This is a developing story.
KENOSHA, Wis. – Jacob Blake. In what has become an all too familiar headline in America, another Black man, a 29-year old father of five, a friend and a fiancé, was shot and wounded by police on Sunday afternoon.
After reportedly breaking up a domestic dispute, a now-viral video captured Blake leaning into his SUV when an officer shot him seven times in the back at close range. Three of his children were in the backseat. Miraculously, Blake survived the shooting. But, his father told the Sun-Times Monday that he was paralyzed from the waist down, with doctors still unsure whether or not the damage is permanent.
During a summer that has been marked by unrest, both in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the coronavirus pandemic, Kenosha is the latest city to take to the streets with calls for justice, police reform and racial equity.
The city of about 100,000 people, just an hour north of Chicago, erupted into chaos Sunday night following the news of Blake’s shooting. Protestors set trucks ablaze, smashed windows and clashed with officers in riot gear. Wisconsinites woke up Monday to a very different Kenosha than the day prior.
In a 1 p.m. press conference on Monday, Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes immediately condemned the shooting. “This was not an accident. This wasn’t bad police work. This felt like some sort of vendetta being taken out on a member of our community,” Lt. Gov. Barnes said. “The irony that isn’t lost on me is that Jacob Blake was actually trying to de-escalate the situation in his community. But the responding officer didn’t feel the need to do the same.”
They also announced Executive Order #84, calling the Wisconsin State Legislature into a Special Session on policing accountability and transparency. The session is slated to convene at noon on August 31.
Soon after, Mayor John Antaramian had planned to meet with reporters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse to discuss the shooting. But, the news conference was moved to inside the Kenosha Public Safety Building about a block away at the last minute. According to Sun-Times reporters who were on the ground at the time, protestors tried to get inside the building, damaging one of the doors in the process. They were met with police in protective gear who pepper sprayed the crowd, including several journalists, as was reported by the Sun-Times‘ Ashlee Rezin Garcia.
A bunch of photogs, including @olsongetty, got pepper sprayed just now while protesters were trying to get into the Kenosha Public Safety building where the mayor is holding a press conference. pic.twitter.com/dFjhZgxTLn
— Ashlee Rezin Garcia (@Ashlee_Rezin) August 24, 2020
The day’s events prompted Gov. Evers to call in 125 members of the Wisconsin National Guard to assist law enforcement in Kenosha. A city-wide curfew of 8 p.m. until 7 a.m. was also enacted.
By about 5:30 p.m., a group of protestors on foot and in car caravan had gathered at the intersection of Sheridan and 52nd street. Those on foot had formed a circle around several speakers, who again reiterated the pain of seeing another Black man killed by police in the United States.
The group marched south on Sheridan towards the Kenosha County Courthouse, which had already been damaged Sunday night. The street was scarred with burnt buildings alongside the remnants of an incinerated used-car lot. There was a notable lack of police presence during the march, with officers primarily guarding the Kenosha County Jail and courthouse.
The courthouse, which would later become the epicenter of contention throughout the night, was guarded by officers outfitted in riot gear. The first face-off with protestors remained largely peaceful, with protestors young and old expressing pain, frustration and disgust with law enforcement.
Xavier Wallace, a 30-year old photographer from Kenosha, said he was working at his part-time DoorDash job down the street from where Blake was shot Sunday night. “The incident that happened [Sunday] is an outrage,” he said. “Not just for myself but for everyone here. The news sees it as another story, but for us, we’re just tired.”
From what Wallace said he saw and heard at the scene, Blake was just trying to break up a fight. When officers arrived, Wallace said, Blake tried to tell them he wasn’t involved, but was soon met with tasers. The rest of the story has, by now, become infamous. “Pray for the family,” Wallace said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white or whatever. This man was shot in front of his kids.”
Across the street from the courthouse at Civic Center Park, folks gathered to listen to speakers. There were families with young children, water and snack stations, and even poster-making supplies. Many of the speakers emphasized the importance of engaging with local and national politics in upcoming elections.
