Last Sunday, Rusten Sheskey, a white police officer in Kenosha Wisconsin, fired seven shots, at point-blank into the back of 29-year-old African American Jacob Blake as Blake leaned into his car. Inside the car were Blake’s three sons, aged 3, 5 and 8. While Blake miraculously survived, a viral video of the shooting, reminiscent of George Floyd’s police killing in Minneapolis, sparked an uprising in Kenosha against racism and police brutality. Police unleashed tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets to suppress the growing Black Lives Matter protests. A militia group dubbed The Kenosha Guard circulated a call on Facebook to “any patriots willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight from evil thugs” to “take up arms and lets defend our CITY!” Scores of armed white vigilantes answered the call, and one of them allegedly shot and killed two of the anti-racist protesters, seriously wounding a third.
The video of Jacob Blake’s shooting came not from a police body camera but from a bystander’s cell phone. “Kenosha city council passed an ordinance in 2017 requiring all officers wear body cams. But they never bought them,” civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Blake, tweeted. “They’re in the budget…in 2022. If it weren’t for a neighbor’s video, the police shooting of Jacob Blake would’ve vanished & no officers would be held accountable.”
This is not the first controversial police shooting in Kenosha. On November 9th, 2004, Kenosha Police stopped Michael Bell, a white 21-year-old man, in his car in front of his parent’s home. Bell dashed up the driveway, and was grabbed from behind by two officers who pinned him against a parked car. Another officer pulled his weapon, placed it against Bell’s head and pulled the trigger, killing him.
The Kenosha Police Department conducted its own review, completely exonerating the officers. Bell’s father, Michael Bell, Sr., commissioned an independent inquiry that found the police account suggested a coverup. The Bells launched a campaign that succeeded in 2014, making Wisconsin the first state to require outside investigators conduct investigations into police shootings.
That’s where the Jacob Blake investigation is now, under the supervision of the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis, while admitting he knows little about the investigation, did take the time during a Wednesday news conference to blame the murdered protesters for being out after the city-imposed curfew.
Online videos from Tuesday night implicate 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse as the killer of the two protesters. He has been arrested and charged with first-degree intentional homicide. Wisconsin State Representative David Bowen, speaking on the Democracy Now! news hour, said of the militia members who descended on Kenosha, “They were on a hunting spree, not protecting property.”
Rittenhouse’s social media accounts show an obsession with law enforcement and guns from a young age and strong support for Donald Trump. He posted a TikTok video from the front row of one of Trump’s last pre-pandemic rallies, at Drake University in Iowa last January.
“We will have law and order on the streets of this country,” Vice President Mike Pence promised at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday, as he accepted his renomination. “The hard truth is you will not be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
Pence invoked recent protests, but didn’t mention the underlying systemic racism and police killings that have provoked these historic demonstrations, and ignored the role of the rightwing militia in the Kenosha murders. When mentioning the murder of Federal Protective Services officer David Patrick Underwood during protests in Oakland, California, Pence conveniently left out the fact that Underwood’s killers were associated with the armed rightwing “boogaloo” movement who were using the Black Lives Matter protests as cover for their crimes.
Jacob Blake remains hospitalized in Milwaukee, reportedly conscious but paralyzed from the waist down, his prognosis uncertain. Blake hails from Evanston, Illinois, where his grandfather, also named Jacob Blake, was pastor of the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church and was active in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s campaign to desegregate housing in greater Chicago, redoubling his efforts after King’s assassination.
“The arc of the moral universe is long,” Martin Luther King said, “but it bends towards justice.”
Protesters are demanding that Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey be charged in Blake’s shooting. Peaceful protests continue, now joined by professional athletes. Pro sports ground to a halt Wednesday, led by the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, widening to include most of the NBA, Women’s WNBA, several Major League Baseball teams, pro soccer and even tennis. Just as Aaron Huber and JoJo Rosenbaum were doing when they were murdered in Kenosha Tuesday, these athletes and thousands from Kenosha and beyond are demanding justice for Jacob Blake, police accountability, and an end to systemic racism.