Kenosha, Wisconsin, became the nation’s latest flashpoint city in a summer of racial unrest after police shot and wounded a Black man, apparently in the back, as he leaned into his SUV while his three children sat in the vehicle.
Protesters set cars on fire, smashed windows and clashed with officers in riot gear Sunday night, while Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden immediately condemned the shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, who was hospitalized in serious condition.
Police in the former auto manufacturing center of 100,000 people midway between Milwaukee and Chicago said Blake was shot while they were responding to a call about a domestic dispute. They did not immediately disclose the race of the three officers at the scene or say whether Blake was armed or why police opened fire, and they released no details on the domestic dispute.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, representing Blake’s family, said Blake was “simply trying to do the right thing by intervening in a domestic incident.”
The officers were placed on administrative leave, standard practice in a shooting by police, while the state Justice Department investigates. And Kenosha County imposed an 8 p.m. curfew to try to head off another round of violence Monday night.
The shooting happened around 5 p.m. Sunday and was captured from across the street on cellphone video that was posted online. Kenosha police do not have body cameras.
In the footage, Blake walks from the sidewalk around the front of his SUV to his driver-side door as officers follow him with their guns pointed and shout at him. As Blake opens the door and leans into the SUV, an officer grabs his shirt from behind and opens fire while Blake has his back turned.
Seven shots can be heard, though it isn’t clear how many struck Blake or how many officers fired. During the shooting, a Black woman can be seen screaming in the street and jumping up and down.
News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson watched the video. He said it raises serious concerns about the police response.
“The question is, what’s in the car?” Jefferson said. “The keys to get away? Is there a weapon in there? Or what? So if your concern is for him not to get in the car, why not stop him before he pulls the handle and opens to door? You have the opportunity.”
Jefferson said that based on what he can see, he believes police made a mistake.
“This goes back to common sense,” he said. “You can have all the training in the world, but if you don’t have common sense, this can happen.”
Jefferson said it appears the three officers could have tackled Blake, handcuffed him or used a taser. And with police and minority relations already turbulent nationwide, this makes matters worse.
“It’s too early to understand why they shot him, but it’s not too early to understand that they didn’t have to,” Jefferson added. “They didn’t have to shoot him.”
Jacksonville’s Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Zona watched the video. In a statement, he wrote: “No one knows the facts yet other than what we can see on video. Videos is just one piece of an investigation. A complete and thorough investigation needs to be done before we will all know why this occurred.”
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the state’s Department of Justice is investigating the shooting after Kenosha police removed themselves from the investigation. The cellphone video is being reviewed as part of the investigation.
“While we do not have all of the details yet,” the govenor said in a statement. “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.”
Biden called for “an immediate, full and transparent investigation” and said the officers “must be held accountable.”
“This morning, the nation wakes up yet again with grief and outrage that yet another Black American is a victim of excessive force,” he said, just over two months before Election Day in a country already roiled by the recent deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. “Those shots pierce the soul of our nation.”
Republicans and the police union accused the politicians of rushing to judgment, reflecting the deep partisan divide in Wisconsin, a key presidential battleground state. Wisconsin GOP members also decried the violent protests, echoing the law-and-order theme that President Donald Trump has been using in his reelection campaign.
“As always, the video currently circulating does not capture all the intricacies of a highly dynamic incident,” Pete Deates president of the Kenosha police union, said in a statement. He called the governor’s statement “wholly irresponsible.”
Online court records indicate Kenosha County prosecutors charged Blake on July 6 with sexual assault, trespassing and disorderly conduct in connection with domestic abuse. An arrest warrant was issued the following day. The records contain no further details and do not list an attorney for Blake.
It was unclear whether that case had anything to do with the shooting.
Laquisha Booker, who is Blake’s partner, told NBC’s Milwaukee affiliate, WTMJ-TV, that the couple’s three children were in the back seat of the SUV when police shot him.
“That man just literally grabbed him by his shirt and looked the other way and was just shooting him. With the kids in the back screaming. Screaming,” Booker said.
Crump, the attorney who has also represented the Floyd and Taylor families, called the police officers’ actions “irresponsible, reckless and inhumane” and added: “It’s a miracle he’s still alive.”
In the unrest that followed, social media posts showed neighbors gathering in the surrounding streets and shouting at police. Some chanted, “No justice, no peace!” Others appeared to throw objects at officers and damage police vehicles. Officers fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.
In a scene that mirrored the widespread protests in recent months over police brutality and racial inequality, marchers headed to the Kenosha County Public Safety Building, which houses the police and sheriff’s departments. Authorities mostly blocked off the building, which officials said was closed on Monday because of damage.
Wisconsin’s Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke cautioned the public and elected officials against “racing towards judgment,” given how few details were known.
“The frustration & anger that many in our communities are feeling must be met with empathy, but cannot be further fueled by politicians’ statements or actions that can stoke flames of violence,” tweeted Steineke, who is white.
For more than 100 years, Kenosha was an auto manufacturing center, but it has now largely been transformed into a bedroom community for Milwaukee and Chicago. The city is about 67% white, 11.5% Black and 17.6% Hispanic, according to 2019 Census data. Both the mayor and police chief are white. About 17% of the population lives in poverty.
Like other cities across the U.S., Kenosha has been grappling with unemployment in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. Its unemployment rate was 10.8% in June, among the highest in the state.