The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
On Sunday, 29-year-old Jacob Blake was shot seven times by police officer Rusten Sheskey in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Sheskey shot Blake, who is black, from behind as Blake opened his car door — in front of his three children who were in the vehicle.
The shooting, caught on video, is another horrific example of excessive police force used against a person of color (it would be inexcusable against anyone of any background). Additional details released by authorities on Wednesday, including that a knife was found in the car and that officers previously tried to tase Blake, do not in any way justify what we can all see in that video.
“This is nothing new. I’m not sad. I’m not sorry. I’m angry. And I’m tired,” said Letetra Widman, Blake’s sister, during a press conference on Tuesday. “I haven’t cried one time. I stopped crying years ago. I am numb. I have been watching police murder people that look like me for years.”
The shooting comes three months after George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after now-former police officer and accused murderer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Along with Chauvin, three other officers have been charged as accomplices.
Officials say Sheskey was the only officer who shot Blake. All officers involved in that incident have been suspended. The U.S. Department of Justice has initiated a federal civil rights investigation.
Blake survived the shooting, but according to his family’s lawyers, is currently paralyzed and may never walk again.
“They shot my son seven times, seven times,” Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., said at the press conference. “Like he didn’t matter. But my son matters. He’s a human being, and he matters.”
Blake’s family has called for justice, for change, for a speedy and transparent investigation, and for people to refrain from violence and destruction. None of that is too much to ask.
America, too, remains paralyzed, by inaction as people of color are disproportionately killed by police. This paralysis is perhaps most obvious in Congress, where partisanship and election year politics derailed a much-needed federal push for police reform in June.
And our national discourse remains plagued by false choices and an aversion to nuance, as if recognizing the need for reform is somehow tantamount to abandoning police officers, or opposing an all-out defunding of police departments is somehow hostile to the push for a better and more just America.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The U.S. Senate can get back to work, and to send the Republican police reform proposal through the typical committee process so that senators have a chance to improve it and bridge some of the gap between that current bill and the more expansive reform legislation passed by the Democratic-conrolled House of Representatives.
Local governments can continue to assess their policing investments and policies, while not losing sight of the necessary roles that police officers play in communities. People can protest racial injustice and violence without demonstrations devolving into violence and destruction themselves, and without losing sight of the fact that we remain in a pandemic that can be fueled by large gatherings of any kind.
Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, said she noticed a lot of damage in the city — the result of protests escalating into violent unrest — when riding through it before Tuesday’s press conference. She emphasized that it “doesn’t reflect my son or my family.”
Despite her plea, the violence worsened Tuesday night. In another shooting with video evidence, two people were shot and killed and another was injured. Kyle Rittenhouse, a white 17-year-old, has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
“If Jacob knew what was going on as far as that goes, the violence and the destruction, he would be very un-pleased,” Jackson had said previously about her son. “So I’m really asking and encouraging everyone in Wisconsin and abroad to take a moment and examine your hearts. Citizens, police officers, firemen, clergy, politicians, do Jacob justice on this level and examine your hearts. We need healing.”
This is a process that requires both individual and collective soul-searching, and action at all levels of government. Congress should be setting the pace by resuming work and resolving differences on police reform. It will require creative leadership and some compromise, but that is what we should expect from Washington.
“Let’s use our hearts, our love, and our intelligence to work together to show the rest of the world how humans are supposed to treat each other,” Jackson added. “America is great when we behave greatly.”