“This is what good trouble looks like,” Carl from EX-Incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO) said, quoting John Lewis. “I want everyone to get out of here before [the police] start doing stuff we don’t like.”
For the next hour before curfew, the group weaved between residential streets and the boarded-up downtown area. Neighbors clapped and waved from their porches, driveways and rooftops. One man even played his trumpet for protestors as they walked past.
As time ticked closer to curfew, the city seemed to be preparing for less-peaceful protests. A user on Twitter reported that I-94 off ramps in Kenosha County appeared to be blocked by trucks, and Emergency Alerts were sent out to smartphones in the area warning that Kenosha was in a State of Emergency. The Kenosha Police Department also issued reminders via Twitter about road closings and curfew, telling the community to stay off the streets.
When night fell, the protest quickly turned. As journalists issued live updates via Twitter, it became obvious that there were two separate groups of protestors. It is unclear when or how the group split, but as one group stopped at an intersection to discuss safety, the other was getting teargassed at the courthouse. The group of protestors who were not at the courthouse had originally intended to walk to the police precinct; however, upon hearing what had happened, changed their course.
There seems to be two different protests happening in #Kenosha tonight. I am covering a group that is walking towards the police station. They have remained peaceful with organizers consistently doing safety checks. There looks to be another group that is not the same case for. https://t.co/SiqKkVo5UP
— Madison Muller (@g0ingmad) August 25, 2020
At the courthouse, it was chaos. The police line that was guarding the entrance earlier had doubled in size — now flanked by National Guard vehicles. Volunteer medics who were set up north on Sheridan, would soon be treating severe injuries as the standoff continued to escalate.
Fireworks and plastic water bottles that were thrown at law enforcement were answered with tear gas, rubber bullets and concussion grenades. Some fireworks caught fire on the frame of a truck that had crashed the night prior, quickly setting it ablaze. “It’s going to blow up! The truck is going to blow up!” Protestors screamed.
The next few hours saw law enforcement and protestors engaged in a deadly standoff. When protestors would approach or throw objects at the police line, they were swiftly answered with warning sirens, teargas and the sound of pellets making contact. The opaque teargas clouds made green laser sights from guns terrifyingly visible. Several protestors seemed to be severely injured, with medics transporting them to the hospital and rendering emergency aid.
In the midst of the chaos, Jacob Blake’s uncle, Justin, came to Civic Center Park to speak with protestors. He had driven up from Chicago’s South Side, where he lives. “Go home, be safe. Get home to your families tonight,” he said. He told reporters that Jacob’s condition was “stable but serious.”
As the group of protestors thinned, the sounds of sirens and concussion grenades only increased. Soon, another fire burned south on Sheridan making the air thick with smoke for blocks. As Kenosha descended into its second night of pain and destruction, by Tuesday morning the downtown area would be unrecognizable. Gov. Evers announced Tuesday that he would be calling more National Guard members to the city.
The ability to exercise First Amendment rights is a critically important part of our democracy and the pursuit of justice. But there remains a line between peaceful assembly and what we saw last night that put individuals, families, and businesses in danger.
— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) August 25, 2020
In the face of insurmountable pain and anguish, Americans seem divided about which is the right way forward. Julia Jackson, the mother of Jacob Blake, addressed the public on Tuesday afternoon to discourage the looting and destruction that has taken place over the last two nights.
“If Jacob knew what was going on he would be very unpleased. So I’m really asking and encouraging everyone in Wisconsin and abroad to take a moment and examine your heart,” Jackson said.
Madison Muller is the Assistant Digital Editor at Better. A recent graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, she approaches our contemporary media environment with compassion and candor. She is interested in writing about the intersectionality of social justice issues in marginalized communities and environmentalism. Madison proudly supports Action Now, a community organization that empowers and uplifts residents on Chicago’s West Side.
She also encourages reading and supporting The Marshall Project, a non-profit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.