Tag Archives: Kenosha

So It Begins – Grooming Us For the Bad News

Yesterday the legal authorities in Wisconsin who are charged by law, they said, with conducting an “independent investigation” of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha spent a lot of time in front of the cameras pleading for time to conduct what they repeatedly said was an “independent’ investigation, that is, independent of the police department being investigated. We heard all the usual platitudes about the complexity of the situation, not jumping to conclusions, these things take time, be patient, etc. No surprises.

Then, today, we read that, lo and behold, those same authorities disclose a few new “facts” already discovered that, presumably, they didn’t know the day before: “Wisconsin authorities say there was knife in Jacob Blake’s vehicle.’ https://bit.ly/3gtAlLm

 The “press release,” issued by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, was reproduced in a report from WKOW, an ABC-affiliate station in Kenosha [https://bit.ly/31xWpjF], and in relevant part reads as follows with my notes in brackets :

Kenosha Police Department officers were dispatched to a residence in the 2800 block of 40th Street after a female caller reported that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises.

During the incident, officers attempted to arrest Jacob S. Blake, age29. [Why? “Girlfriend said Blake wasn’t supposed to be there. Is that why he was arrested?] Law enforcement deployed a taser to attempt to stop Mr. Blake, however the taser was not successful in stopping Mr. Blake. [Stopping him from doing what? Was he resisting arrest? Audio evidence from police radios indicate police were on site for only 3 minutes from start to shooting Blake] Mr. Blake walked around his vehicle [good; they got this right; Blake did not run as some have claimed]. opened the driver’s side door, and leaned forward. While holding onto Mr. Blake’s shirt, Officer Rusten Sheskey fired his service weapon 7 times. Officer Sheskey fired the weapon into Mr. Blake’s back. No other officer fired their weapon. Kenosha Police Department does not have body cameras, therefore the officers were not wearing body cameras.….

During the investigation following the initial incident, Mr. Blake admitted that he had a knife in his possession. DCI agents recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of Mr. Blake’s vehicle. A search of the vehicle located no additional weapons. [When did this discovery occur?]

I have read this release several times. My first, and continuing, thought was: why, after all the “be patient; these things take time, etc.” did the DOJ decide to release these tidbits of initial investigative findings which, standing alone, imply — but do not state – that Blake was indeed being arrested for a legitimate reason, resisted arrest after admitting to having a  deadly weapon in his car and was shot while attempting to reach the weapon with which to attack the two officers who already had pistols trained on him?

Is all that plausibly possible? Certainly. But why is the Wisconsin DOJ now so seemingly anxious to start slanting the public mind against Mr. Blake? What happened to “be patient, let’s collect all the evidence and then we’ll impartially decide whether a crime was committed and, if so, by whom?

These events suggest an effort by the DOJ to prime the public to accept a defense the police have yet to make but which may be inevitable. Is this the model for how this investigation will be conducted – dribbling pieces of seemingly incriminating evidence (only regarding Mr. Blake) to the public to prepare them for the [inevitable?] decision to bring no charges against the police because – what – they “reasonably feared for their safety?

I don’t want to be guilty of prejudging anything in this volatile situation even as I am demanding impartiality by the investigators. As I said when I first wrote about this case, I wasn’t there and have only seen the videos which cloak as much as they reveal. But I can’t help but be reminded of the all-too-familiar ring of “be patient while we game this situation.”

It strikes me that even if one imagines the worst case — Blake was out of control emotionally and was reaching for a knife with which to attack the police and that the police had tased him to no effect, ordered him to stop, he didn’t and instead reached for a knife and the police believed he was trying to reach the weapon he had confessed to having during the less-than-three minute interaction before the shooting and everything was moving fast – still, why could the police have not backed away? They had weapons drawn and pointed. There were two of them. If they had backed up several feet, they would have had a better view of Blake and could still have shot him if he turned with a weapon, maybe even a gun, in his hand.

Easy enough to speculate. Things were moving fast indeed. Split-second decisions had to be made.  But that’s part of the problem. Could the police not have avoided a situation in which split-second decisions had to be made and in which the risk of mistake, possibly fatal mistake, would arise? If the police thought Blake was going to the car to retrieve a weapon, why did they not shoot him in the legs, say, before he reached and opened the car door? Why did the shooting officer grab Blake’s tee shirt while pumping seven rounds into his back?

Many questions. Few answers because it’s early in the investigation. Why then, I ask again, is the Wisconsin DOJ moving so quickly to release only incriminating evidence against Mr. Blake?

 

 

 

 

 

Kenosha – The Shooting of Jacob Blake

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.

https://bit.ly/34uOOnO

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.

https://bit.ly/34qr3xn

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?