There is a sickening deja vu — think Rayshard Brooks, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Walter Scott — to watching the 20-second clip of video footage of Sunday’s incident in which Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot multiple times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wis. Mr. Blake was fortunately not killed, but was reported to be in serious condition after undergoing surgery. Two unidentified police officers were placed on administrative leave while the incident is under investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Certainly there are unanswered questions and the need for thorough investigation. Also no question that the destruction that occurred as protests turned violent early Monday cannot be condoned. Calls by Mr. Blake’s family and others for peaceful protest should be heeded.
But frustration and anger over how Black people are treated by police who seem to think they can act with impunity are understandable. Police were apparently responding to a domestic disturbance, and Mr. Blake, according to witnesses, was trying to break up a fight when the incident turned lethal. A video by a bystander shows Mr. Blake, wearing a white tank top and black shorts and appearing to be unarmed, walking around the front of an SUV with two officers a step or two behind him; at least one of them has his gun trained on Mr. Blake’s back. As Mr. Blake enters the driver’s side, one officer grabs the tail of his tank top and at least half a dozen shots can be heard. Numerous people can be heard yelling and a woman standing nearby jumps up and down in anguish. Inside the car were three children — ages 3, 5 and 8.
Why did officers draw their guns on an apparently unarmed man walking away from them? What threat did he present that justified use of lethal force? Shouldn’t the presence of three small children in the car underscore the need for caution? Some have argued on social media in the police’s defense that Mr. Blake may not have been complying with orders, and a tweet by a right-wing commentator that was shared by Donald Trump Jr. alleged Mr. Blake had a criminal record. Neither noncompliance with a police order nor unconnected past crimes justifies a death sentence, and it is inexcusable to try to use those excuses. Enough is enough.