KENOSHA, Wis. — An afternoon that had begun with peaceful marches in protest of a police shooting gave way to fires, destruction and looting in Kenosha as a strip of businesses in a central residential neighborhood was consumed in flames early Tuesday.
Residents emerged from their houses around midnight to gape at billowing smoke that could be seen for miles. Lost in the blaze, neighbors said, was a mattress store, a storefront church, a Mexican restaurant, and a cellphone store. Less than a mile away, a probation and parole office was also on fire.
A line of National Guard members, called to Kenosha amid rising tension over the shooting on Sunday of Jacob Blake, a Black resident who was shot by a white police officer, prevented anyone from getting close as firefighters worked to douse the flames.
“This is our town,” said Mike Mehlan, 33, a chef, as he stared at the buildings, stunned. “People have lost their damn minds.”
Mr. Mehlan said that just a half-hour before, he saw at least 20 cars pull up to a nearby gas station, break in and then head to the stores one block away. They entered the mattress store and set it on fire, he said.
The worst destruction was limited to a relatively small area of the city, which is home to about 100,000 people, and some neighborhoods of Kenosha were quiet. At least one sheriff’s deputy was injured in the neck by a firework that was set off. It was uncertain whether there were arrests.
One resident said he had little problem with burning businesses to spur social change and reform to policing. “It’s unfortunate, but it has to be done,” said Wayne Gardner, who lives around the corner.
In several cities around the country, there were flashes of destruction overnight that were tied to calls for police reform.
In Portland, Ore., two fires were set near the Portland Police Association building, and the police warned protesters in a post on Twitter: “This is now a RIOT. Leave the area now.” And in Madison, Wis., about 4,000 people gathered near the State Capitol and marched downtown, some smashing glass storefronts and setting dumpsters ablaze. A liquor store was looted.
In Kenosha, Chauncey Body, 44, watched the flames from the sidewalk. “This hurts,” he said.
He said that if the fires were set in the name of protest, he believed in the conviction behind them. “But this is a neighborhood. They’re putting lives in danger,” he said.
Kenosha, which has been engulfed in protests, unrest and destruction for two days, is under a curfew of 8 p.m. Police officers attempted to disperse people who were standing outside, with little success. They used tear gas to try to clear people away.
Sheriff David Beth of Kenosha County said the police were outnumbered. “We’ve got 200 officers, I don’t know how many armored vehicles,” he said. “It’s not enough. It’s a battle we aren’t able to keep up with.”
Yonette Joseph and Tiffany May contributed reporting from Hong Kong.