On Sunday, a Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back while Blake was trying to get into his car. There is reporting that Blake’s three children were in the car. The officer is white and Blake is Black. The entire event was captured on cell phone video and, not surprisingly, went viral right away. Blake is currently in an ICU and his condition is classified as ‘stable.’
I know we should perhaps be devoting some attention to the Republican National Convention, but it is so important that we not get numb to this latest televised horror. As we have seen with school shootings, when they happen enough times, there is a normalization that creeps in. Thanks to groups like Black Lives Matter, the frequency of white police officers shooting or killing Black people is not likely to go unnoticed. That’s a good thing.
Another good thing is that attorney Benjamin Crump is representing Blake and his family. Crump seems to favor transparency and is usually able to strike the right balance with how much information gets revealed. That works for his political agenda and his business, but most importantly, it works for his clients. He keeps them front and center and never appears to be in the spotlight just for his own advancement. We all remember Michael Avenatti.
So, I’m hoping that we get more information. [As I have discussed in connection with the Breonna Taylor case], it is vital to distinguish between the personal failings of an individual police officer and the systemic issues that lead to tragic outcomes like the murder of George Floyd. In the first case, a state or police department may potentially escape liability under a ‘bad apple’ type argument. Officer behavior has to be pretty unconscionable for the police union to let that happen.
Making claims that implicate the police policies and procedures are not mutually exclusive from claims that seek to hold officers accountable for deviating from a department’s adopted standards. The larger problem arises when, as appears to be true in the Breonna Taylor case, there is no misconduct by the officers and the procedures conform to national standards. If all that is true, then how can there ever be justice for Ms. Taylor?
The answer, of course, can be found in the abolition and reform movements that are now targeting our nation’s police departments.
But what about Jacob Blake? Was he trying to get a gun out of the glove compartment? Had he threatened the officers and was now, in front of his three young children, planning to make good on that threat? It seems pretty unlikely, but that is one set of facts which might support (somewhat) the officer’s use of deadly force. The fact that multiple shots were fired by the officer is not relevant to the decision to use deadly force. Once that decision has been made, officers can fire their weapons until the threat is eliminated.
The question, however, is what was the threat? That’s a big question, since Blake appears to be leaving the area and the officer is following him before the shooting starts.
There is so much more we need to learn about this and it is my hope that the department and the family lawyer will provide as much information as possible. Until we understand why this keeps happening, there will be no justice and there will be no peace.