Prosecutors in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday decided not to file criminal charges against police officers in the August shooting of Jacob Blake.
The shooting of Blake prompted NBA players to protest by shutting down play for three days, with the WNBA and Major League Baseball also postponing games. Tuesday’s decision drew a response from the sports world, as well, with Milwaukee’s Bucks, NBA players LeBron James and Wesley Matthews, and the Marquette men’s basketball team among those calling for a continued push in the fight against racial injustice.
Blake, who is Black, was shot seven times by Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey, who is white, on Aug. 23. Blake was left paralyzed. The shooting, which occurred in front of Blake’s three children and was captured on video, prompted large protests in Kenosha, with more than 250 people arrested during several days of unrest.
The other two police officers at the scene — Brittany Meronek and Vincent Arenas — also will not face charges, according to Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley.
Graveley said Tuesday he “would have to disprove the clear expression of these officers that they had to fire a weapon to defend themselves.”
“I do not believe the state … would be able to prove that the privilege of self-defense is not available,” added Graveley, who said he had informed Blake of the decision not to file charges.
Graveley said it is “incontrovertible” that Blake was armed with a “razor blade-type knife” when he was shot. Graveley said Blake had admitted to possessing the knife, but the prosecutor has no plans to charge him.
Ben Crump, an attorney for Blake’s family, expressed disappointment with the decision not to charge the police officers, saying it “further destroys trust in our justice system” and sends a message that it is OK for police to abuse their power. Crump said he will continue to move forward with a lawsuit and fight for systemic change in policing.
“We feel this decision failed not only Jacob and his family, but the community that protested and demanded justice,” Crump and his co-counsel said in a statement, adding: “We urge Americans to continue to raise their voices and demand change in peaceful and positive ways during this emotional time.”
In a later tweet, Crump also questioned whether Blake threatened Sheskey with a knife, saying, “Nowhere does the video footage show a knife extended and aimed to establish the requisite intent.”
The Bucks, whose refusal to take the court for a game against the Orlando Magic on Aug. 26 was the beginning of the three-day halt in the NBA while players discussed a response to the shooting, issued a statement Tuesday night.
“The Bucks organization remains firmly against excessive use of force by law enforcement,” the team said. “This past year shed light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African American and other marginalized communities. Reoccurring instances of excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging the Black community must stop. We will continue to work to enact policy change so these incidents no longer exist. As an organization, we remain strongly committed to address issues of social injustice and anti-racism and to make meaningful change for African Americans and all marginalized members of our community.”
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 6, 2021
Matthews, who was a member of the Bucks last season and is now with the Los Angeles Lakers, said of Tuesday’s decision: “Truly, it’s disheartening.”
“It’s just about right and wrong,” he said. “But … it can’t deter those citizens who are trying to do right, who are trying to fight for equality, who are trying to fight for the right things. It can’t deter us, we can’t lose our heads, we can’t start rioting, we have to be calculated, we have to continue to keep our foot on the pedal, we have to continue to keep our foot on the gas.
“This is lives. These are lives right here. It’s upsetting as a Wisconsinite. It’s upsetting as a human being that justice isn’t justice. It’s tough. But it can’t knock us off our path that we’re trying to get to, which is equality and just simply right and wrong.”
His teammate James, who was a leading voice from inside the NBA’s Florida bubble in August following the shooting, on Tuesday responded to a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — “An unjust law is no law at all” — that was posted on Twitter by rapper and actor Common.
Added James: “AT ALL!!!”
AT ALL!!! 😤😤😤😤😤😤. 🤦🏾♂️ https://t.co/m3iv1NZxQY
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 5, 2021
James, speaking later after the Lakers’ game at the Memphis Grizzlies, said that “to hear what happened in Kenosha today was a blow to the heart and to the gut — not only to that community but to us and to every, I guess, Black person that has been a part of this process and seeing these outcomes for so long. And not only in the Black community but in the white community, as well, who see moments like this happen to us, to happen to his family, to happen to [Blake] himself. … But we’ve got to continue to stay strong, continue to believe in each other and continue to push for the greater change and the greater good.”
“It just gets to a point of like, what more? What else? You know what I mean? That’s really where I’m at. You look at that, you look at Breonna Taylor. It’s just like, what else? What else? I don’t have words. It’s sad that it’s become a thing where you don’t expect any justice out of these things,” Mitchell said.
“It’s like, man, as an African American male, it’s one of those things where you’re scared. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most famous person in the world or whatever. At the end of the day, I play basketball, but I’m an African American male, and I have African American women in my life and so on. It’s just disheartening, man. It’s sad. It’s tough to see.”
“You know, just time [and] again, it keeps happening,” he said after the Clippers’ home game Tuesday night against the San Antonio Spurs. “We are still doing things to better the community and try to get some better laws for the officers with those firearms, but it’s sad. You know, it’s hard to think about.”
“It’s the shooter. You got to change the people that’s in the uniform, pretty much,” Leonard added. “I can’t change people’s thoughts. You got to get those people out of those uniforms. … I’m not a politician, but I am just going to keep doing what I can do to educate the young men, Black young men in the communities that I grew up in L.A., the whole California [and] just keep moving [further out]. But we got to change the shooters, man.”
Meanwhile, the Marquette men’s basketball team wore black uniforms for their home game in Milwaukee against UConn on Tuesday “in support of Jacob Blake, his family and the Kenosha community in reaction to the announcement earlier today.”
“We are extremely disappointed in the decision involving Jacob’s shooting and we will continue to use our platform to advocate and fight for racial justice,” the team said in a statement on the program’s Twitter account. “This is another reminder that just because racial and social injustice hasn’t received as much attention recently, doesn’t mean the need to fight against it has gone away.”
— Marquette Basketball (@MarquetteMBB) January 6, 2021
“We were going to wear the black uniforms regardless of the situation, whether [Sheskey] got charged or not,” Marquette guard Koby McEwen said after the Golden Eagles’ loss. “If he got charged, it was support of it. If justice wasn’t served, it was in protest of [the decision].”
A federal civil rights investigation into Blake’s shooting is still underway. Matthew Krueger, the U.S. attorney for Wisconsin’s Eastern District, said the Department of Justice will make its own charging decision.
Graveley told reporters during a two-hour presentation Tuesday afternoon that investigators determined the events leading up to the shooting began when the mother of Blake’s children called police and said Blake was about to drive off in her car. Officers determined en route that Blake had a felony warrant out for sexual assault.
They arrived to find Blake placing the couple’s three children in the back seat of the woman’s SUV. Graveley said officers had no choice but to arrest him, since he was wanted. He said Blake resisted, fighting with the officers as they tried to handcuff him, and that officers used a stun gun on him three times to no effect.
Noble Wray, a former police chief and a use-of-force expert who is Black and reviewed the investigation, said Blake had a knife that apparently fell to the ground during the struggle. Blake picked it up, officers disengaged and drew their guns, and Blake then tried to get into the SUV, Wray said.
Sheskey grabbed the back of Blake’s shirt, Graveley said. Blake turned and moved the knife toward Sheskey, the officer told investigators, leading him to believe his life was in danger, the district attorney said.
Sheskey fired seven times, hitting Blake in the back four times and in the side three times, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Cellphone video widely distributed after the incident shows Blake walking to the driver-side door of an SUV as officers follow with guns drawn, shouting. As Blake opens the door and leans into the SUV, Sheskey grabs Blake’s shirt from behind and opens fire.
The officers were not equipped with body cameras.
Prosecutors dropped the sexual assault charge against Blake in November as part of deal in which he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to two years’ probation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.