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Blake’s family says he is paralyzed from the waist down, as the country experiences another night of unrest.
For the second consecutive night, Kenosha, Wisconsin — a city south of Milwaukee and north of Chicago — was the center of nationwide protests where demonstrators banded together to demand accountability in the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man.
After an evening of mostly peaceful protests in Kenosha, police in riot gear, with the aid of the National Guard, used tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash-bangs after the city’s curfew against people who set fire to buildings and vehicles, smashed the windows of local businesses, looted stores, and set off fireworks.
The unrest set off Sunday after a video circulated on social media captured Blake being shot at close range multiple times as he attempted to enter a vehicle.
On Monday, the Wisconsin Department of Justice released a statement saying the shooting occurred as Kenosha officers were responding to a reported domestic incident. It is unclear who was involved in the domestic dispute and how Blake is connected to it; available video offers little evidence about what took place in the minutes before the shooting.
“While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country,” Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement Sunday.
Blake’s father, also named Jacob Blake, told the Chicago Sun-Times Monday night that his son has eight holes in his body and is now paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors said it is unclear whether Blake, a father of six children, will be permanently paralyzed.
Meanwhile, the officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave. The state Justice Department, alongside Wisconsin State Patrol and the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office, is leading an investigation into the incident and says it will submit its findings to a prosecutor within 30 days, who will then determine whether to press any charges.
President Donald Trump, who was expected to be briefed on the incident on Monday, has not publicly commented on the shooting, but Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden addressed the police violence. “The nation wakes up yet again with grief and outrage that yet another Black American is a victim of excessive force,” Biden said on Monday. “This calls for an immediate, full and transparent investigation and the officers must be held accountable. These shots pierce the soul of our nation.”
The shooting comes amid protests against police brutality that have been going on around the world since late May, advocating for Black Americans, like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who have been killed at the hands of police officers. Blake’s shooting only sharpens the calls of protesters who say Americans must continue to take to the streets to fight the harmful cycle of police brutality and put pressure on lawmakers to defund the police. However, in Wisconsin, where there have been several high-profile police shootings of Black men in recent years, lawmakers are already pushing back on a package of police reforms — and it remains to be seen if protests will quiet down until charges are brought or changes are made.
Police shot a Black man in broad daylight. He’s now fighting for his life at a hospital.
Police were called to the scene of a domestic incident at 5:11 pm on Sunday in the Wilson Heights neighborhood of Kenosha, according to a police report. It is unclear who called the police.
Before the shooting occurred, Blake was trying to break up a “verbal altercation” between two women just after 5 pm, several witnesses told Kenosha News. Witnesses also told the publication that Blake was unarmed. Officials have not yet confirmed these details.
In the video of the incident, Blake can be seen wearing a white tank top and black shorts. The video starts with Blake walking around the front of a gray van, coming from the passenger’s side and heading toward the driver’s side. Four officers are visible at the beginning of the video; two of them follow closely behind Blake.
The two officers have their firearms pointed at Blake’s back. Many people can be heard yelling. As Blake opens the driver-side door, one officer snatches the tail end of Blake’s tank top. It stretches out as Blake attempts to enter the vehicle; seven shots are fired at Blake’s back. It is unclear whether the second officer fired any shots. The van’s horn blares, the officer continues to hold on to Blake’s shirt, and a woman screams at the side of the vehicle where Blake was shot. One of the officers pushes the woman away, and the 19-second video comes to an end.
Police officers said in a statement that Blake received immediate aid and was airlifted to the hospital in Milwaukee.
On Monday, Jacob Blake’s family retained civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who also represents the family of George Floyd. According to a statement from Crump, Blake was shot by police in front of his three young sons, who were inside the vehicle.
“We all watched the horrific video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back several times by Kenosha police,” Crump said in the statement. “Even worse, his three sons witnessed their father collapse after being riddled with bullets. Their irresponsible, reckless, and inhumane actions nearly cost the life of a man who was simply trying to do the right thing by intervening in a domestic incident. It’s a miracle he’s still alive.”
