KENOSHA, Wisconsin—Police officers shot a Black man in the back early on Sunday evening as he got into a car with his family.
Witnesses said the man, later identified as Jacob Blake, had been trying to break up a fight when police arrived at the scene. Blake went to get into his vehicle when one cop grabbed him by the back of the T-shirt, and at least one opened fire. Seven shots were heard as bystanders screamed in horror.
Neighbors immediately confronted police as Blake was rushed to the hospital and a small protest grew quickly as footage of the shooting went viral. By midnight, vehicles were ablaze and windows were smashed by hundreds of demonstrators downtown.
Blake’s condition was described as “serious” on Sunday night.
An eyewitness told the Daily Beast that she saw a police officer fire his gun at Blake from close range. “He just started shooting him in the back, right in front of his kids,” said Adriana Ornelas, 34.
Ornelas lives a block away and heard the sound of gunfire. She said she witnessed the final three shots. It is unclear if all of the shots were fired by one officer; video of the incident shows two other cops following Blake as he got into the SUV.
“I was so confused,” Ornelas said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
She said the scene quickly turned chaotic, describing a group of officers rushing an officer who fired the shots into a waiting squad car, which sped away. Protesters assembled immediately, later throwing bricks and bottles at police, who answered with tear gas.
Dayna Laurenzi, 35, another neighbor, told The Daily Beast that Blake had not been part of a fight, which apparently broke out at around 5 p.m. outside a 20-unit apartment block that has neat lawns and an American flag fluttering in front.
“He had nothing to do with the fight,” said Laurenzi. “He was like, ‘I’m gonna get out of here, and get my kids out.’”
Ben Crump, the civil rights lawyer who has worked on the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor cases, said Blake’s three sons were in the car he was getting into when he was shot.
“They saw a cop shoot their father,” tweeted Crump, who is representing Blake’s family. “They will be traumatized forever.”
A spokesman for the Kenosha Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the Wisconsin Department of Justice said the officers involved in the shooting had already been placed on administrative leave.
“Tonight, Jacob Blake was shot in the back multiple times, in broad daylight, in Kenosha, Wisconsin,” Governor Tony Evers wrote on Twitter. “While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.”
By 11:30 p.m., the shooting scene had emptied out, but remnants of the horror remained: a large pool of blood in the street, broken glass, and yellow police tape. A pink bike with training wheels sat idly on the sidewalk across the street from the shooting scene near a purple Big Wheel, reminders of the constant presence of kids playing in the mixed-race neighborhood, which residents describe as safe.
Protesters moved downtown, where a crowd of a few hundred walked around the grassy boulevards and parkland of the lakeside city. A garbage truck set ablaze shot flames 20-feet high just outside City Hall and a police station.
Just after midnight, the sound of shattering glass and gas tanks exploding in burning vehicles dominated the scene as a group of young men destroyed the facades of downtown businesses. Despite a curfew, they did so unimpeded by police. At least one helicopter circled above.
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Trae Waynes, a Kenosha native, tweeted that he was “embarrassed” to say he is from the city, which is about 40 miles from Milwaukee.
In a statement on Monday, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called for an “immediate, full, and transparent” investigation, and the dismantling of systemic racism. His former primary rival, Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, tweeted that the cops who shot Blake should be “fired, arrested, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
In a press conference, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers called for a special legislative session to take action on several bills aimed at reducing police brutality in the state, including a ban on police chokeholds and no-knock search warrants.
“Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times in front of his children. And let me be clear, this was not an accident," added Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the state's first Black lieutenant governor. “This wasn’t bad police work. This felt like some sort of vendetta being taken out on a member of our community. The officer’s deadly actions attempted to take a person’s life in broad daylight.”
He added: “We know that we can’t remedy the white supremacy and systemic racism that is built into all of our systems in just a couple years or with any package of legislation, but that doesn’t mean we don’t act. It doesn’t mean we stand still.”
The Kenosha incident comes two days after a Black man was shot dead by police in Lafayette, Louisiana, as he walked away from officials—another confrontation that was captured on video.
Cops fired 11 bullets at Trayford Pellerin outside a gas station while responding to a report of a disturbance involving a knife-wielding man.
Lafayette police said Pellerin walked away from them as they approached to arrest him and was not stopped by a Taser.
“They did my brother wrong,” Treneca Pellerin wrote on Facebook.
The NAACP and the ACLU decried the Pellerin shooting.
Back in Kenosha, residents were still coming to terms with such a rapid escalation into violence.
“He was good people, a family man who took care of his kids,” said Dan Cienki, 68, of Blake. “I just called him ‘Bro’ from the first time I met him.”
Cienke said he had been neighborhood block captain for the area for eight years, previously managing the apartment complex outside which the shooting occurred. He got to know Blake because he lived across the street and the man was a fixture in the summer, playing outside with his kids, Cienke recalled, adding that Blake cut his grass occasionally.
“This is the first bad incident in the 20 years I’ve lived here,” he said. “Something happened, and all hell broke loose.”
With reporting by Pilar Melendez
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove a tweet that was from a Tony Snell fan account, not Snell himself.