For two days I went through the motions of life. I’ve seen this movie a thousand times before and I am only 35: A Black man is shot dead by police, sending social media into divided camps — one demanding justice and answers, and the other with the comeback of “He should have listened to the cops.”
While both sides of the discussion ran their usual discourse, I simply have wanted to know a slew of answers before making judgments. The 16-second viral video of the incident was damning enough, but I still want to know more to the story of why Jacob Blake, a Black late-20s man was shot seven times in the back while walking away from officers and opening the driver’s side door of his car in Kenosha.
There are actually dozens of questions I have on the incident. Why were the police called? Like, a detailed reason, because “a domestic disturbance” isn’t enough of a reason. What did dispatch inform the responding officers of the incident? Did they know about his warrants? Was he known personally by the officers based on prior incidents? Was Mr. Blake reaching for a gun or was he just trying to drive away? By court records, Jacob Blake isn’t necessarily the angel some of his family and friends make him appear to be. But did he deserve to be shot seven times in the back?
Three minutes after officers arrive, Blake is shot. Officers were not wearing body cameras — something I still can’t believe is a thing in 2020, especially in a city of 100,000 people.
We can argue semantics on how police should respond to certain calls. One thing is for certain, data shows that a person in America with dark skin has far a different experience with authority than lighter skinned people. Call it what you wish, but it is racism — and it is systemic.
Not all cops are racist — in fact, I would bear to say that 95-99% are not. But 5%, even 1%, make decisions that affect the safety of their brethren more than anyone in the Blue Lives Matter movement ever seems to want to admit. Good police do not need to deal with the vitriol that cops get as a whole because of a few bad eggs, just as minorities shouldn’t be lumped together as one because a select few are bad apples.
While I shook my head in disbelief and tried to have civil conversations with longtime friends online, I knew this wasn’t the end. Years and years of controversial events when police shoot Black people for a variety of reasons have led to the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement. That’s not “Only” Black Lives Matter, but actually Black Lives “Also” Matter. Of course, we like to think that “All” Lives Matter, but if that were truly the case, minorities in our predominantly white country wouldn’t suffer as much as they do now.
Eric Garner was selling cigarettes on the street before being choked to death in New York City. Michael Brown stole smokes from a convenience store. Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old holding a BB gun and was shot dead within three seconds of an officer arriving. John Crawford III was killed at Walmart holding a BB gun he was thinking about buying his son. Traevon Martin was walking home from a gas station to watch the second half of the NBA All-Star game and was hunted down by a “neighborhood watch” volunteer, who did not follow dispatch instructions of stay out of conflict and ended up shooting the Black teen dead.
Philando Castile actually followed police orders in Minnesota — he was in his car and was asked for his identification. He informed the officers that he was a registered gun owner. It didn’t matter: He was shot immediately five times. His spouse filmed the incident live on Facebook.
More recently in Minnesota, George Floyd suffocated while being detained on suspicion of using a counterfeit bill — not that he used it, but it was suspicious. That came after Breonna Taylor was killed in her home by undercover cops that didn’t identify themselves serving a warrant on someone who didn’t live there, shooting 20 bullets into her home and killing her. Her boyfriend thought they were intruders and pulled the trigger first. One officer has been fired, none charged with murder.
There have been dozens of other incidents over the past 10 years, let alone the more than 400 years since the slave trade to America began.
After Floyd’s death, protesters spread across the country who thought “enough was enough.” Change had to be done. Some of the protests turned to riots, though some of the firebombing of property have proven to be instigated by white supremacists looking to insight riots and change the narrative in their favor.
On Sunday, Aug. 23, Blake was gunned down. The protests were immediate. The following night, businesses and vehicles were set ablaze. On Tuesday, Aug. 26, armed groups of self-proclaimed militias showed up to “protect businesses.” Except that’s not why they were there.
They went to instigate a fight, or, if anything, to show their power over the protesters. These militias were white men with semiautomatic rifles and handguns.
One of those militiamen — which we shouldn’t use as a label, because they are not fighting the British in Virginia with muskets — was a 17-year-old white male from Antioch, Illinois, a northwestern Chicago suburb, about 15 minutes from Kenosha. Getting into a confrontation with protesters, he fired more than a dozen shots into a crowd at a used car dealership, hitting one person in the head. He then walked away from the incident, telling someone on his cell phone that he just killed someone.
Then he walked down the middle of the street, with protesters shouting to police that he had just shot someone. He tripped on his own two feet, and a couple of protesters attempted to subdue him, only for him to shoot wildly again, hitting two more people. In all, he shot three people, two of which died and the other had his arm amputated.
And yet he kept walking down the middle of the street toward police cars with his hands up, not getting shot himself. He murdered two people, firing an AR-15-like weapon into a group of protesters. The video is even more harrowing than Blake’s.
If that doesn’t make your blood boil, what will?
The following day, on Aug. 26, the NBA took a pause — again. While the first NBA pause came from COVID-19, a virus that launched a global pandemic, this pause was because of the pandemic of racism. Milwaukee, less than an hour from Kenosha, finished the regular season with the best record in basketball. The Bucks were set to play a closeout playoff game against the Orlando Magic in the Disney World bubble. Instead, they chose not to. In solidarity, the Magic opted not to turn the game into a forfeit victory, and instead let it be postponed.
For those that don’t know, the Bucks themselves have their own incidents with police. A season ago, Sterling Brown stopped by a Walgreens in the middle of the night and parked across the handicap stall by the front door in an empty parking lot to grab a few items. When he came outside, police were waiting for him. He was tased and arrested. He filed a lawsuit and rejected a $400,000 settlement offer for racial profiling.
John Henson, a former Bucks player, was confronted at a jewelry store in Milwaukee in 2015. An NBA player didn’t have enough money to shop there? Or was he suspicious because “Black people can’t afford” the good jewelry?
The other two NBA games set to be played Aug. 26 were canceled, as were three baseball games — including the Milwaukee Brewers, who were playing at home. MLS and WNBA games were also postponed.
Will the games be made up in one day? Two days? At all? The Bucks took off the game to allow people to focus on the history happening in front of them. Choosing not to play one game is a statement in itself. It means more when it’s a playoff game. What if the NBA were to just cancel the postseason altogether? Would that statement be eye-opening enough to ripple to actual societal change?
Over the course of America’s history, it has struggled with racism. From the genocide of the Native American population, to the enslavement of Africans, followed by Jim Crow laws, the rise of the KKK and redlining cities — every time the American public thinks it has finally equaled the playing field, it proves to be just going through the motions.
After the Civil War, it took nearly 100 years for Blacks to gain the right to vote across the country. Politicians are still arguing over semantics of Civil Rights legislation.
What has actually changed? Certain rules? Because society has hardly seemed to change. Racism is more covert now than in times past, but the pendulum is swinging.
Even now, in 2020, many of the same problems the Black community faces today are not new — including the refusal to be heard by the masses. And if they are heard, then it is the refusal by the masses to make meaningful change.
My generation has heard Gandhi’s paraphrased quote of “Be the change you want to see in the world” more times that we can probably remember. But it seems every generation just passes the buck along.
Can we finally move forward, and stop making excuses while digging in our heals?
These are our brothers and sisters. These are human beings. We have to end this as a society. But will we?
I’ve never been so unsure about the fate of the future of America. In fact, I’m silently cheering on that asteroid that’s scheduled to maybe make Earth contact Nov. 2, the day before the election. It seems like the most appropriate way to close out 2020.
— Adam Krebs is a reporter for the Times, a husband and father of four; brother to a former police officer; and fan of sports, history, optimism and hope. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.