Until recently, many people in Wisconsin may have assumed there was little or no problem in Wisconsin with racial disparities in policing. After a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake in the back recently, however, protests erupted in the city of 99,000.
The shocking shooting was caught on video. That video appears to show the officer shooting Blake several times from behind as Blake leaned into his SUV. Three of Blake’s children were inside the vehicle and witnessed the shooting. Now, Blake, 29, may be paralyzed for life.
This isn’t the first or only incident of perceived inequality in the way the Kenosha police treat Black people. After all, although 11% of Kenosha residents are Black, only seven of the city’s 207 officers are Black. Some residents say that the Kenosha police treat white people much more favorably than Black people.
“If you’re a white guy, a firefighter with an open (alcohol) container and gun in your car and you get pulled over, you get dropped off at the firehouse,” said one resident, a data scientist. “If you’re Black, that might be the end of your life — you get shot or you might face 20 (years in prison).”
It’s illustrative of a trend across the country in which police arrest Black people at significantly higher rates than whites even though the two groups commit crimes at approximately the same rates.
Once arrested, statistics show that Black people are charged more often and with more serious crimes. They are assigned higher bail and denied bail at higher rates than whites. They are convicted at greater rates and get longer sentences than whites. They are released more slowly and subjected to longer periods of parole and probation. At virtually every step of the criminal justice system, Black people are treated worse than their white peers.
‘I’m that angry. I’m that hurt.’
A local Alderman told the Associated Press that he has often worked with police to benefit his neighborhood. He commented that it is impossible to watch the video of the Blake shooting and respond with anything but anger, hurt and frustration.Sadly, many erupted with anger and violence, destroying property and looting local businesses, behavior that can never be condoned.
The Kenosha branch of the NAACP hopes to see progress in police de-escalation training and use-of-force policies. The video shows Jacob Blake failing to respond to officers’ commands to stop before he opened the door to his SUV. The officer appears not to hesitate before unloading his gun into Blake’s back.
Not all of the facts are known yet, and the police union claims that Blake had been Tased moments earlier, but it was ineffectual. Still, dispatch records already released show the shooting occurred just three minutes after police arrived at the scene.
Surely, the incident could have been deescalated and one has to question whether Blake’s race played a factor in the rapid escalation by police.
Many people saw a double standard in the treatment of Blake in comparison to the police treatment just days later of a white counter-protester who shot three people, killing two, with an AR-15. That shooter was not even stopped by police as he walked directly towards them as witnesses were yelling that he was the shooter.
Video shows two armored police vehicles and a squad car drive slowly past the white shooter with a long gun slung on his shoulder. It seems unlikely he would not have been stopped by Kenosha police were he Black walking directly towards them armed with a long gun.
It seems incredible that these tragic incidents continue month after month in America. What will it take to end the bloodshed?