By Jaclyn Peiser, Mark Berman, Mark Guarino, Paulina Firozi and Griff Witte
August 24, 2020 at 9:18 p.m. CDT
KENOSHA, Wis. — Wisconsin’s governor on Monday called in the National Guard to help quell unrest after police shot an unarmed Black man in the latest incident this summer to stir cries of injustice and divide a nation over the urgency of bringing fundamental change to law enforcement.
Police shot Jacob Blake, who witnesses said had been trying to break up an argument between two women, as he walked back toward his silver SUV on Sunday, an officer trailing behind. As three of Blake’s sons looked on from the vehicle, the officer fired seven times toward Blake’s back at close range. The incident was caught on video, which immediately ricocheted across the Internet.
Blake remained hospitalized in serious condition on Monday, with family members saying he was expected to survive. The officers involved were placed on administrative leave.
The Kenosha shooting made the lakefront city of about 100,000 residents the new epicenter of a movement that has roiled America this summer, ever since video footage of George Floyd, fatally pinned beneath a Minneapolis police officer’s knee and pleading for air, circulated on Memorial Day.
Since then, cities from coast to coast have seen their streets filled with demonstrations, which in some cases have given way to violence and property damage. Activists have called for cities to cut funding to police departments, among other changes. Top Democratic officials have vowed to push through changes such as no-knock warrant bans and de-escalation training, while others — including President Trump and his conservative allies — have pushed back, arguing that police are facing unfair criticism.
The shooting in Wisconsin also sparked nationwide demonstrations. In New York, scores gathered in Manhattan, dozens convened in Washington, D.C. and hundreds gathered in Minneapolis, some marching through downtown holding signs reading “Justice for Jacob” and “Black Lives Matter.”
As has been the case with previous incidents, Sunday’s shooting drew sharply contrasting responses, with Democrats amplifying calls for reforms and Republicans suggesting they will continue to block key elements of the push.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said in a statement Monday that the country “wakes up yet again with grief and outrage that yet another Black American is a victim of excessive force.”
“This calls for an immediate, full and transparent investigation and the officers must be held accountable,” Biden said. “These shots pierce the soul of our nation.”
Trump — who has focused his reelection push on stirring fears about urban violence — did not immediately address the shooting. But in remarks on the opening day of the Republican National Convention, Vice President Pence made the administration’s sympathies clear.
Trump and the Republicans, Pence told cheering supporters, “will always stand with the men and women who serve on the thin blue line of law enforcement. We’re going to back the blue.”
A senior administration official said Attorney General William P. Barr is looking into the shooting and that Trump would be briefed on it.
The shooting comes just days before the Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network are due to lead a march on Washington to demand action on police brutality. In an interview, Sharpton said the incident will only galvanize the cause.
“That policeman’s life was never under threat, and yet he shot multiple times,” Sharpton said. “That’s why we’re marching on Friday.”
Sharpton said demonstrators would demand legislation to address the issue, saying that should be the ultimate aim of the movement.
“The only response worthy of the moment is laws,” Sharpton said, citing legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House and blocked in the Republican-led Senate as “a start.”
Still, criminal justice experts say there are limits to how much can be accomplished in Washington, given that the changes that are most needed lie within individual police departments.
“We see issues of crime and violence as a national problem when it’s really 18,000 local problems,” said John Roman, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.
The push for change is not only coming at the federal level.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) on Monday signed an executive order calling the state’s legislature into a special session for Aug. 31 to pass legislation that would ban no-knock warrants and chokeholds while requiring de-escalation training for officers.
“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 said in a statement. “We stand with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equity, and accountability for Black lives in our country.”
But resistance from Republicans, who control the legislature, leaves any prospects for new laws in doubt.
State Rep. Jim Steineke (R), who is majority leader in the Wisconsin State Assembly, urged other “elected officials to resist the temptation to rush to judgment” after the shooting, saying that “politicians’ statements or actions . . . can stoke flames of violence.”
Kenosha on Monday night was under curfew, with police saying the public had “to be off the streets for their safety,” following a night of anger and property destruction on Sunday.
