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Nevada Today

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Why Was Jacob Blake Shot?

On Sunday, Jacob Blake was injured and paralyzed by four of the seven gun shots that Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer Rusten Sheskey fired at his back. 

Just two days later, Kyle Rittenhouse killed two people and injured another, and he apparently walked away from the scene of the crime without Kenosha Police noticing or caring.

In case you’re still wondering why the Black Lives Matter movement is still a thing, wonder no more.

First, a brief recap of this brutal, horrifying summer of “American Carnage”

It’s becoming easier and easier with each and every day for us to lose track of all the officer-involved shootings targeting Americans of color. Remember Ahmaud Arbery? He died in February. Remember Breonna Taylor? She died in March. Remember George Floyd? He died in May.

Remember Metro Police’s alarming crackdown on the Las Vegas Black Lives Matter protests, a crackdown that ended with one dead man, one injured police officer, and several more protesters who were attacked by officers’ tear gas? That was in June.

And now, it appears that this summer of “American Carnage” is ending roughly the same way it began. While the nation and the world are now noticing institutionalized racism in Kenosha, Wisconsin, it’s no surprise to the locals who were suffering under this institutionalized racism long before the national TV camera crews and “prestige newspaper” reporters arrived in town.

Why Kenosha? Why Wisconsin (and Illinois)? Why now?

As the great American author and educator Dr. Maya Angelou once told Oprah Winfrey, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Long before this week, Kenosha and the overall Chicago-Milwaukee megalopolis have been plagued by decades of segregation and white supremacist activity. Last year the Southern Poverty Law Center detected 15 hate groups in Wisconsin, with 10 of them being explicitly white supremacist. Just to the south of Kenosha, Lake County, Illinois, agreed to a $20 million settlement in 2015 for the 1992 wrongful conviction and imprisonment of Juan Rivera, a settlement that at the time was the largest in U.S. history. 

Heading back to Kenosha, County Sheriff David Beth was on record declaring in 2018, “I think society has come to a point where some people are not worth saving. We need to build warehouses, put them into it, and lock them away for the rest of their lives.” He said this after five suspects were arrested for the theft of $4,800 worth of merchandise and a car crash that resulted in zero injuries.

Contrast that with Kenosha Police merely placing Rusten Sheskey on “administrative leave” for shooting and paralyzing Jacob Blake less than three minutes after they arrived on Sunday. So far neither Sheskey nor anyone else faces criminal charges or further disciplinary action, though the State of Wisconsin and the U.S. Justice Department are now investigating this case. And contrast that with Kenosha Police’s incredibly laissez-faire attitude towards Kyle Rittenhouse violating the city’s curfew rule, brandishing his gun in front of police officers, shooting three people, and successfully fleeing to Lake County, Illinois, where he was ultimately arrested yesterday.

So what will we do about this?

Even worse, this disparity between how the victims are portrayed versus how the perpetrators are described has spilled into the national media. On his Fox News show last night, Tucker Carlson essentially excused the pro-Trump and “Blue Lives Matter” Rittenhouse of his actions because, according to Carlson, “They had to maintain order when no one else would”. And beyond Fox, we’re seeing reporters and pundits rush to conclusions over a knife found in Jacob Blake’s car (as in, it was in the car, not on his body!), yet Rittenhouse is described as some kind of “baby-faced vigilante” for shooting three people and killing two of them.

Even though local Black Lives Matter activists have been trying to protest peacefully, violence continues to plague Kenosha thanks to white supremacist groups organizing actions in Kenosha and the possible deployment of federal agents to target the Black Lives Matter activists akin to President Donald Trump’s deployment of federal agents in Portland, in D.C., and elsewhere earlier this summer. And for all of Trump’s and his apparatchiks’ “law and order” rhetoric at the Republican National Convention this week, it appears that Kenosha locals are having to mostly fend for themselves in coping with the chaos.

We need to stop pretending that any of this is “normal”. We need to stop pretending that this violence is not rooted in institutionalized racism. We need to stop lecturing black and brown Americans to “behave” because we prefer to pretend that “racism isn’t a problem any more”. And yes, we need to stop lecturing anyone and everyone who’s been warning of this rising tide of authoritarianism for the past five years (or longer) by chiding their “hysteria”. Black lives always matter, the future of American democracy matters, and the lessons to be learned in Kenosha most definitely matter right here and now.

You have constitutional rights, regardless of what anyone claims. If you are in need of legal assistance, check with the Legal Aid Center of Southern NevadaWashoe Legal ServicesVolunteer Attorneys for Rural Nevadans, and the Nevada Supreme Court’s Self-help Center. If you’d like to help during this time of need, check out Justice for Jacob Blake, the Milwaukee Freedom Fund, ACLU of NevadaPLAN’s Las Vegas Freedom FundBlack Lives MatterColor of Change, and additional organizations across the nation who need our support.

Cover photo by Elaine Hurd

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