Family responds to pre-announcement moves: “What is the National Guard for? They gonna deliver mail? They got ice cream cones?”
The white police officer in Kenosha who shot a Black man seven times in the back last August will not face criminal charges, the Kenosha County district attorney announced Tuesday afternoon.
Officer Rusten Sheskey’s shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23, captured on bystander video, left Blake paralyzed from the waist down and set off violent protests in the city.
The unrest following Sheskey’s shooting of Blake ultimately included the killing of two people and the wounding of a third by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse who on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to criminal charges and is claiming self-defense.
Blake’s father thinks local officials tipped their hand on Monday as they prepared for potential unrest.
“You think about it. Think about how it looks,” Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., said late Monday afternoon. “What is the National Guard for? They gonna deliver mail? They got ice cream cones?”
Gov. Tony Evers dispatched 500 Wisconsin National Guard troops to the city Monday at the request of local law enforcement. Police placed road barriers on main downtown thoroughfares and erected fences around the Kenosha County Courthouse and Public Safety Building, which saw major clashes between police and protesters in August. The Common Council approved emergency powers Monday night for Mayor John Antaramian.
The Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department is under emergency staffing rules, according to WTMJ-TV, and the Racine Journal Times reports that police in neighboring Racine County are on standby to help with protest response.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley said Tuesday that he “would have to disprove the clear expression of these officers that they had to fire a weapon to defend themselves.”
He added: “I do not believe the state … would be able to prove that the privilege of self-defense is not available.”
Graveley said he had informed Blake of the news before a news conference to announce the decision.
Ben Crump, an attorney for Blake’s family, expressed disappointment with the decision, saying it “further destroys trust in our justice system” and sends a message that it is OK for police to abuse their power. He said he will continue to move forward with a lawsuit and fight for systemic change in policing.
Gov. Evers responded with a statement saying, in part, “Over the past year, our state and country have witnessed a movement—one that echoes hundreds of years of movements that have come before it, demanding justice, equity, and peace for Black lives. What is just as clear today as it has been is we have failed to deliver on these promises, both as a state and as a country.”
Blake’s shooting, just three months after Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, set off a wave of protests across Wisconsin and beyond, and garnered national attention in the homestretch of the 2020 presidential campaign.
Now, with no criminal charges being filed in another American police shooting , the nation’s eyes are once again on the city of about 100,000 on the southeastern Wisconsin shores of Lake Michigan.
Blake’s father, his uncle Justin Blake, and local activists led a march and candlelight vigil Monday evening to call for justice for the 29-year-old, who was shot in front of his children as he walked away from three police officers who tried to arrest him on charges for which he was ultimately sentenced to probation.
The Blakes and local activists who spoke at the march and vigil called for peaceful demonstrations, no matter Gravely’s decision.
“We want everybody to come out, make as much noise as you want,” said Tanya McLean, executive director of Leaders of Kenosha. “But we don’t want any destruction of property, businesses. We don’t want anyone harmed. We want everyone to return home the same way they left. So again, we’re for nonviolence. Anything else is just not acceptable for this community.”
The ACLU of Wisconsin on Monday called on Kenosha officials to protect protesters’ First Amendment rights during a new wave of demonstrations. The ACLU accused law enforcement of giving preferential treatment to white nationalist militia members while targeting social justice marchers during the summer protests, and the organization warned officials against doing so again.
Officers were caught on camera thanking so-called militia members for their presence and giving a bottle of water to Rittenhouse, a self-described militia member.
Gaige Grosskreutz, who was shot and wounded, and the parents of Anthony Huber, who was killed, have filed for $20 million in damages against the City of Kenosha and Kenosha County for police and sheriff’s deputies’ actions during the protests.
A freelance New York Times photographer is also seeking damages from multiple southeastern Wisconsin law enforcement agencies after an officer shot her in the hand with a rubber bullet, according to the Kenosha News; the New York Times asserted the officer intentionally targeted the photographer.
Blake is ‘our new hero’
Blake survived the initial police shooting, but the seven bullets left him paralyzed; Justin Blake said Monday that his nephew is doing well in his recovery.
“Mentally, he’s on top of the world,” Justin Blake said. “He’s our new hero.”
Justin Blake said his nephew is dedicated to his physical recovery and is doing well in therapy.
“If anybody can walk again one day, it’ll be my nephew,” he said.
The August shooting helped highlight that police brutality and deeply systemic racism aren’t just issues affecting Milwaukee and Madison, the state’s two largest cities. Kenosha, like Milwaukee and the state as a whole, has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation.
In response to the shooting, Evers and fellow Democrats pushed police-reform bills that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) promptly ignored. Vos instead formed a task force on general racial disparities in Wisconsin; seven of the task force’s 28 citizen members gave it generally positive reviews last month in interviews with UpNorthNews.
President-elect Joe Biden called for Sheskey to be charged, while outgoing President Donald Trump wielded the destruction wrought by a handful of violent protesters as a dog-whistle for his supporters. Both candidates visited the city in the week after the shooting.
Activists at the march said protests cannot stop with just one charging decision. They set their sights on getting more progressive-minded individuals in political office and on ending qualified immunity, the doctrine that grants police broad authority to operate above legal consequence.
“The way to change those laws, is to change the seats,” said Porche Bennett-Bey, founder of United As One and one of TIME Magazine’s “Guardians of the Year” for 2020. “Don’t let nobody just force you to pay attention to who your president gon’ be, because he ain’t got no power. He can’t help you change nothing that’s going in your city, in your community.”
[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated. The Associated Press contributed to the updated report.]