The state of Wisconsin has been roiled by an incident yesterday that culminated in the shooting of a man named Jacob Blake by Kenosha police officers. The events leading up to the shooting are unclear, but this video shows some of what happened:
Apparently there was some kind of domestic disturbance that resulted in police being called. As the video begins you can’t see Blake, but several officers are standing next to a parked car. Blake either stands up from lying on the ground or–I think–gets out of the vehicle. Two officers have their guns drawn, but we don’t know why. Blake walks around the car with the officers following him. He obviously is not responding to their commands and starts to get into the car, evidently intending to drive away. One of the officers tugs on his shirt, and finally shoots him.
Response to the video was immediate. Press accounts refer to “demonstrations,” but what happened last night was rioting and arson:
Wisconsin’s governor Tony Evers called out the National Guard, but not before he poured fuel on the flames:
“Tonight, Jacob Blake was shot in the back multiple times, in broad daylight, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Kathy and I join his family, friends, and neighbors in hoping earnestly that he will not succumb to his injuries,” Evers said in a statement. “While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.”
News accounts generally emphasize Blake’s race to the exclusion of all else. But what should we make of the incident itself? As Governor Evers said, some facts are not yet known. What happened before the video begins that caused the officers to draw their weapons? We don’t know. Watching the video, one can argue that it shouldn’t have been necessary for the officers to shoot Blake. And that may indeed prove to be the right answer.
But what, exactly, were they supposed to do? Gang-tackle him? That wasn’t a viable option as he was getting into the car. Let him drive away? With hindsight, I am sure they wish they had done exactly that, as their own lives will now be destroyed.
But we rely on the police to maintain order on our streets. If suspects simply ignore officers who are called to the scene of a crime or disturbance, if they refuse to obey the officers’ orders and drive away, how can the police do the job we expect from them? The social contract is fragile. It assumes, among many other things, that in the heat of the moment, people will do as police officers direct so that order and a modicum of peace can be preserved. If police officers across the country are told to simply let suspects drive away if they prefer not to cooperate, the result will be chaos and more violence.
To me, the most salient question is, what made Jacob Blake think it was a good idea to disregard police officers who had their guns drawn, to refuse to obey their commands, and to try to drive away from the scene? This kind of inexplicable behavior precedes most instances of what is alleged to be police brutality.
Is it wrong to suspect that Black Lives Matter bears some responsibility here? The BLM “movement” encourages blacks to hate and despise police officers, and it is no leap to go from that to refusing to follow their orders in street encounters. In a world without hysterical anti-police propaganda from the left, would Jacob Blake have done what he did? Would his encounter with the Kenosha police have ended without mishap? We will never know, but it is reasonable to ask the question.