GOP legislators say no police reform Monday. Trump coming to Kenosha Tuesday to praise police, not meeting with family.
Hundreds of fists simultaneously rose in the air at the request of Jacob Blake’s father Saturday as he demanded real legislative change for his son, who is hospitalized and is now paralyzed from the waist down after being shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer Aug. 23.
Jacob Blake Sr. then led the crowd in chanting “one person, one vote” ten times in a row.
“We are not going to stop going in the right direction. We’re going to the top you’all,” Jacob Blake Sr. told the crowd of several thousand gathered in front of the county courthouse in Kenosha. “We’re going to make legislation happen. That’s the only thing that they recognize.”
Blake Sr., who told the crowd he drove through the night from his North Carolina home to reach his son following the shooting, said his son recently grabbed his hand, told him he loved him, and then asked why he was shot so many times.
“I said, “Baby they weren’t supposed to shoot you at all,’” Blake Sr. said. “I know there are a lot of parents out here in this crowd. You cannot imagine what it feels like to look at your baby paralyzed from the waist down and shackled [to the bed]. They already put him in the bed. What was the shackle for?”
The political call to action rang clear at the Justice for Jacob march and rally. From Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee), to Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Blake’s relatives, and community members, the need to organize and vote was a central theme.
The call to political action is coming at a particularly divisive time. Police reform is becoming an increasing partisan issue. So is the rhetoric surrounding Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old from Illinois who has been charged in the shooting deaths of two men and wounding a third, at a rally Tuesday night in Kenosha.
From a Fox News anchor to Republican politicians, supporters of the self-proclaimed militia member have tried to claim he had a right to protect property in Kenosha even before Rittenhouse’s attorney claimed self-defense, while Democratic lawmakers are steering the conversation toward the shooting of Blake and the need for police reform.
“There are two justice systems. One for that white boy who walked down the street and murdered those two people and blew that other man’s arm off. And then there is justice for mine,” the elder Blake said. “The justice system for us does not work out too well for us.”
Adding fuel to the cultural fires are political elements that include an effort launched Friday to recall Democratic Gov. Tony Evers over the violence in Kenosha, the impending visit to Kenosha by President Donald Trump Tuesday to meet with law enforcement officers but not Blake’s family, and a special session on police reform set to begin at noon Monday. Republicans have said they will not show up Monday to debate the bills introduced by Evers and Barnes.
Instead the Assembly leader has created his own task force for reform, and Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, has introduced a separate set of bills on behalf of Republicans. Among other things, they include increasing the penalties for harming law enforcement officers.
“We’re not meeting. We’re opening the session,” tweeted Wanggaard Saturday roughly two hours before the Kenosha rally got underway at 2 p.m. “We can’t vote on my package unless there is an extraordinary session, or the Governor amends the special session call.”
Tim Mahone, chair of The Mary Lou & Arthur F. Mahone Foundation in Kenosha, echoed calls for political change.
“Get out and vote. We need new laws,” Mahone told the crowd. “We need new legislators and we need new bills.”
Elsewhere in Wisconsin, rallies were held to show support for Blake and continue the call for police and criminal justice reform.
In Eau Claire, 280 miles northwest of Kenosha, roughly 1,000 people marched from Randall Park to the Eau Claire County Courthouse.
“Breonna Taylor can’t be out here yelling. George Floyd can’t be. Jacob Blake can’t be either,” said 24-year-old Rachel Pride of Eau Claire. “But I can. We all have to do our part if we’re ever going to get this country to a better place.”
Naomi Hollard, 22, helped organize a rally that was held Saturday in Madison. She grew up in McFarland, a community southeast of Madison that has a predominantly white population.
“My brother, who’s darker skinned than me, he would always get pulled over by the cops in front of our house,” she told the Wisconsin State Journal. “Because of the color of our skin and how we look, we were seen as criminals.”
Ron Gaston, Blake’s uncle, pastor of the Temple Worship Center in Michigan City, Indiana, said he was shown the video of his nephew being shot while he was at work.
“My stomach just turned over,” he told the crowd Saturday.
He said seeing the thousands of people in front of him gives him hope that some good will come from the shooting of his nephew.
“We are standing here today and we will not sit down until change happens in this country,” Gaston said. “As a people, we will rise above racism and segregation.”
Barnes told those gathered in front of the Kenosha County Courthouse that he wanted to see the community come together in these numbers when “things aren’t so dark and bleak.” He said it is important for them to gather to celebrate, too, because that is how movements are formed to enact change.
“It is vitally important that we get out to vote,” Barnes told the crowd. “We have to look at Nov. 3 as a mile marker, not a finish line. We have to keep on going. We have to keep on fighting. We have to keep on organizing until justice is won.”