The scene is surreal even before it turns deadly: the officers wire-tense; Blake continuing on his way, head slightly down, leaning forward, with the air of a man trying to shut out a horrible distraction. Blake opens the driver’s-side door. One of the officers pulls on the back of Blake’s shirt in an attempt to restrain him. Blake gets into the car — and the officers, one of whom still has his hold on Blake’s shirt, shoot him seven times.
“Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!”
Then the car’s horn sounds, presumably because Blake has slumped onto the steering wheel.
According to attorney Benjamin Crump, who reportedly has been retained by Blake’s family, Blake’s three young sons were in the back seat and watched as their father was grievously wounded.
Blake was airlifted to a Milwaukee hospital and on Monday was reportedly in serious condition. The officers who shot him were placed on administrative leave. State officials launched an investigation.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) was quick with a righteous but ultimately unsatisfying response. “Tonight, Jacob Blake was shot in the back multiple times, in broad daylight, in Kenosha,” he tweeted. “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.”
Evers wrote that he stands “with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equity, and accountability for Black lives in our country” and “against excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with Black Wisconsinites.”
Those words are no help at all to Blake — and not much more to the rest of us.
Overnight, after the video was released, there were protests, “disturbances,” small fires set, some property damage. And there was the obvious question: Why do we have to go through this same cycle, again and again and again? Even after George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and all the rest?
And why are we still relying on chance documentation of these shootings? The officers involved were not wearing body cameras.
The video doesn’t show all of what happened before Blake headed for the car, and it’s shot from a distance. But what it reveals is enough. Without this cellphone clip, I’m guessing the police report would have spoken of “noncompliance” and “resisting arrest” and some sort of “threatening move” — and that, without evidence to the contrary, Blake might have been filed away as just another Black man who got what he undoubtedly deserved.
In the video, as Blake walks around the car, he is not seen to brandish or even possess any kind of weapon. His hands are by his sides or fumbling at his pockets. Yet the officers already have their guns drawn and aimed at his back. The only threat we see being presented, the only crime we see being committed, is Blake’s brown skin.
According to local reports, the officers were responding to a “domestic dispute.” Neighbors said that Blake was breaking up a fight between two women.
There’s a pattern here: Floyd was suspected of passing a fake $20 bill, and he paid with his life. Brooks fell asleep in a Wendy’s drive-through, and he paid with his life. Taylor was just sleeping in her own home, and she paid with her life.
The catalyst that turns what should be routine encounters with police into tragedies is racism.
Such has been the reality for African Americans since this nation’s founding. This is why the Black Lives Matter movement exists — and why it must persist. As long as there are police forces that act like armies of occupation rather than guardians of public safety, as long as there are officers who see the people who live in the communities they patrol as criminals rather than citizens, protesters will have to take to the streets.
Officials in Kenosha County declared a state of emergency Sunday night. But for African Americans, the emergency is permanent — and it threatens our lives.