KENOSHA, Wisconsin—Hours after authorities vowed “justice” for the police shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, cops deployed tear gas on protesters gathered in the heart of the city in defiance of an emergency curfew and the arrival of the National Guard.
By midnight, several buildings were in flames, including the Community Corrections Division and a yard full of used cars.
Shortly before the descent into chaos, the uncle of the Black man struggling for his life after being shot a day earlier expressed gratitude for the massive outpouring of support.
“Thank God he’s alive—stable, but serious,” Justin Blake told The Daily Beast. “We appreciate everyone coming out tonight for my nephew... We’re gonna keep protesting until we get justice.”
Blake’s 33-year-old cousin Herman Poster told The Daily Beast that Blake was “pulling through” and was in surgery on Tuesday morning to see if doctors could “get some nerves to work.”
“He’s paralyzed from the waist down,” Poster said. “They’re saying it’s a 50/50 chance he’ll walk away.”
Blake’s father, Jacob Blake, told the Chicago Sun-Times that his son had “eight holes” in his body and doctors didn’t know yet if the paralysis would be permanent.
A video of the shooting recorded by a bystander appeared to show a Kenosha police officer shooting Blake several times at point-blank range as he tried to get into a van with his children on Sunday. Immediately after the video was posted on social media that evening, protesters took to the streets in outrage, with some setting fires and vandalizing parts of the city.
“Justice will be served and people will be held responsible for their actions, and we will get to the truth,” Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian insisted during a Monday press conference. “We need to listen to each other... Right now, I’m afraid we’re having trouble doing that.”
The unrest continued Monday, as dozens of angry residents tried to force their way into the city’s public safety building before a scheduled press conference, knocking a door off its hinges before officers in tactical gear flooded the area and unleashed pepper spray on the crowd. Anticipating further protests on Monday evening, Antaramian confirmed the Wisconsin National Guard has been deployed to Kenosha and a citywide curfew has been enacted starting at 8 p.m.
By 5:30 p.m. local time, hundreds of protesters had gathered downtown, where they chanted, “Say his name: Jacob Blake,” and “No justice, no peace.” One of the young people who led the crowd was Milwaukee native Isaiah Sharpe, speaking into a megaphone as he marched.
Sharpe saw the video of Blake being shot on Facebook the night before and rushed to Kenosha, he explained. He said protesters planned on remaining peaceful, but that the police presence might complicate that.
“We don’t do nothing, we ain’t touching y’all so there’s no reason to throw smoke bombs at us and shoot us with rubber bullets,” he said. “It’s peaceful.”
When the start of curfew came and went at 8 p.m., protesters showed no sign of backing down. Organizers told the crowd they had heard Blue Lives Matter counter-protesters were on the scene, and urged protesters to remain peaceful and to look out for children. At one point, a car surged into the crowd and was abruptly stopped by activists, igniting angry shouts as the crowd chanted, “Black lives matter,” under an overpass, the words echoing ferociously. The crowd continued to march, forcing the car back, defiantly chanting, “Black lives matter.”
As tear gas was deployed near the county courthouse, the bulk of the protesters continued to march onwards, unbothered by police, around 9 p.m. local time. Kenosha native Emily Taylor said she wasn’t allowing the threat of violence from police to stop her from marching.
After all, cops deployed tear gas and rubber bullets at her and other protesters the previous night, she recalled.
“I’ve come close [to] being hit before,” Taylor told The Daily Beast. “It’s become less and less scary.”
By 9:30 p.m., at least one fire had broken out on a garbage truck, as protesters braced for the deployment of National Guard troops. Around 10 p.m., protesters had settled into hurling water bottles and bricks at the phalanxes of law enforcement.
Just before 10:40 pm, the remaining protesters took shelter behind a homemade barricade of umbrellas, scraps of wood, and street signs.
“We are here to peacefully protest,” said a protester into a megaphone.
Just before 11 p.m., a group of medics entered Civic Center Park to treat wounded protesters when police fired a plastic projectile at them that appeared to be a rubber bullet.
“I was trying to set up cover for the medics center and they [police] shot me in the foot with a plastic charge,” said Tony Brown, a street medic. “It’s ridiculous.”
Another medic echoed his sentiment.
“We’re trying to help people and they’re hurting us,” said Anthony Marin.
Just after 11 p.m., several buildings were seen in flames, including the Community Corrections Division, B&L Office Furniture, and vehicles at Budget Motors car dealership.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said Monday the state’s Justice Department was “vigorously” investigating the shooting—which occurred just three months after the grisly police killing of George Floyd—and “will unwaveringly pursue justice.” Kaul, however, said the DOJ was not yet releasing the identity or number of officers involved in the incident. He added that while the police have dash cams, the officers involved do not wear body cameras.
“We are going to vigorously and fully investigate the facts in this case,” Kaul said, before refusing to confirm whether Blake was armed during the encounter. The Kenosha County District Attorney also stressed Monday that possible charges in the case will come “as soon as possible.”
The Kenosha Police Department has released few details about the shooting, but noted officers were responding to a domestic incident at 5:11 p.m. on Sunday before they “were involved in an officer-involved shooting.” In the video, Blake can be seen walking to his car while being followed by two officers with their guns drawn. When he went to open the driver’s side door, one officer grabbed his shirt, while the other fired at least seven shots at Blake’s back. Blake’s then seen slumped over the steering wheel.
“Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times in front of his children. And let me be clear, 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. Mandela Barnes, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, said in a Monday morning press conference. “The officer’s deadly actions attempted to take a person’s life in broad daylight.”
Authorities confirmed that Blake was taken to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. Civil-rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the Blake family, said Monday that Blake’s three sons were in the car when he was shot and that the 29-year-old was in stable condition in the ICU. The lawyer added that Blake’s prognosis remained unclear.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Monday also 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. Continuing to condemn Blake’s shooting, Evers added the bill package, introduced this summer, was meant to bolster transparency and accountability in law enforcement with “common-sense policies” that “put the lives of Black Wisconsinites above politics.”
“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,” Barnes added.
The Kenosha Professional Police Association, meanwhile, defended the officers involved in Sunday’s incident, calling Evers’ decision to condemn law enforcement “wholly irresponsible.”
"As always, the video currently circulating does not capture all the intricacies of a highly dynamic incident,” Pete Deates, the union’s president, said in the statement. “We ask that you withhold from passing judgement until all the facts are known and released.”
More than anything else, the protests amounted to another community demanding it be heard after a summer of spectacular unrest over police violence against people of color in America.
When she saw the video of Blake being shot on Sunday, Kenosha resident Candice Martin was on a shift in Waukegan, Illinois, where she works in home healthcare. She said the shooting took place about ten blocks from where she and her husband and their 14-year-old son Marshaun Otis live. When Otis wanted to attend protests on Monday, she agreed.
“We’re here on behalf of the fact that he’s a young Black man living in this world and one day, I’m gonna have to leave and he needs to know,” she told The Daily Beast.
Otis said marching on the streets empowered him.
“A lot of people care about Black people,” he said, sounding surprised. “And I appreciate that.”