(C) Reuters. Unrest in Wisconsin following shooting of Jacob Blake
By Nathan Layne and Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) – Police shot a Black man in the back multiple times in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as his three sons watched on Sunday, his family’s lawyer said, sparking a night of sometimes-violent unrest and prompting the governor to deploy the National Guard.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers also called a special legislative session to take up a package of bills aimed at addressing problems with law enforcement following the shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake late on Sunday afternoon.
After being rushed to a hospital, Blake was out of surgery and in stable condition, his father told news media on Monday.
In a video taken by a bystander across the street from the shooting, Blake can be seen walking toward the driver’s side of a gray SUV followed by two officers with their guns drawn at his back. Seven gunshot sounds can be heard as Blake, who appears to be unarmed, opens the car door, and a woman nearby jumps up and down in disbelief.
It was unknown whether the officers saw something inside the vehicle to justify deadly force. It was also not clear whether one or both officers fired their weapons.
Crowds gathered at the scene, then set fires and threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at police, prompting authorities to close public buildings. Activists said they were organizing another night of demonstrations for Tuesday night.
Evers, a Democrat, condemned what he called the “excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with Black Wisconsinites” and announced the special session next Monday for legislators to consider bills introduced months ago to improve police accountability and eliminate dangerous practices.
“We must rise to this movement and this moment and meet it with our empathy, our humanity and a fierce commitment to disrupt the cycle of systemic racism and bias that devastates Black families and communities,” Evers said in a public address.
Pete Deates, president of the city’s police union, the Kenosha Professional Police Association, said Evers was “wholly irresponsible” for rushing to judgment and asked the public to wait until all facts are known.
The shooting occurred three months after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis police custody sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and structural racism in the United States.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrat seeking to defeat Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election, on Monday called for the officers to be held accountable.
“And this morning, the nation wakes up yet again with grief and outrage that yet another Black American is a victim of excessive force,” Biden said in a statement. “These shots pierce the soul of our nation.”
About 125 members of the Wisconsin National Guard were expected to be deployed on Monday to Kenosha, a city of around 100,000 people on Lake Michigan about 65 miles (100 km) north of Chicago, after local officials asked Evers for their help.
Clyde McLemore, a member of a nearby chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, said he was organizing a 2-1/2-mile (4-km) march on Monday from Blake’s house to the courthouse in Kenosha, which authorities closed due to the unrest.
“This city is not going to stop burning itself down until they (protesters) know that this officer has been fired,” said Whitney Cabal, one of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter chapter in Kenosha. “There was no reason for seven shots to be fired into this man’s back while he had three kids in the car.”
The shooting occurred around 5 p.m. on Sunday as officers were responding to what they termed a “domestic incident.” Police immediately took the victim to a hospital, according to a Kenosha Police Department statement. Authorities gave no further explanation as to what led to the shooting.
Ben Crump, who said the Blake family had retained him and who has represented George Floyd’s family, said in a statement that Blake had been trying to de-escalate a domestic incident when the officers first shot him with a taser gun.
“As he was walking away to check on his children, police fired their weapons several times into his back at point blank range. Blake’s three sons were only a few feet away and witnessed police shoot their father,” Crump said.
The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave while the investigation is underway, the Wisconsin Department of Justice said early on Monday, which is standard procedure in an officer-involved shooting.
(additional reporting by Ann Maria Shibu in Bengaluru and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis)