Jacob Blake and the Divided American Justice System
BY: Dima Kiwan
With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, both Americans and those watching closely from across the world are aching over the inhumane treatment of Black people by police. This pain, anger and frustration persist as the country responds to the police shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 23rd.
More than one bystander recorded the incident on cellphone video that went viral, leading many to question the exact context of the shooting and offer varying perspectives as to what went wrong. In the video, during a confrontation and attempted arrest, Blake is seen opening his car door and leaning in before officer Rusten Sheskey of the Kenosha Police Department fires at least seven shots to his back, leaving Blake paralyzed from the waist down.
According to a 911 dispatcher report, these officers were responding to a domestic incident and claims from a complainant that Blake had stolen her keys and refused to return them. The officers then provided first aid before Blake was transported to a trauma center in Milwaukee. As Blake is currently hospitalized in stable condition, the shooting is under investigation by the Wisconsin DOJ and two of the police officers involved have been placed on administrative leave.
Jacob’s family has since retained high-profile civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who confirmed that three of Blake’s children, aged only three to eight years old, were inside the car when the shooting occurred. According to Crump, Blake pulled over to try and de-escalate a fight between two others, and the officers scuffled and tased him unprovoked within three minutes of arriving on the scene.
An eyewitness filming the incident confirmed this narrative, claiming that before he began the video, one officer was violently punching Blake in the ribs while another had him in a headlock. The same witness also heard an officer command Blake to “drop the knife” despite the fact that he never saw Blake holding one. However, on the 26th, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announced that a knife belonging to Blake was recovered at the scene, specifically in the driver’s side front floorboard of Blake’s car. Kaul also added that Blake “admitted that he had a knife in his possession”, even though his lawyer disputed these claims in a statement.
As for the officers’ perspective, the Kenosha Police Union tells a very different story. In a statement released on the 28th by Brendan Matthews, a lawyer for the Kenosha Professional Police Association, the union claims that Blake was violent with the officers, putting one in a headlock and refusing to drop his knife. The statement also adds that two attempts to stun Blake with a Taser before drawing their firearms were both unsuccessful.
Additionally, before arriving on the scene, the officers were aware that Blake had an open warrant for arrest related to charges of domestic abuse, felony sexual assault, trespassing and violating a restraining order. For this reason, he remained handcuffed in the hospital until he was able to post a bond.
While the exact circumstances of the incident remain relatively vague to the public, this shooting sparked raging protests in the town of Kenosha. Peaceful rallies and marches quickly turned into widespread violence, arson and property damage. The anti-police sentiment intensified even further when the Rittenhouse videos and story went viral.
Kyle Rittenhouse is a 17-year-old white teenager who arrived in Kenosha on the third night of protests from out-of-state armed with an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle, which is illegal at his age. Earlier in the day, video evidence captured Rittenhouse casually talking with police, who gave him water and a high-five. The gunman supposedly went to Kenosha to “protect a local business”, yet he shot two people dead in the streets and injured a third. In another video, after committing these two homicides, Rittenhouse is seen walking past law enforcement officers and freely returning to his home state of Illinois before getting arrested there, much later. In other words, he was ignored, let alone considered an immediate threat.
For many, this direct comparison unequivocally confirms the racism entrenched in the American justice system. While Rittenhouse walked free after murdering two people, Bake was shackled to his hospital bed despite being partially paralyzed. Even though Blake is also accused of a serious felony, it must be noted that even accused criminals have rights under the American Constitution. It goes without saying that these two men were not treated equally, let alone afforded the same rights.
Jacob Blake’s father emphasized this dangerous and radical difference at a Washington rally, claiming that “there are two systems of justice in the United States, there is a black system and a white system and the black system isn’t doing so well.”
Especially since the police killing of George Floyd earlier this year, this reality has taken over social media as people open their eyes to racial injustice. What happened to Jacob Blake certainly reignited demands for completely reformed policing and justice systems across America. Many have had enough, and it appears that until there are legitimate justice and accountability, there will be no peace.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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