On Jan. 5, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced that no charges would be filed against Kenosha police officer Rustin Sheskey for the shooting of Jacob Blake. The previous day, 150 people gathered to march with the family of Blake, a Black man who was gunned down by police and suffered life-threatening injuries Aug. 23.
“It is very disrespectful that they didn’t charge the officer with attempted murder,” said Brandon Wilborn, an activist with The People’s Revolution that has taken part in organizing demonstrations against police violence across southeastern Wisconsin. Wilborn noted that the officers should have done more to subdue Blake before resorting to violence. While police claim they were engaged in a physical struggle with Blake, no video footage or witness testimony authenticates that claim.
Sheskey shot Blake in the back after he walked away from police officers to get into his vehicle where his children were waiting. Blake suffered severe injuries and is paralyzed from the waist down. According to witnesses, Blake had stopped near his home in Kenosha after picking up his children and was involved in a minor dispute taking place on the sidewalk. He was leaving the scene when police arrived and attempted to detain him. Blake did not want to speak with police and was attempting to leave the scene when he was shot in the back several times. Footage that was taken from a second floor apartment across the street clearly shows that Blake was not acting aggressively toward the officers and that he was not armed.
“They don’t want peace,” said Rebecca Burrell, host of Revolution Ready, a Wisconsin-based podcast. “They want us to silently accept their cruelty. They want war with the hopes of annihilating us publicly. Their laws were established to humiliate us. That’s how they stay in power.” No firearms were found on Blake’s person or in his car, though a small knife, found in the car after being searched, has been employed as justification for the violent response by Sheskey.
Unsurprisingly, rightwing media outlets and local reactionary political figures sought to justify the attempt to kill Blake by bringing up the fact that he has a criminal record. At the same time, investigators, administrators and police union representatives covered up Sheskey’s previous record, wantonly disregarded witness testimonies, and made sure that Sheskey still had a job and pay while on administrative leave.
For his part, DA Graveley has stated he believes fully that Sheskey exercised his “privilege of self-defense” by shooting Blake as he walked away. Graveley also admonished those who were outraged by the video of the shooting saying, “Everybody has seen the video and from their perspective, they have tried this case from their computer screen in their living room. As a professional, I am called upon on how to try this case in a real court room.” (Kenosha News)
However, Graveley’s definition of “privilege of self-defense” is shown to be extremely biased as he did not show the same deference to self-defense in the case of Chrystul Kizer, a young Black victim of child sex trafficking who shot and killed her abuser in 2018. Arguing that self-defense is out of the discussion for Kizer, Graveley has pushed forward with prosecuting her for first degree murder. (Kenosha News)
“DA Graveley spent all of his time doing the typical routine, trying to convince the public that Blake was a criminal and criminals deserve to die. He had to do twice the work, justify a terrorist cop, then justify his decision on why he justified the terrorist cop,” stated Burrell.
The outright inequalities in how Kenosha’s justice system officials treat poor and oppressed people are well recognized in the community. “We didn’t expect any good news from the DA,” said Jess Singh, a Kenosha activist and member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “All we had to do was take a look at this system that perpetuates injustice on Black and Brown people on a daily basis to get a feel for the outcome.”
In the days following Blake’s shooting, hundreds of police and National Guard from around Wisconsin used extreme repressive force against peaceful protesters demanding justice, deploying rubber bullets, chemical weapons, LRADs and armored vehicles.
On Aug. 25, a white nationalist militia called the Kenosha Guard mobilized with the expressed goal of defending private property from looters. As police teargassed and fired projectiles at protesters blocks away, others provided these heavily armed vigilantes with praise and provisions. “We appreciate you guys, we really do,” said one officer on a video posted to social media. Among that group was Kyle Rittenhouse, a juvenile illegally possessing an AR-15 assault rifle who had traveled from Illinois, apparently to protect a burned down used car lot. Under this pretense of protecting private property, and later, self-defense, Rittenhouse killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and seriously injured Gaige Grosskreutz. Despite Rittenhouse attempting to turn himself in, police let him walk away from the scene and return to Illinois that night.
Even prior to the official announcement by Graveley, public officials had made a point of informing local business owners that they would want to board up their windows and close down early on the day of the decision. Further, Kenosha’s Democratic Mayor John Antaramian formally requested that Democratic Governor Tony Evers deploy the National Guard to Kenosha ahead of the decision, a request that was quickly granted. These actions suggest that officials anticipated or even knew in advance that no charges would be brought against Sheskey and that the state was prepared once again to put down mass protests with violence.
At a press conference the day before the decision, Blake’s father Jacob Sr., was asked what he thought the presence of the National Guard meant. He replied: “You think about it, think about how it looks. What is the National Guard for? Are they going to deliver mail? Give out ice cream cones? What do you think they are here for?” (Kenosha News)
Right wing media and public officials in Kenosha have sought to portray the Blake family as criminal elements in society and isolate them as the only ones outraged over the shooting of Jacob. However, activists like Burrell, who is also a member of The People’s Revolution, also speak out: “The fight is not over. Unjust DA offices in Wisconsin will be dismantled. Wisconsin police departments will be washed of domestic terrorists and and bias policies. The present racially biased justice system will see a drastic change. Long Live the Revolution!”
These remarks were delivered directly prior to the march of a large crowd of protesters, both on foot and in cars, to the Kenosha County Courthouse, the site of the original uprisings. The march stopped along the way for moments of silence at the spots where Rosenbaum and Huber were killed. (Kenosha News)
Arriving at Civic Center Park, just across from the courthouse, it became clear that the police were expecting a confrontation. A massive metal riot fence had been set up around the entire complex, nearly four square blocks, with police cars and National Guard Humvees hovering in the area. Speakers further denounced the decision not to press charges, as well as the clear preparedness of the state to exercise extreme violence against protestors, just like they had in August.
Though the decision not to bring charges is set in stone, barring the possibility of a federal investigation, activists from Kenosha are now calling on the public to demand that Rustin Sheskey be fired, the minimum that should happen after using such unwarranted, excessive, and potentially fatal force as a police officer. “I feel a federal investigation needs to be opened. It is not the first officer shooting in Kenosha,” said Wilborn. “It is time for a change. People need to wake up and realize what the world is coming to.” (Kenosha News)
The Blake family and Kenosha activists have vowed to continue demonstrations demanding justice. “A massive revolutionary change needs to occur to put a stop to incidents that occur every day like what happened to Jacob Blake and countless others,” said Singh, “We have fought hard locally for change and no one is listening. In the event that minor reform does get passed, such as body cams, which Kenosha continually refuses to approve funding for, it will prove fruitless. The answer to overturning the corrupt system is socialism. Plenty of organizing resources and energy could be saved with a strong movement under the banner of socialism.”