Hundreds of protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin broke curfew last night after a 29-year-old Black man was shot by police. Graphic video footage shows police officers shooting Jacob Blake several times in the back as he tried to enter his car, inside which his three children were waiting.
Last night, as Blake lay hospitalized in serious condition, large crowds of demonstrators faced off against police officers in Kenosha's downtown area. As protests and fires raged for a second night, residents have spoken out against the state's history of state violence against Black people.
The latest incident of police brutality has become a rallying for demonstrators and residents who are demanding change after decades of pain and inaction. Meanwhile, 125 members of the National Guard were deployed against demonstrators last night in an effort to contain looting and protect property.
Below, we've broken down what happened to Blake and how it relates to Wisconsin's brutal history of mass incarceration, police brutality, and racialized surveillance.
What happened to Jacob Blake?
Blake is in a “serious condition” at a Milwaukee hospital. According to a statement from the state Department of Justice early Monday morning, the officers involved in the shooting had been placed on administrative leave. It is not clear why they approached Blake in the first place.
According to reports, officers were responding to an unrelated domestic violence dispute between two white women. According to a New York Times report, Blake had stopped next door to the apartment to deliver birthday gifts to his friend's 8-year-old son.
Graphic video footage taken from across the street shows several officers standing on a sidewalk next to a four-door S.U.V. Blake is seen walking along the passenger side of the vehicle, away from the officers, who are yelling. Here, at least one of them points a gun at him. Blake walks around the front of the vehicle and opens the driver’s side door. As he opens the vehicle door, at least half a dozen shots are heard, while at least two officers can be seen with their guns pointed at him.
Three of Blake’s six children — aged eight, five, and three — are believed to have been in the back seat of the car when the shooting took place.
Why are people protesting?
The footage of police shooting an unarmed Black man caused an immediate outcry to a community familiar with police brutality. Michael Bell Sr., whose son was fatally shot by a police officer in 2004, explained: “The system here is broken.”
Little has changed since 2016, when demonstrations turned violent in Milwaukee after police officers fatally shot Sylville K. Smith when he fled on foot after a traffic stop, or the year earlier when demonstrations erupted after police shot Anthony Robinson, a 19-year-old unarmed Black man. But the momentum of the Black Lives Matter Movement is bringing new energy to the community's call for change.
Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin said in a statement, “This movement has touched every corner of Wisconsin, and frankly, I should not need to call a special session when people across our state — from the streets of my small hometown of Plymouth to the streets of Milwaukee — are demanding their elected leaders take action." Evers announced a package of laws in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, but has since tweeted that lawmakers had "failed to act" in the two months since he announced the "common-sense policies."
What does it have to do with mass incarceration?
According to the Milwaukee Independent, "Wisconsin has the highest black male incarceration rate in the country. Half of African American men in their 30s in Milwaukee County have been in state prison." Wisconsin also detains people for parole violations at the third-highest rate in the nation. Arbitrary and overly harsh supervision regimes within a racist system have created an environment where Black people are overly surveilled with devastating consequences. And it's part of the reason why Black men such as Blake, Smith, and Robinson are routinely targeted by police.
The call to protest is as complex and historical as it is urgent. The continued unrest not only reflects the outrage at another killing of an unarmed Black man, it's also a response to mass surveillance and incarceration in a state with one of the worst disparities between black and white people in the country.
Community bail and bond funds are helping to end pretrial and immigration detention. You can donate to the Wisconsin fund and others around the U.S. here.
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