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‘My son matters’: Jacob Blake’s family calls for officer’s arrest, peaceful protest

Shooting in Kenosha, Wis., drives new round of protests across the U.S.

Family members of Jacob Blake, the Wisconsin man who was shot at least seven times by police, reflected on the incident during a news conference on Aug. 25. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)

KENOSHA, Wis. — Anger-fueled protests radiated across the nation Tuesday as the family of a 29-year-old Black man shot in the back by police in this lakeside city demanded swift action to bring officers to justice.

In a highly emotional appearance two days after the shooting, Jacob Blake Jr.’s parents and siblings called for healing and peace following consecutive nights of violence. Julia Jackson, Blake’s mother, asked for Americans to show “how humans are supposed to treat each other.”

But the family also pinned responsibility for Blake’s grievous injuries on what they called a racist law enforcement system that brutalizes Black people, and they expressed dismay that his shooter had not yet been fired or charged.

They spoke as Blake — who was shot at least seven times, the bullets piercing his spinal column, shattering vertebrae and shredding vital organs — underwent emergency surgery. The shooting left the father of five young children, three of whom witnessed the incident, paralyzed from the waist down.

“It is going to take a miracle for Jacob Blake Jr. to ever walk again,” said the family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump.

“They shot my son seven times,” said Jacob Blake Sr., his father, at a news briefing on Tuesday afternoon, growing emotional as he spoke. “Seven times. Like he didn’t matter. But my son matters. He’s a human being, and he matters.”

Amid independent inquiry of Jacob Blake’s shooting, advocates question Wisconsin’s police reviews

That grim late-afternoon prognosis came as this modest Midwestern city of 100,000 prepared for a possible third night of violence and as cities nationwide braced for their own unrest.

An American summer ushered in with a mix of peaceful mass demonstrations and destructive riots in response to the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd appeared poised in the waning days of August to close with a similarly potent blend.

“I want them to stop killing us. Period,” said Tarcia Parker, a 36-year-old Black woman who works in health care and who was protesting late Tuesday afternoon in Louisville, a city that has its own high-profile shooting victim at the hands of police, Breonna Taylor.

Protests erupted nationwide Aug. 24 after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who was shot multiple times as he tried to enter his car. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)

The outrage over Blake’s shooting has been injected into the home stretch of a presidential campaign in which President Trump has sought to use fears of urban violence, portraying it as an existential threat to placid suburban living.

More than 48 hours after Blake was shot, Trump had yet to address the incident directly. But speakers at the Republican National Convention this week have repeatedly invoked burning cities, blaming Democratic leaders for allegedly letting mobs run rampant.

“It’s almost like this election is shaping up to be church, work and school versus rioting, looting and vandalism,” the president’s eldest child, Donald Trump Jr., said in his prime-time speech Monday night.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden, by contrast, called for a thorough, independent investigation of Blake’s shooting while sympathizing with the “grief and outrage that yet another Black American is a victim of excessive force.”

But Democrats have also sought to strike a delicate balance, associating themselves with the anger coursing through American cities and towns while distancing themselves from some of the most destructive outcomes.

In Kenosha, those have included burned buildings, ransacked stores and nights of apparent lawlessness as rioters have inflicted damage with few signs of a police presence.

Some who gathered in the city threw firecrackers, toppled streetlights, smashed storefronts and set fires, while police launched tear gas and fired beanbag-like projectiles.

The violence prompted Gov. Tony Evers (D) on Tuesday to declare a state of emergency in Wisconsin, a day after he called in the National Guard to protect high-profile sites in Kenosha.

“We cannot allow the cycle of systemic racism and injustice to continue. We also cannot continue going down this path of damage and destruction,” Evers said in a statement Tuesday. “There remains a line between peaceful assembly and what we saw last night that put individuals, families, and businesses in danger.”

He pledged an increased National Guard presence in Kenosha on Tuesday night, while local leaders again imposed a curfew.

Other cities also saw protests overnight Monday and, in some places, damaging unrest. Hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters gathered in downtown Los Angeles, while in New York, demonstrators convened in Times Square and marched downtown, some extending across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Protests erupt over the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin

Aug. 25, 2020 | People protest outside the Kenosha County Courthouse. (Joshua Lott for The Washington Post)

Police in Madison, the Wisconsin capital, said that a crowd was marching there and that some people began setting fires, breaking windows and looting businesses, leading to six arrests.

