Seven shots at point-blank range from behind. A literal miracle that the young man is still alive.
I have no idea what actually happened, any more than anyone who was not there. Even for those present, the shock of an event like this, both expected yet not expected, may lead to conflicting understandings of the facts. But I do know a few things.
This was labeled by the media as an “officer-involved shooting,” a formula for reporting that has become commonplace in today’s journalism. In plainer English, it means a police officer shot someone. It does not mean there was a shooting incident in which a police officer was somehow involved. Why the media dresses up these incidents with this deflective language is not hard to understand. It’s a way of de-intensifying the truth, a way of making the reality somehow less disturbing. The language tends to dull the emotional response, especially when the truth is that one or more police officers fired seven times at point-blank range into an unarmed man’s back.
One witness interviewed on camera said there was a fight among some girls that Jacob Blake, who is a security officer, attempted to break up. The witness reported that after the police arrived, Blake walked to his car where his three children were waiting, opened the door and was shot in the back. Seven shots at point-blank range. The witness said Blake was not armed and made no gestures that could be interpreted as threatening to the police who shot him.
Presumably, we’ll learn more about those details. How this incident began, how Blake became involved, who called the police and why, what the police did when they arrived, why Blake tried to leave with apparent determination (walking quickly back to his car) and so on. There is much yet to be known.
But I also know this much.
The president of the Kenosha Professional Police Association issued a statement:
Part 1 – the standard formula of “we feel bad too”:
Anytime deadly force is used, our hearts go out to those affected by it. We assure you an independent investigation is being conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation.
Part 2 – the standard formula of “we need more time:”
Until that investigation is completed, we ask that you withhold prejudgment about the incident and please the let process take place.
Part 3 – the standard formulaic objection to statements made by others suggesting something might be amiss with the police response:
Governor Evers’ statement on the incident was wholly irresponsible and not reflective of the hardworking members of the law enforcement community, not to mention the citizens of the City of Kenosha.
As always, the video currently circulating does not capture all the intricacies of a highly dynamic incident. We ask that you withhold from passing judgement until all the facts are known and released.
Part: 4: the standard formula “let’s all be patient, fair and objective:”
We, along with the citizens of the great City of Kenosha, ask for peace and to let the process play out fairly and impartially.
The Governor’s statement was largely formulaic too, but it’s tone and direction was quite different, explaining perhaps why the head of the police union took such offense at it. For example,
We stand with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equality and accountability for Black lives in our country — lives like those of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor, Tony Robinson, Denise Hamilton, Earnest Lacy, and Sylville Smith. And we stand against excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with Black Wisconsinites.
I have said all along that although we must offer our empathy, equally important is our action. 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.
Of course, we understand that an investigation is necessary. No one can know exactly what happened based on the video taken from across the street. However, the similarities between this case and the many that preceded it cannot be overlooked. I am particularly reminded that in the aftermath of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery we were told the same kinds of things. The first official report in that case actually argued that the unarmed Mr. Arbery was responsible for his own death. See my analysis at https://shiningseausa.com/2020/05/08/when-do-we-take-a-stand-injustice-in-georgia/
The Kenosha police union has offered no solace in terms of a reasonable timeline in which to complete an investigation of a case like this. I heard one report stating that the authorities hoped to have a report in about a month. That is hard to accept. A man’s life has been threatened and may yet end tragically. Three young children saw their father shot. Apparently, the police in Kenosha do not wear body cameras. But surely the police know something that could be shared in the immediate future about what transpired. The longer the investigation goes on, the less confidence people will have in its outcome.
The concerns about extended delays for such “investigations” are many. They often take many months despite there being ample opportunity to interview witnesses, collect and analyze physical evidence and evaluate the governing legal principles. Delays also provide increased opportunity for police officers to coordinate their version of events. No doubt this is not the only case under investigation by the Kenosha police department, but under the remarkable circumstances, this case cries out for priority consideration and for investigation by independent authorities. The days of police departments or local prosecutors who work with the police every day investigating themselves should no longer be tolerated. Have we learned nothing from experience after experience with these situations?
Events like this won’t end with this one, that is certain. And, in case you’re wondering, thinking maybe I’m “against the police,” I can assure you I generally favor the retention of a highly trained police force in every community. But I also insist that the police that be properly vetted, trained and equipped with the necessary weapons of community policing and self-defense (is military equipment really necessary and, if so, against whom do they expect to use it?).
It also makes complete sense to me that every community in the country do what the Governor of New York has demanded, upon penalty of loss of state funding: a from-scratch re-evaluation of what each community wants from its police department and the re-allocation of tax and other resources to enable those outcomes. Call it “defunding” if you like, but it’s a common-sense concept in the end – use police for enforcing criminal law and use other resources for mental health and other situations in which enforcing criminal law is not the priority. People of good will can figure this out if they try. It’s way past time to do this.
Meanwhile, we’re left with yet another in the seemingly endless string of deaths-by-police or, if you still insist, deaths by police-involved shooting. Viewed only on the single video that has been published, it’s hard to understand what justification existed for Mr. Blake to be shot seven times in the back at point-blank range.
Kenosha experienced, predictably, rounds of protests and destruction in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting. The destruction of property provides more ammunition for the “America is under mob rule” crowd of Republican Trump sycophants, but it is not hard to understand why the rage leads to this behavior.
All people of good will hope for Jacob Blake’s survival and full recovery, along with his children who must be traumatized beyond our imagining. Maybe the only clarity here is that we cannot move on until justice is finally done. The sooner the better, and also the righter, the better. I fear the consequences if the police dig in, withhold evidence, stall for time and eventually claim “qualified immunity.” This simply cannot continue. How many times do we have to go through this to learn from it?