As footage of Blake’s shooting spread Sunday on social media, a crowd gathered at the intersection in the racially mixed neighborhood where he was shot. Tensions quickly rose as more police officers arrived in riot gear and several police cars were damaged. Video recorded at the scene showed one officer being hit with a brick and collapsing.
As demonstrators moved to the Kenosha County Public Safety Building, police in riot gear arrived armed with rubber bullets and eventually sprayed tear gas at the crowd. Some protesters targeted garbage trucks that had been parked to block traffic, shattering the truck’s windows and setting them ablaze. Cars were also burned, and glass doors were smashed at a government building.
In a news briefing Monday, Evers called on people who demonstrate to “please do so peacefully” and asked them to wear masks and try to maintain social distancing, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The governor also said Monday that he was ordering the Wisconsin National Guard to Kenosha at what his office said was the request of local authorities. Evers called this “a limited mobilization” aimed at helping local first responders “protect critical infrastructure, such as utilities and fire stations.”
The shooting in Kenosha, a city located between Milwaukee and Chicago, occurred after 5 p.m. Sunday when officers responded to a domestic incident, police said. Video shows neighbors congregated outside while two officers with their guns drawn followed Blake as he approached the car. As Blake opened the driver’s side door, an officer can be seen tugging at Blake’s white tank top before multiple shots ring out.
A neighbor said Blake was attending his 3-year-old son’s birthday party on the lawn of his apartment building. The neighbor, a 23-year-old named Marie, who spoke on the condition that her last name not be used for fear of retaliation from police, said an argument began between two women at some point. When a police officer approached, Blake was standing near the silver vehicle in the street, and one of the women directed police to him, Marie said.
The officer “didn’t ask questions; he just grabbed” Blake, Marie said, and tried to use a Taser to stun him, which did not work. Then Blake walked to the front of the car, she said, and was shot by police.
After the shooting, Marie said, the women who were arguing blamed each other for the police arriving.
“He was a cool neighbor,” Marie said of Blake. “He was polite. Even if he had a problem with you.”
The Kenosha police and the Wisconsin Department of Justice did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment about Marie’s account.
Blake was taken by helicopter to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, police said. The hospital declined to comment.
Benjamin Crump, a civil rights lawyer who has represented the families of many people fatally shot by police, said Monday that he had been retained by Blake’s family.
Crump said in a statement that Blake’s “three sons witnessed their father collapse after being riddled with bullets.” According to Crump, Blake was “simply trying to do the right thing by intervening in a domestic incident.”
“It’s a miracle he’s still alive,” Crump said.
Police have not commented on what led to the shooting. By Monday afternoon, nearly a full day after the incident, public officials had released only scant details of what had happened.
Stella London, who lives in the area, and her daughters said Monday that they think Blake was breaking up a fight between two women over a scratch on one of their cars.
“It all came from a scratched vehicle. It’s just so sad,” said Sheila Winters, 65.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice is investigating the shooting, officials said. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul (D) said Monday that the department’s role is to independently investigate the shooting, pledging to “vigorously and fully investigate” what happened.
At a news briefing, Kaul said his agency would not make a decision about whether charges will be filed. Instead, that will be determined by the Kenosha County district attorney, Kaul said, adding that the state agency and the local prosecutor’s office will work closely together. The district attorney’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment about the investigation.
“We understand that there is a need for this investigation to move swiftly, and our goal is to move swiftly,” Kaul said at the briefing.
Kaul avoided offering specifics on the shooting, declining to say whether Blake was armed or how many officers might be under investigation. He said more details would be released in the days ahead.
Addressing protesters late Monday afternoon, Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian tried to appeal for calm and patience with “due process.”
But demonstrators shouted back. One urged the mayor to “address the problem immediately, based on proof, based on witnesses, based on proof that is visual. Play it back. You saw the cameras. He was shot seven times — one time was enough,” according to video from a CBS Chicago reporter.
As tensions rose, Antaramian retreated back into the public safety building. Some in the crowd tried to follow and were pepper-sprayed by officers at the entrance, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and chief executive of the King Center, said on Twitter that she was dismayed to see another video of a Black person being “brutalized and/or gunned down by police.”
“Anybody who doesn’t believe we are beyond a state of emergency is choosing to lack empathy and awareness,” King said.