Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul assembled local, state and national media in Kenosha in front of a grassy field as the sun began to descend Wednesday, conveying basic facts that the Department of Justice was able to share on its investigation into the police shooting of Jacob Blake that left the 29-year-old paralyzed.
Details included the name of the officer who shot Blake, Rusten Sheskey, the fact that police used a taser on Blake, Blake’s admission that he had a knife and the fact that he remains hospitalized. The officers involved have been placed on administrative leave. This was all live-streamed on national television.
A barrage of media questions aimed at squeezing more information out of Kaul resulted only in Wisconsin’s top cop smiling slightly while concocting more than a dozen variations on, “I can’t provide any further information at this time.”
What was unusual about this Department of Justice news conference was that after Kaul and Kenosha District Attorney Michael Graveley spoke about the investigative and legal process, Kaul introduced two community members and gave them time in the national spotlight, before taking any questions.
Kaul gave the leaders of the local NAACP and Urban League this platform at his news conference a day before the national NAACP issued a strong call to action and the Rev. Jesse Jackson touched down in Kenosha, further amplifying the voices of local leaders of color.
Anthony Davis, who took over in January of 2020 as the new president of the Kenosha NAACP, started off the year telling the Kenosha News his top priorities for the year were voters and the Census. On Wednesday, standing beside Kaul, he faced a large bouquet of microphones and told reporters that they needed to give Blake and his family some space and time to heal. His next message was for everyone on the streets and in the community.
“We have to find a way to de-escalate what has been happening around here in our city,” said Davis. “As I said, we are in the process of trying to mourn through this. But the path that has been taken by some individuals has not been appreciated.” Respect the curfew he added multiple times.
James Hall, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Racine and Kenosha described what it is like to be Black in Kenosha — providing context to the Blake shooting by police.
“We must understand that this eruption in our city is based on years and years and years of oppression. Years of oppression,” said Hall. “What you see is a lot of pain. A lot of fear. And a lot of trauma. Both sides are scared of both sides, because no one communicates with each other.
“We go to work, then we go to our own subdivision and we don’t even engage anymore with each other,” Hall continued. “That has to change. … We need to improve all our systems across the board. Whether this is the school district, whether it’s the police structure … no one has an idea how to react.”
Hall stated that he didn’t have a problem with the idea of people carrying guns in his city. What he fiercely objects to is looking at residents and protesters not as people, but seeing a need to protect property from them, as was the stated goal of the call to arms put out by the Kenosha Guard and other militia.
“Think about this: The property can be rebuilt,” Hall said to them — and to the police. “The lives cannot be rebuilt. Once a life is taken, or destroyed, it cannot be given back. There’s a possibility that this young man [Blake] will never walk again. Think about that. Imagine your son, your daughter, your relative experiencing trauma, every day. Pain, every day. Fear, every single day.”
And those feelings, he continued, are only exacerbated by events like the recent shootings. It’s a condition he — and other people of color — face daily.
“In this skin that I wear as I carry myself around, I go through it every day, every single time a car pulls up behind and it’s a law enforcement agency. I’d like to bring this front and center: If you lived your life in trauma every day, how would you react? How would you feel? What would you do?”
Hall concluded by pointing out the incident poses a challenge to Kenosha to set an example to the world. “Let the community heal. Let them be emotional, let them express themselves. But at the same time, when the expression is over, let’s not end the work,” he concluded. “Let’s work with the people in the community to start changing. Change is now. If Kenosha can make this change, the entire country will follow.”