According to Kenosha News, city officers and sheriff’s deputies do not wear body cameras. The police department has not responded to Vox’s request for comment on the incident.
A night of unrest in a region where police shootings aren’t uncommon
On Sunday evening, crowds of people arrived at the scene of the incident to protest Blake’s shooting. Videos on social media showed protests that included garbage trucks being set on fire, windows of buildings at and near the courthouse being smashed, and crowds clashing with police dressed in riot gear. Other accounts show that an entire car lot and building were burned down during the night. This activity prompted county officials to institute a curfew until 7 am Monday. About 125 members of the Wisconsin National Guard were deployed in Kenosha on Monday evening to disperse crowds of protesters.
On Monday evening, the scene grew more tense as organized marches outside the Kenosha County Courthouse gave way to rioting after the 8 pm curfew. Fires decimated much of Kenosha’s Black business district, according to Reuters, and protesters used bats to break traffic signals and signs. When the crowd of people reached 1,000 at a park near the courthouse, police shot small beanbags and used “ear deafening audio” to disperse the people who refused to move, according to the Washington Post. The unrest spread to other cities including Madison, Portland, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, and Seattle.
The protests continued those that began after Floyd’s death and underscored the fact that police shootings of unarmed Black civilians are not new occurrences in Wisconsin, a state in which Black people make up just 6.7 percent of the population. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Milwaukee region has been home to a number of high-profile police shootings — particularly of Black and Latinx men — in the past two decades in which officers were not charged. One of the victims, 22-year-old Adam Trammell, died in 2017 after officers from the West Milwaukee Police Department broke down the door of his apartment and repeatedly tased him as he showered.
The 2019 police shooting of Ty’Rese West in Racine County, just north of Kenosha County, also resulted in no charges against the police. A police sergeant stopped West one evening for not having the proper lights on his bicycle. A struggle ensued after the sergeant thought West had a gun. The incident ended when the sergeant fatally shot West. The death sparked protests across Racine County, and West’s family has not stopped issuing calls for justice.
Years of grassroots organizing after the police shooting of 21-year-old Kenosha County resident Michael Bell in 2004 led to the passing of a Milwaukee law in 2014 that prevents police officers from conducting their own investigations of officer-involved shootings. As in Blake’s case, an outside law enforcement body must step in to lead the investigation.
But in the wake of George Floyd’s death, criminal justice reform advocates have argued that law doesn’t go far enough, and protesters have demanded state legislators make changes to the criminal justice system. Some local officials across the state responded to these demands by terminating school district contracts with police officers. In June, Evers announced a legislative package that included banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants, adding the requirement that officers take deescalation training, and putting $1 million in grants toward community-based anti-violence programs, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
However, lawmakers likely won’t take a vote on any of the proposals until next year. And the package of bills from the state’s Democratic governor has received little support from the Republican lawmakers who control the state’s legislature. On Monday, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called the governor’s package “liberal policies that will only deepen the divisions in our state.”
Evers has used Blake’s shooting to call for a renewed focus on race and policing in his state, saying in a statement Sunday, “We stand against excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with Black Wisconsinites. … In the coming days, we will demand just that of elected officials in our state who have failed to recognize the racism in our state and our country for far too long.”
But the governor’s statement — and currently proposed initiatives — have garnered pushback. Pete Deates, president of the union representing Kenosha police officers, denounced the governor’s statement, calling it “wholly irresponsible and not reflective of the hardworking members of the law enforcement community.” Deates asked that people “withhold judgment” about the shooting and let the investigation “play out fairly and impartially.”
Protesters in Kenosha and across the country are still demanding systemic change. Michael Bell Sr., the father of shooting victim Michael Bell, told the New York Times following the shooting of Blake, “The system is broken. The system here is broken.”
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