I saw suggested putting bodies in a pile and starting it on fire. Another one said, “When the shooting starts, make sure someone is sending a live feed of the mother fuckers going down.”  My heart sank and an ominous feeling came over me. I feared for any protesters who may go out onto the streets of Kenosha last night.

It turned out those fears were not unfounded. One of the “armed citizens” opened fire and shot one of the protesters in the head, killing him. Apparently the shooter was chased by several others and when he fell to the ground he fired and killed one more person and injured another. He then walked up to the police, still holding his gun, and they did not stop and question him, arrest him, or anything else. They drove right past him. He walked away.

Reports are coming out now that the shooter was a 17-year old from a town in Illinois that is about half an hour south of Kenosha. He was using a gun which was illegal for a person his age to even own in Illinois. After he walked away from the scene last night, it is being reported that he has now been arrested for murder. Already, right-wingers, gun rights activists, and others are speaking out on his behalf, claiming he shot in self-defense and that he was the victim in this.

There are several things wrong with this whole scenario. First, there was a huge police presence in Kenosha the last several nights because of the rioting caused by the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Videos taken at the time of the shooting show armored police vehicles a block away from where it happened. In addition, Wisconsin’s governor called in 125 National Guard troops two nights ago and doubled that to 250 yesterday. These are the people paid to protect us. We do not need armed “militiamen” to add to the chaos. To be blunt, a bunch of white men brandishing guns where Black Lives Matter protests are happening makes an already volatile situation a powder keg ready to explode.

Second, what is a 17-year-old Blue Lives Matter fan kid doing there with a powerful weapon? Why would the so-called “militia” allow him to join them? Did he really think that the Kenosha Guard was there to protect lives and property and not to intimidate and threaten protesters? Did he understand that most of these “militias” around the country are simply fronts for racist right-wingers who want others to cower before their weapons?

Third, excuse me, Kenosha Police, but really? You provided water to the Kenosha Guard members and thanked them for being there? You encouraged them? You let the shooter walk right past you and did nothing to stop him?

Fourth, the media is irritating the hell out of me, calling the Kenosha Guard “armed citizens” instead of right-wing violent fanatic vigilantes. Meanwhile, the others are Black Lives Matter activists, demonstrators, protesters, but never called citizens or community members. We can see where the media falls on the race issue. On social media, Facebook needs to be called out for failing to take down the militia event when it was called to their attention. I’ve seen at least two people who contacted them about the event and accompanying hate speech with no action taken.

Finally, my heart is hurting because of these killings. Although the press has not yet released information on the victims, I did see a video of the young man who was shot in the head and it hurts to know that he is gone because of a trigger happy kid who fell in with a bunch of grown men who love their guns and their supposed manhood more than anything else. Both of their lives are gone, as well as the other victim, and countless others will be permanently changed because of this incident. No citizen expressing an opinion, protesting legally, or in any other way taking a stand should be shot and killed for that. And even if they were damaging property, they did not deserve to die. Property can be replaced. Lives cannot.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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