Authorities also reported dozens of arrests in three places — Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland, Ore. — that have been flash points throughout the summer.

There were still scant details about exactly what happened Sunday in the minutes before Blake was shot.

Police have said only that they were responding to a domestic incident. Neighbors said that there had been an altercation between two women at a birthday party for one of Blake’s sons and that Blake had been trying to break it up when officers arrived. Crump said Blake was “simply trying to do the right thing by intervening in a domestic incident.”

Blake was shot at close range by a still-unidentified officer as he opened the door to his silver SUV. The incident was caught on video by a bystander, and the footage quickly went viral.

The shooting is being investigated by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which has declined to say how many officers are under investigation or whether Blake was armed. The eventual decision about whether any officers will face charges following that inquiry will rest with the local district attorney, who declined an interview request Tuesday.

Crump linked the shooting to a litany of other cases that have fueled outrage over police actions, including Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Two days before Blake’s shooting, police in Lafayette, La., fatally shot Trayford Pellerin, a 31-year-old Black man, after responding to a call about a man armed with a knife, sparking several days of unrest

Lafayette Mayor Josh Guillory apologized on Monday and vowed a vigorous investigation into Pellerin’s death after he and other city leaders initially appeared to justify the officer’s actions.

But Crump also stressed the effect on the Blake family. He pointed to Blake’s three sons who Crump said were in the SUV at the time, including an 8-year-old who was celebrating his birthday.

Jackson, Blake’s mother, said the family needs prayers, with her son “fighting for his life.”

She urged people to protest peacefully, saying she had observed the damage left behind in Kenosha from the nights of unrest. “It doesn’t reflect my son or my family,” she said, adding that Blake would be unhappy if he knew about “the violence and the destruction.”

National civil rights leaders have also called for restraint. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who is leading a march against brutality in Washington on Friday, said in an interview that violence plays into the hands of Trump and other defenders of excessive police behavior.

“Exploding with violence will only make them say, ‘See, that’s why the police need to be violent,’ ” he said.

Large numbers of protesters in recent days have been peaceful.

On Tuesday, there were demonstrations in Louisville, where the police killing of Taylor has reverberated since March. At a bridge above railroad tracks in front of the University of Louisville’s mammoth football stadium, protesters held a sit-in and refused to move despite police orders.

“We don’t see no riot here — why are you in riot gear?” protesters shouted at police.

Interim Louisville police chief Robert Schroeder characterized the protests as “largely peaceful” but said 64 protesters had been arrested during the sit-in. Schroeder said police took the decision to form a line on the bridge to prevent protesters from reaching a busier road that leads to interstate entrances and exits.

But the tenor of some demonstrations has turned violent at night. The Hennepin County sheriff said that after a march in Minneapolis on Monday night, demonstrators broke windows at the county jail and 11 people were arrested.

“We fully support peaceful protests, but we cannot — and will not — allow demonstrators to destroy property or jeopardize the safety and security of our inmates, our deputies and our jail,” Sheriff Dave Hutchinson said in a statement.

In Portland, Ore., police said they declared a riot and arrested 25 people after some demonstrators set fires at a police union building overnight Monday. In Seattle, police said one person was arrested after part of a group damaged a police building and set a fire.

In Kenosha, demonstrations Monday night began peacefully, but clashes between officers and protesters erupted after the 8 p.m. curfew.

Outside a mattress store that had been looted and set on fire, Aldolfo and Julia Hernandez said their friend, a 70-year-old man who owned the store, had been beaten by looters.

“Nobody came,” Aldolfo Hernandez said, with his wife and daughter sobbing by his side. “It’s ridiculous. This is America. This is a national emergency. Where are the firefighters?”

Brick storefronts that had been looted — a hip-hop clothing store, a cellphone store, a tattoo parlor — were also in flames. Many people on the scene said the second floors of both blocks were apartments, mostly for low-income people, which meant at least 50 people would be displaced.

“I don’t think people should destroy anything, but the cops need to work for their money,” said Brandel Gordon, 26, a Black resident of Kenosha who said he was once a victim of police brutality. “There needs to be social reform in this city.”

Berman, Peiser and Witte reported from Washington. Tim Craig and Julie Tate in Washington and Josh Wood in Louisville contributed to this report.