Sheriff's deputies stand outside the fenced-off Kenosha County Courthouse Monday afternoon.
Sheriff's deputies stand outside the fenced-off Kenosha County Courthouse Monday afternoon. Authorities erected fences around government buildings and barriers on main downtown thoroughfares ahead of the announcement that the district attorney would not criminally charge the officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

“We don’t need a two-hour explanation for what our eyes can see,” said a Blake family attorney.

The Kenosha County district attorney took four months to put together a two-hour presentation on why he would not file charges against the police officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back. But to B’Ivory LaMarr, an attorney for the Blake family, the long wait did nothing to change what he and millions around the world saw in a short video of the Aug. 23 incident.

“We don’t need a two-hour explanation for what our eyes can see,” LaMarr said Tuesday after the announcement that Officer Rusten Sheskey wouldn’t face criminal charges. “It takes 20 seconds to watch that video to find probable cause, and it took them over four months to find a reason to ignore it.”

To much of the country, Blake’s shooting served as yet another grisly reminder of police brutality and systemic racism, coming just three months after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Tuesday’s decision only reinforced the feeling for many that the criminal justice system lets police operate above the law.

“In 2021, it shows one very important thing,” LaMarr said. “And that is there are three justice systems in America. There’s one for Black and brown people, one for police officers, and one for the rest of America.”

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Gravely, who in a Tuesday news conference repeatedly referred to the shooting as a “tragedy” for all involved, said he couldn’t disprove that Officer Sheskey acted in self-defense. 

Gravely said an investigation from the Wisconsin Department of Justice found that, before cameras started rolling, Blake wrestled with Sheskey and withstood three Taser hits. Blake allegedly had a knife at the beginning of the fight, which he dropped in the scuffle; however, Gravely said, Blake picked the knife up and held it as he went to leave in a vehicle.

Sheskey followed Blake to the driver’s side of the vehicle, and, in Gravely’s interpretation, Blake allegedly twisted and appeared to swing his knife at Sheskey before the officer opened fire. Blake’s alleged twist isn’t visible on bystander video, but two civilian witnesses reportedly confirmed he twisted toward Sheskey before the shooting.

“They didn’t have to shoot me like that,” Blake told investigators, according to Gravely’s 87-page report on his decision. “I was just trying to leave and he had options to shoot my tires and even punch me, tase me again, hit me with the night stick.”

“There was no deescalation, and we believe that shooting an individual seven times while walking away from the officer is nothing less than intentional,” LaMarr said. “We believe that all the elements of attempted homicide were met.”

Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, said the family plans to speak with federal lawmakers to see what nationwide criminal justice reforms can be made.

“This needs to be handled at a federal level,” Justin Blake said. “It needs to be investigated at a federal level, and taken to the feds so we can change some laws so our African descendants can live in peace.” 

Police originally responded to the scene after Blake’s ex-girlfriend reported he was trying to take her car and crash it, according to call logs Gravely played during the conference. Sheskey and two responding officers then tried arresting Blake on an outstanding warrant; Sheskey shot Blake just one minute, five seconds after police arrived. 

Blake is now paralyzed from the waist down.

The shooting set off days of unrest in Kenosha, ultimately resulting in a right-wing self-described militia member from Illinois fatally shooting two protesters and wounding a third as the nation’s attention focused on the southeastern Wisconsin city. Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old shooter, pleaded not guilty to homicide charges on Tuesday just hours before Gravely’s announcement.

Use-of-force and police reform consultant Noble Wray, a former Madison police chief, was brought in as a consultant on the case in September. He said during Tuesday’s news conference that Sheskey’s actions were justified because Blake was “extremely actively resisting” officers, but Wray later said the shooting was disturbing.

“No society should ever accept that,” Wray said of the shooting. He advocated for better law enforcement strategies to avoid police shootings and killings.

Gov. Tony Evers, in a statement, was sympathetic toward Blake and said Wisconsin has “failed to deliver” on calls for racial justice.

“Today’s decision is further evidence that our work is not done—we must work each day in earnest toward a more just, more fair, and more equitable state and country, and to combat the racism experienced by Black Wisconsinites,” Evers said.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes echoed LaMarr’s sentiment about having ample video evidence to charge Sheskey.

“What is video evidence anyway if they just watch it and interpret things other than reality?” Barnes tweeted. “Police accountability is one thing, but there’s a much deeper failure that allows a person to see the footage and ultimately determine nothing went wrong.”

Several dozen protesters made their way through Downtown Kenosha Tuesday night. The Kenosha News reported the marches were peaceful.

A separate federal civil rights investigation into the shooting is ongoing, US Attorney Matthew Krueger said Tuesday.

LaMarr said he and his fellow attorneys on Blake’s legal team are considering bringing forth civil action.

“It just shows that we have a lot of work to do,” LaMarr said. “We won’t stop, and it doesn’t stop here.”