Jacob Blake's family holds emotional press conference as protests enter third night

Amid national uproar, demands grow for transparency from Kenosha, Wisconsin law enforcement

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 26 August 2020 05:33
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Jacob Blake's family give emotional comments following police shooting

Protests continued for a third night in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as demonstrators demanded justice and transparency from a police department that has released scant details – including officers’ names – in the wake of a police shooting that has left a black man paralysed.

Fences were erected around the city’s federal courthouse as police in riot gear descended on the city’s downtown on Tuesday, facing another night of demonstrations amid growing national unrest over the state of American policing.

The small city in Wisconsin has attracted national scrutiny following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man, captured on widely shared video entering a car as officers fired several rounds into his back.

Two Kenosha Police Department officers involved in the case have not been identified. In the department’s only statement following the shooting, Kenosha police merely described an “officer-involved shooting”. The Wisconsin Department of Justice has confirmed the officers were placed on administrative leave.

But Wisconsin officials have faced growing pressure from residents and criminal justice advocates to name the officers amid national outcry for law enforcement reforms following months of protests against police brutality galvanised by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Mr Blake reportedly had tried to break up a fight on Sunday and was leaving the scene when police arrived. Video filmed by a neighbour across the street shows Mr Blake getting into his SUV as police draw weapons and fire several rounds.

Three of his children were reportedly inside the car at the time.

None of the officers were equipped with body-worn cameras, a policy that the city has not embraced over budget concerns for its 200 officers.

Mr Blake’s father, also named Jacob Blake, told reporters on Tuesday that the shooting amounted to “senseless” attempted murder.

“They shot my son seven times” he said, holding back tears. “Seven times. Like he didn’t matter, but my son matters. He’s a human being and he matters.”

Adria-Joi Watkins poses with her second cousin Jacob Blake in a photograph taken in September 2019

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, also representing the family of Mr Floyd, said it would take a “miracle” for Mr Blake to walk again.

Mr Crump said he is “struggling to sustain his life and to hopefully become some resemblance of the man he once was.”

The family’s attorney Patrick Salvi said that a bullet may have struck Mr Blake’s spinal cord as he detailed his extensive damages from the shooting.

“He has holes in his stomach,” he told reporters. “He had to have nearly his entire colon and small intestines removed. He suffered damage to his kidney and liver and was also shot in the arm.”

A GoFundMe arranged by his mother has collected more than $1m in donations to support medical bills and legal aid, as of Tuesday night.

In her calls for prayer and reflection, Mr Blake’s mother Julia Jackson addressed the rest of the country, gripped by unrest as it struggled with decades-long violence against black Americans by police, and urged demonstrators to protest “peacefully and safely” to halt a cycle of violence.

“As I pray for my son’s healing – physically, emotionally and spiritually – I also have been praying, even before this, for the healing of our country,” she said.

“As I was riding through here, through the city, I noticed a lot of damage,” she added. ‘It doesn’t reflect my son, or my family. If Jacob knew what was going on as far as that goes, the violence and the destruction, he would be very unpleased. 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.”

Law enforcement officers stand behind shields during a protest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on 25 August.

By Tuesday night, sparks and smoke from fireworks and water bottles tossed by protesters were met with tear gas and rubber bullets, as police blasted sirens and demanded demonstrators adhere to an 8pm curfew.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers also declared a state of emergency and doubled the National Guard presence on Tuesday after growing unrest.

“We cannot forget the reason why these protests began, and what we have seen play out over the last two nights and many nights this year is the pain, anguish, and exhaustion of being black in our state and country,” he said in a statement. “As I’ll reiterate today, everyone should be able to exercise their fundamental right – whether a protester or member of the press – peacefully and safely. We cannot allow the cycle of systemic racism and injustice to continue. We also cannot continue going down this path of damage and destruction.”

Mr Evers has called for Wisconsin lawmakers to hold a special legislative session to take up a series of police reform-related measures on 31 August.

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