Police shooting of Jacob Blake sparks nationwide protests

Seriff’s deputies line up to guard the Kenosha County courthouse during a protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake. (Reuters)


In the wake of the largest upsurge against police brutality and state repression in recent memory, another young Black man has been brutalized by police. Jacob Blake Jr. (29) was shot at least seven times by officers on Sunday evening, Aug. 23, in Kenosha, Wis.

Within hours of the shooting, angry protesters took to the streets, and the protests have spread throughout the country, despite violent attacks by cops, National Guard troops, and murderous right-wing vigilantes. In an unprecedented move, professional athletes have also joined the protest by boycotting their games. The movement that exploded after the killing of George Floyd in May has now found new energy.

Kenosha protesters. (Dave Goldman / AP)

Disturbing video footage of the Kenosha incident shows two officers following Blake around his minivan. One of them, Rusten Sheskey, grabbed his shirt, and then shot him repeatedly in the back as he opened the driver’s side door to check on his children. Onlookers screamed in horror and were pushed aside by the officers. Inside the car sat Blake’s three children, aged 3, 5, and 8 years old.

According to Blake’s attorney, Ben Crump (who has represented victims of high-profile police brutality cases including Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor), Blake was “breaking up a fight between two women” and “simply trying to do the right thing by intervening in a domestic incident” that the police had arrived to respond to. From the video, it appears likely that the police saw a Black man, profiled him as the perpetrator of the fight instead of someone trying to help, and based on this racist assumption, shot him.

Bullets passed through Blake’s stomach, arm, and spinal cord, shattering some of his vertebrae and leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. He’s currently hospitalized in Milwaukee, and has been receiving surgery on almost a daily basis.

Doctors are unsure if the paralysis is permanent, but Crump said in a statement that “it is going to take a miracle for Jacob Blake Jr. to ever walk again.” Nevertheless, Blake’s family remains hopeful and has expressed gratitude for the doctors that have been working around the clock to help him recover (in a field of work already under pressure from COVID-19, no less) as well as for the outpouring of community support.

“Thank God he’s alive!” said Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake. “We’re just praying for a great recovery.” Justin Blake stated that his nephew was shot merely for “the crime of being Black.” He demanded that the police officer who shot Blake be arrested and charged with attempted murder.

Thousands across the country have expressed support for Blake and his family. Countless community groups have released statements, organized actions, and shared Blake’s story. On Aug. 26, all NBA playoff games were cancelled after Milwaukee Bucks players initiated a walkout in protest against racial injustice and the Blake shooting. Sports commentator Kenny Smith left the set in the middle of the broadcasting of the “NBA on TNT” show, saying, “As a Black man and a former player, I think it’s best for me to not be here tonight.” Several major league baseball games were also cancelled as part of the protest.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka announced that she would not take part in the Aug. 27 Western & Southern Open semi-final match. “Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman,” she wrote in a social-media post. “And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis. I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.”

Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, who have been in the streets for days, were beaten, tear-gassed, and pepper-sprayed by cops. Then on Aug. 25, Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager who idolized the police and served as a police cadet, shot three protesters, killing two. Rittenhouse’s frame of mind can be seen in his social media posts, headlined “BLUE LIVES MATTER” and “Trump 2020.” He came to Kenosha as part of a gun-toting right-wing militia that was opposing the protesters in order to “protect our lives and property.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the militia is linked to a group called The Kenosha Guard. Video footage shows police officers fraternizing with the militia members, offering them water, and thanking them for their presence.

On Monday Aug. 24, one day after the shooting, over 700 protesters took to the streets of Manhattan to stand with Blake and against the police. In Jacob Blake’s hometown of Evanston, Ill., about 150 gathered to express support. Many residents remember that it was Blake’s grandfather, also named Jacob Blake, who organized marches resulting in a ban on racist housing discrimination in Evanston following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In Philadelphia, protesters marched through the central city, chanting, “Silence is complicity with white supremacy!”

Following the tragic murders of Breonna Taylor in March and George Floyd in late May, the nation and globe have been ablaze with protests. The senseless violence committed by police against Jacob Blake—and scores of other people of color in recent years—have fanned the flames of anti-police militancy. Researchers state that some 15 million to 26 million took part in Black Lives Matter marches in the last three months. Protesters have also demanded justice for Trayford Pellerin, who was killed by cops in Lafayette, La., just a day before Blake was shot. And there are countless other victims of police violence whose stories are yet to be told.

It should be no surprise that police departments are pervaded by racism. The main job of the police is to use violence or the threat of violence in order to protect the capitalist system and to make sure that it functions without hindrance. And people of color are a major component of the poor and oppressed people that cops are assigned to control. That’s why Socialist Resurgence joins the call for the police to be abolished.

The current protests have taken place against the backdrop of the televised Republican National Convention, where a dominant theme has been expressing solidarity with the cops while blasting Black Lives Matter protesters. Trump’s tweeted comments on the shooting of Jacob Blake urged sending the National Guard and federal operatives to police the protesters in order to “restore LAW and ORDER!” On Aug. 27 at the convention, Pence accepted the vice presidential nomination by declaiming that “law and order are on the ballot.” South Dakota Gov. Krisi Noem repeated the pro-police mantra, stating that the country has been “overrun by violent mobs” who threaten “good, hard-working Americans.”

In the meantime, while Biden and other Democratic Party politicians have expressed sympathy for the Blake family and called for an investigation of the shooting, they have resisted the growing demand to “disarm, defund, and abolish the police.” Both capitalist parties stand for maintaining the status quo, and for that they need the police at full strength. Only by building a mass movement independent of the Democrats and Republicans can meaningful change be brought about.

For more commentary on the role of the police, see this recent statement by the Revolutionary Socialist Network: http://www.revolutionarysocialist.org/on-the-police/

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