The Life and Death of Jacob Blake

By: Nick Virnich

Within the past month, numerous protests starting in Kenosha, Wisconsin and spreading from there have erupted following the police shooting of 29-year-old family man Jacob Blake on the night of Aug. 23. After being shot at seven times, with four of the bullets going into his body, Jacob Blake was lucky enough to survive, leaving his body completely paralyzed from the waist down. Protesters, as well as counter-protesters, poured into the streets over the next few days, resulting in one incident where a 17-year old Illinois counter-protester was charged with homicide in connection with the shootings of two demonstrators in Kenosha. There are still many conflicting details around Blake’s shooting, but many believe that no one should ever be mistreated by the police due to the color of their skin, especially in Jacob Blake’s case when he was shot at seven times in front of his own children, despite the fact he was posing no serious threat.

Jacob Blake was raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, before moving to Evanston, Illinois to finish off middle school and high school. A few years ago, Blake decided to move to Kenosha for a better life and to pursue his career in mechanics. His uncle, Justin Blake, stated “It was a safer location, he could work and try to save and build a better life.” After three years of living in Kenosha attempting to build a happy life, Jacob Blake would not have expected his life to change so drastically on the evening of Aug. 23 this summer.

In July, a warrant was issued for Blake’s arrest following charges of third-degree sexual assault due to a complaint filed by his ex-girlfriend. On the night of Aug. 23, the same woman dialed 911 to report that he had arrived at her home unannounced. State officials said that the police officers were responding to what they claimed to be a domestic complaint. 

Once the officers arrived they attempted to arrest Blake and used a taser on him with no effect, claiming he had admitted to possessing a knife, which was later found on the floorboard of his car. In a statement, the group representing the police claims that Blake had tried to resist his arrest, fought with the officers, and refused to give up his knife. Ben Crump, a lawyer representing the Blake family, denied that Blake was armed with his knife during the exchange with the cops and said Blake had been trying to break up a dispute involving two women.

A video recorded by one of the neighbors shows Blake walking away from the police towards his car to check on his children followed by the policemen drawing their weapons on Blake as he tried to escape to his car. Kenosha officer Rusten Shesky, who had been hanging on to Blake’s shirt, opened fire on him seven times, hitting him four times in the back. Investigators have yet to explain why Shesky shot so many times or why the other officers did not also shoot at Blake. The three cops who confronted Blake have been put on administrative leave while the investigation of the shooting continues.

Blake’s fiance Laquisha Booker spoke with Milwaukee ABC affiliate WISN offering a different account of the incident. Booker told them that two of her and Blakes’ kids were in the car when Blake was shot, and claimed the police threatened to shoot her as well when she tried to intervene. Booker told WISN that she had never called the police, and that Blake had not been armed during the scene at all. “It doesn’t make sense to treat someone like that,” Booker told the ABC News.

Blake was hospitalized from his injuries, and police said Blake had to be secured to his hospital bed with restraints due to his sexual assault charges. The restraints were eventually removed, followed by Blake’s arrest warrant being dropped when he posted bail. Blake’s family said he is paralyzed from the waist down, and on a video posted to Twitter, Blake said he had staples along his back and abdomen. “Every 24 hours, it’s pain — it’s nothing but pain,” Blake said in the video. “It hurts to breathe. It hurts to sleep. It hurts to move from side to side. It hurts to eat.” While in the hospital, Jacob Blake also pleaded not guilty against the charges made by his ex-girlfriend in a virtual-court appearance.

On Aug. 26, three days after the incident, the Justice Department of Wisconsin opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting. Following the widespread sharing of Jacob Blake’s video on social media, protests erupted in the heart of Kenosha and in other major U.S. cities, as well as within the professional sports world. Numerous professional athletes in the NBA, WNBA, and MLB refused to participate in their games in order to take a stand. Demonstrators gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, where Blake’s grandfather, also named Jacob Blake, addressed the crowd. Blake’s grandfather at the time was a civil-rights leader and pastor at his local church in Evanston, Illinois.

In Kenosha, the rage from the citizens peaked during the first nights of the protests, as people burned down buildings and cars and threw fireworks and bricks at police officers, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. On the night of Aug. 25, as protestors crossed paths with counter-protestors– including an armed militia group claiming to protect the area from looters that showed up– three people were shot by one of the members of the armed militia group. White 17-year-old Kyle Wittenhouse was arrested at his house in Illinois and charged with the homicides and attempted homicide of the three protesters that were shot. 

Police brutality is one of the most talked-about and hot-button issues in our country right now. In order for citizens to make informed decisions, rather than decisions based on emotions, it is crucial that we examine the facts such as those outlined above. Jacob Blake had a record, but the question remains if that record was relevant or even known when the police moved forward with violent actions. The evidence from the video seems to show Blake was posing no serious threat towards any of the officers, and was simply trying to make sure his children were safe. We must approach these kinds of cases with facts, and an open-mind towards all sides of the story. The public should question if these details are relevant to the case at hand, and if anything this man did could justify being shot in the back.