KENOSHA, Wis. — Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth in 2018 told reporters that five Black shoplifters who stole about $5,000 worth of clothing before crashing into a teenage driver while fleeing police should be “warehoused” and not allowed to father children.
Beth, who is already under fire following the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha city police officers, as well as the killings of two men subsequently protesting Blake’s shooting, is now facing calls for his immediate resignation. Those calls stem from, in part, Beth’s comments regarding a group of Black shoplifters arrested in January 2018.
“I have no issue with these five people completely disappearing,” Beth said during the controversial news conference. “At (this) point, these people are no longer an asset to our community, and they just need to disappear.”
The Washington Post reported that Beth made his incendiary comments in January 2018 after three men and two women from Milwaukee shoplifted clothing from a Tommy Hilfiger outlet store in Kenosha.
Before he even began speaking, Beth admitted that what was to come would be “un-politically correct.” Four days later, he was forced to issue a public apology amid backlash from the community and faith leaders in Kenosha County.
Beth apologized to anyone he offended but refused to retract the comments he’d made.
The 2018 statements are but one of the issues for which the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has demanded he resign. The organization has also called on Kenosha city police Chief Daniel Miskinis to tender his resignation.
One of the reasons: The Aug. 23 shooting of Blake, a Black man shot at least seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer as he tried to get into his vehicle, where his three children sat waiting for him. According to Blake’s family, he was partially paralyzed by the shooting.
The ACLU cited both men’s response to the killings Tuesday of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, during protests in Kenosha. Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder for the shooting of a third man and one count of endangering the safety of a reporter who was present during the gunfire.
Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to join a group described as white supremacist counter-protesters. With him, he carried an AR-15 assault rifle.
The majority of the shootings were caught on cellphone video, as was Rittenhouse’s escape past law enforcement officials.
“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,” an ACLU statement read. “The sheriff excused this by saying his deputies may not have paid attention to the gunman because there were many distractions.”
Miskinis, in the first news conference regarding the killings, blamed the victims, saying the violence that took place resulted because the protesters were violating the city’s curfew.
Rittenhouse was also violating that curfew, critics have said. They also pointed out that, at 17 years old, the gunman was too young to possess the rifle he used in the shootings.
“The ACLU strongly condemns Sheriff Beth and Police Chief Miskinis’ response to both the attempted murder of Jacob Blake and the protests demanding justice for him,” Chris Ott, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “Their actions uphold and defend white supremacy, while demonizing people who were murdered for exercising their First Amendment rights and speaking out against police violence.”
Ott also pointed to Beth’s 2018 statements as cause for the sheriff to leave his post.
In his Jan. 25, 2018, news conference, Beth said the five suspects fled the outlet store and led deputies and highway patrolmen on a high-speed police pursuit, during which they ran a red light and slammed into a 16-year-old boy.
The teen had received his driver’s license moments before the crash.
No one was seriously hurt in the collision, though Beth said during a news conference that the outcome could have been much different.
“If he would have been 5 feet further into the intersection, the 16-year-old driver and his mother probably would have been killed,” Beth said.
Beth went on to suggest that the shoplifters were beyond redemption. Their ages ranged from 16 to 23 years old.
“I hope they get put away for the rest of their lives,” Beth said.
The sheriff went on to talk about who was driving the car — a female — while the three men went into the store and grabbed armfuls of clothes. He said he believed that if someone took a look at the men’s prior criminal histories, and their school transcripts, they would find people who “aren’t very successful.”
“I’m to the point that I think society has to come to a threshold where there’s some people that aren’t worth saving,” Beth said. “We need to build warehouses, to put these people into it and lock them away for the rest of their lives.”
Beth said the suspects couldn’t care less about the teen driver they struck. As he continued to rant about the costs of crime, his comments took a racist turn.
“Let’s put them in jail,” he said. “Let’s stop them from truly, at least some of these males, going out and getting 10 other women pregnant and having small children. Let’s put them away.”
Watch the news conference from 2018 below.
Beth said people had to “stop being politically correct.” He said he didn’t care about race or age.
“If there’s a threshold that they cross, these people have to be warehoused,” he said. “No recreational time in the jails. We put them away. We put them away for the rest of their lives so that the rest of us can be better.”
He went on to say that American cities and towns have to get to a point where they refused to put up with the “garbage people” that fill the communities.
The backlash against Beth was swift. According to The Kenosha News, city Alderman Anthony Kennedy was irate.
“We’re talking about a shoplifting incident (and) this man has gone and made these blanketed indictments of these people,” Kennedy said, according to the newspaper. “You are the No. 1 law enforcement (officer) in the county of Kenosha. You have a job and a responsibility that goes beyond this garbage that you spewed out in front of the cameras.
“I understand being emotional — I’m emotional right now — but I’m still aware of what my stature is in this community.”
When Beth apologized several days later, he said he could understand why some were offended by his words, the News reported.
“In the press conference, I should have kept my comments better directed toward the incident itself and not allowed my emotions to get the better of me at the time,” Beth said in a letter of apology. “I have been involved in hundreds of on camera interviews and press conferences and have shared my emotions before, but never in this fashion or this extent.
“My goal is to do my best to protect those that live, work, play or travel through Kenosha County. In the situation last week, my comments did not necessarily live up to even my own expectations for my office, and I again apologize.”
Some faith leaders in the community told the News that Beth’s apology “rang hollow.”
“Sheriff Beth’s apology … said only that his comments ‘did not necessarily live up to even (his) own expectations for (his) office’ but did not refute or qualify a single thing expressed in the press conference,” the Rev. Erik David Carlson, of Bradford Community Church, told the newspaper. “We therefore invite Sheriff Beth to revisit his statements of Jan. 25 to clarify, on the record, his true feelings on these matters.
In response to Carlson’s statement, Beth refused to offer clarification and instead doubled down on his beliefs.
“Everything I basically said in the (Jan. 25) press conference is really the way I feel,” Beth told the News. “I am 100% for the people of Kenosha County, the victims of crime and those people that are vulnerable in Kenosha. It’s disappointing to me that (Carlson) feels more in support of crime and criminals.”
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