Months after the police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake, Jr., sparked widespread protests in Kenosha, Wisc., the city’s district attorney announced that the officer who shot Mr. Blake would not face criminal charges.
Countless people posted their frustrations to social media, while hundreds across the country demonstrated their disappointment through protesting. The Jan. 5 decision marked a somber start to the New Year, leaving the bitter taste of injustice in the mouths of many. But with the country’s history of injustice toward Black people, and the racial double-standards recent events have brought to light, some never expected charges in the first place.
A disappointing decision
Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheshky, 31, who is White, shot Mr. Blake in the back seven times at close range on August 23, while responding to a domestic incident. In the viral video recorded by a bystander, the 29-year-old father was followed by officers as he walked back to his SUV, where his young children and partner sat inside. Mr. Blake was reportedly carrying a knife. As the gunfire erupted, his children were forced to watch. Mr. Blake is currently paralyzed from the waist down.
Kenosha District Attorney Michael Graveley said during a Jan. 5 news conference that Mr. Sheshky would not face any charges. “It is my decision now, that I announce to you today before you, that no Kenosha law enforcement officer in this case will be charged with any criminal offense based on the facts and the laws,” Mr. Graveley said.
Mr. Graveley said Mr. Blake was resisting arrest and was armed with a knife, which could not be seen clearly in the video.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Blake family, released a statement soon after the decision was made. “We feel this decision failed not only Jacob and his family, but the community that protested and demanded justice,” the statement read.
William Muhammad, a student minister of the Nation of Islam in Milwaukee, Wisc., says this decision is just more insult to injury.
“It just tears off the scab of a wound that never is allowed to heal,” he said. “It causes insecurity, it causes anger, it causes distrust in the community. It worsens the relationship between the police department and the community, and between authority and the community.”
‘We already knew what they were gonna do’
Way before the decision came down, Jacob’s father Jacob Blake, Sr., says he and his family were already preparing their next move. “We were prepared for it. We already knew what they were gonna do,” he said.
Jacob Blake, Sr., has stood in the forefront of the fight for justice for his son. “We ain’t asking for nothing; we’re demanding everything,” he said. “We’re not going to D.C. with our hand out. We’re going to set a table and invite those to the table that we want to sit with. We’re not going bowing down, no, we’re going with demands. We help put Joe Biden in office. Where do you think those seven million votes came from?”
The Blake family also plans to file a civil rights lawsuit against the Kenosha Police Department. Jacob Blake, Sr., likened it to the case of Breonna Taylor, where officers were not directly charged, but were fired from the police department.
“[Mr. Shesky] needs to suffer from the consequences of what he’s done,” Jacob Blake, Sr., said.
Support for the Blake family has been felt from all around the country, even all around the world, Jacob Blake, Sr.. said.
The Marquette University men’s basketball team wore all black uniforms in support of Mr. Blake hours after the decision came down. The day after, from Miami, Fla., to Milwaukee, to Phoenix, Ariz., NBA players demonstrated by kneeling, linking arms, and several other tributes.
“I talked to endless players in the NBA. I talked to some brothers in Johannesburg (South Africa), some brothers in Cairo, Egypt, so we have to understand that what we’re dealing with is bigger than Jacob,” Jacob Blake, Sr., said.
‘A disgrace to America’
Dozens of people gathered in downtown Atlanta in support for Mr. Blake. Seven K3ys, a 21-year-old activist in Atlanta, said there were other smaller demonstrations as well.
“I was really just thinking like, we’re gonna have to figure out something else because we’ve been doing things for a long time,” he said. “That really was the main thing. Let’s find some solutions and quit talking about what the next person’s doing. … The police brutality is ramping up, the racism. The more we combat it, the more they combat us.”
Speak4Streets, an activist in Louisville, Ky., who has been active in the fight for justice for Breonna Taylor, said he was disappointed.
“They left a man paralyzed,” he said. “They left a man that got shot seven times in the back traumatized and he can’t really move as he wants to. He has to suffer a lot of things so for them not to charge the cops, it’s just a disgrace and we see how America treats Black people.”
The treatment of Black people is a stark contrast against the way White troublemakers have been treated, activists point out. One day after the Kenosha decision was announced, supporters of President Donald Trump stormed Capitol Hill as lawmakers certified President-elect Joe Biden’s win. Furthermore, activists charge, the way Kyle Rittenhouse was treated, the teenager accused of shooting and killing two people in Kenosha during a demonstration for Jacob Blake, leaves the feeling of a double standard.
“The way [Mr. Rittenhouse] was treated was really unbelievable,” Student Min. Muhammad said. “It was reminiscent of the White boy who sat in the church and shot all of our people in that church,” he said referring to Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old White supremacist who shot to death nine Black parishioners at Mother Emanual AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. Cops peacefully apprehended Mr. Roof and took him to Burger King prior to taking him to jail.
Cell phone video captured Mr. Rittenhouse carrying a semi-automatic rifle, walking with other armed White militia members and civilians who said they were protecting property from vandalism by protestors. Law enforcement officials were observed thanking the armed men and giving them water.
More video footage showed Mr. Rittenhouse firing his gun, as witnesses tried to alert law enforcement officials. Police passed by the White teen, with his gun still strapped to his body.
“The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has warned us that because of our refusal to come to grips with what must be done in this time, that the mask of civility will be removed from the White society and they would just show us who they are, they would show us their fangs. And to me, this is just the manifestation of that,” Student Min. Muhammad said.
Mr. Rittenhouse, now 18, is facing three homicide charges, accused of killing two men and seriously injuring another. According to the Associated Press, he pleaded not guilty to all charges during an arraignment Jan. 5 and is out on a $2 million dollar bail.
Jacob Blake, Sr., said what happened on Capitol Hill would have looked differently if the people were Black. “If those people were brown, you know what would’ve happened,” he said. “So we have to step and smash out all of this White supremacy.”
Speak4Streets echoed the same sentiment. “What happened in D.C was a disgrace to America, because if it was Black people, if it was Black protesters they would’ve hurried up and taken the National Guard out, they would’ve hit us with tear gas, arrested us,” he argued.
‘We’re still fighting for Jacob’
Speak4Streets says the fight doesn’t end with a refusal to charge Mr. Sheshky. “We still are fighting for Jacob Blake and everybody else and Breonna Taylor … and a lot of other people that have been killed by the police,” he said. “We all have to come together, and we all have to fight if we want to see change and if we want to see justice in the city.”
Seven K3ys says Black people have to look out for one another. “We need a little more proactivity,” he said. “We should be making sure that we’re taking care of each other, like looking out for each other.”
Clarence Nicholas, president of the NAACP Milwaukee branch, says the Taskforce on 21st Century Policing created by former President Barack Obama in 2014 is needed now more than ever. “They need to be well-trained, they need good interpersonal skills, community interaction, training, all types of human relations training,” Mr. Nicholas said. “They are helping [to] protect the individual communities and not to police per se in an inhumane way, or any type of way that they consider that they need to do themselves.”
As the fight continues, Mr. Blake’s family continues to deal with the physical and emotional trauma that August day brought to their family.
“[His children] are holding up, doing the best that they can,” Jacob Blake, Sr., said. “It’s not a good experience for any of his family, any of his brothers or his sisters.”
He says his son is doing the best he can in his condition, but his head is always high. “His spirits are always good. Always. But the pain is not always good,” he said.