Kenosha, Wisconsin, DA Graciously Declines To Press Charges Against Jacob Blake For Getting Shot In The Back
When there is an especially horrific police shooting like Jacob Blake's, there's a familiar rhythm leading up to the district attorney inevitably announcing that they won't seek charges against the officers involved. The police are put on standby for potential unrest, which is usually a great overtime opportunity for them. Then we hear the explanations for why what we all saw wasn't a crime.
Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer Rusten Sheskey shot Blake as Blake walked away from him during a domestic disturbance call. Seven bullets struck Blake in the back, paralyzing him. During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley declared that Sheskey had no choice.
Graveley said multiple times Tuesday that it was "incontrovertible" that Blake had a knife in hand when the incident occurred and that Blake admitted to getting a knife. Sheskey told investigators that he was unsure whether Blake was going to kidnap or hurt the child in the car.
"Officer Sheskey knows that an armed man with a felony warrant, who just forcefully resisted arrest, appears to be about to flee in a disputed vehicle, and there's at least one child in the back," Graveley said. "Those are all the facts that Officer Sheskey has, in the context of a domestic abuse case at the point he has to decide what to do next."
Shooting a person in the back is not what anyone should decide to do next, but it's particularly galling that Sheskey chooses to dress the violence up as consideration for the child he traumatized. Blake was attempting to leave with one of his three kids.
@Yamiche Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley: "No Kenosha law enforcement officer in [the Jacob Blake… https://t.co/ZfXMKukiLy— The Recount (@The Recount) 1609882028.0
Graveley did have some good news for Jacob Blake: He won't be charged for getting shot in the back. Hooray (denied)! It's tiresome hearing conservatives sing the “he's no angel" chorus to rationalize a police officer shooting someone seven times ... in the back. Kenosha officers don't have body cameras, but a bystander recorded the confrontation. Sheskey fired the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh shots casually, like he was playing Antebellum Duck Hunt. There is no evident fear for his life or the child in the car. Blake resisted arrest, and this was the payback. The police are entitled to arrest suspects, and Blake was entitled to his day in court. But if the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh bullet isn't excessive force, what is? How many would it take to be wrong?
The district attorney expressed deep remorse for the responding officers whose "entire careers, in fact their whole lives, have been judged by a few seconds." Yet, he just claimed that Sheskey had no choice but to act based on those few seconds. Besides, a “few seconds" is all it took to paralyze Jacob Blake.
Graveley wondered if "moments of tragedy like this be an opportunity to build things?" I'm not sure what he means. Is he talking about a pergola? Breonna Taylor's death was also called a “tragedy," but no officers were held criminally responsible. Black lives truly matter, and our deaths aren't simply inconvenient.
Coincidentally, Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two people and maimed a third, entered a plea of not guilty to all charges (and there were many) during an arraignment Tuesday. Rittenhouse, who lived in Illinois, took a field trip to Kenosha with his mother/accomplice this summer. His intent was to “protect" property during the unrest after Blake's shooting. He's a young white man who considers himself a “Blue Lives Matter" patriot and despite fleeing the scene after committing multiple felonies, he wasn't shot in the back. He was allowed to walk away, a privilege forever denied Blake.
Kenosha Sheriff David Beth said it was a “high-stress situation," and Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis claimed the officers had no reason to suspect that Rittenhouse, who looks 12 but was armed, had done anything wrong.
Rittenhouse is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and attempted first-degree intentional reckless homicide. Last week, when they thought we wouldn't notice, an additional charge was added for violation of curfew. Call me cynical, but I bet that's the only charge that sticks.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."