Three months after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police spurred national unrest and widespread reforms, America’s racial reckoning exploded when Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a White officer.
Floyd was handcuffed and unarmed in late May when he died, after a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Last Sunday, Blake was left paralyzed from the waist down in coastal Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Midwest cities are about six hours apart by car. Disturbing eyewitness video captured both incidents and led to bursts of sometimes violent protests.
But the lingering national anguish over racism and police brutality seems palpably different in the chaotic week since Blake was shot seven times. He was stepping away from officers with guns drawn and leaning into an SUV carrying his three young sons, ages 3, 5 and 8.
“It’s just the compounded grief, the compounded trauma of these horrific murders, these lynchings,” said Alexis Hoag, lecturer and associate research scholar at Columbia Law School. “What’s so striking about Kenosha is that it put this racial inequality in sharp relief.”
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Blake, 29, was shot at the height of the tumultuous summer of 2020, with the United States nearing 200,000 deaths from a pandemic that has disproportionately affected people of color and far-flung demonstrations over the killing of African Americans by police.
Nearly a week after the shooting, the police union said Blake fought officers and refused to drop a knife he was carrying. Blake’s family, his lawyer and the man who recorded a video that captured part of the encounter refuted that account. Jacob Blake Sr. said his son only retreated to remove his children from harm’s way.
“Sometimes you get a little angry,” the eldest Blake told CNN, noting that his paralyzed son had been shackled to a hospital bed until Friday.
“Sometimes more than a little angry because we have been going through this so long. So long. And it’s only the brown faces … the brown-toned people that get treated in this way.”