It’s been almost five months since Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by Officer Rusten Sheskey.
Sheskey, a White officer, shot Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, while responding to a domestic incident on August 23, 2020. Blake survived the shooting but was left paralyzed from the waist down.
No charges were brought against Sheskey, or for the other two officers involved in the incident, the district attorney in Kenosha, Wisconsin, said Tuesday.
The announcement, local activists say, further deflated any hopes of change in the lakeside city that already had tension with law enforcement, even before Blake’s shooting.
“The city of Kenosha has failed the city of Kenosha,” said Gregory Bennett Jr., founder of the activist organization Peace in the Streets Kenosha Inc. “Kenosha doesn’t love the citizens the way the citizens love Kenosha.”
The day after the shooting, state government established a task force on racial disparities. But in the months since, little has been done to address the community’s mistrust in police.
The city approved immediate funding for body cameras for officers in November 2020. This week, state and local officials released statements calling for unity in Kenosha and police reform following Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley’s decision.
Some in the community say that’s not enough.
“They gotta start putting action behind those ‘I hear you’ ‘I understand,’ show us,” Porche Bennett-Bey, Kenosha activist and one of Time Magazine’s 2020 Guardians of the Year, told CNN.
Activists call for Sheskey’s termination
Sheskey and the other officers involved in Blake’s shooting were placed on administrative leave following the shooting.
As of Tuesday, Kenosha police said all the officers remain on administrative leave.
Some activists said they wish there was some sort of charge brought forward, especially since Blake was shot in front of his children.
“They could’ve at least charged him (Sheskey) with excessive force or something,” Bennett-Bey said. “They charged him with nothing.”
Others said they want the police department to fire Sheskey.
“I’ve had some conversations with the family about considering having a complaint put in to have that officer investigated,” said activist Vaun Mayes.
During his news conference on Tuesday, Graveley, the district attorney, pointed to the fact that Blake had a knife – and said Sheskey used the correct amount of force in the situation.
CNN reached out to both the city of Kenosha and its police department asking for comment from Mayor John Antaramian and Police Chief Daniel Miskinis.
A city spokesperson provided CNN with a joint statement from the city and police department issued on January 5 that said all the officers are still on administrative leave.
However, on Tuesday, Antaramian and Miskinis appeared in a video, uploaded to the Kenosha Police Department’s YouTube page, in which they address their plans for improving the city’s relationship with the community.
“Before the incident of August 23, we have been on a path here where we have been bringing citizens together and engaging in honest discussions about the future in our community. I assure you that mission will continue,” Antaramian said in the video
Miskinis said police use-of-force deserves scrutiny.
“Across this nation there has been an identified need to work harder on police-community relations,” he said. “Here in Kenosha, we are committed to doing better and to forging better relationships and enhancing trust.”
Though local officials delivered messages of peace and unity, activists said their actions ahead of the district attorney’s decision spoke louder than words.
“They called the national guard here on peaceful protesters,” Bennet said, referring to Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers mobilizing 500 National Guard troops at the request of local officials. “You got all these laws protecting officers, but no laws protecting citizens.”
Task force described as ‘dog and pony’ show
Even before Blake’s shooting, Gov. Evers, a Democrat, was trying to move the legislature to discuss and act on criminal justice reform.
Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes announced a package of nine bills in June of last year looking to reform police accountability and transparency. The announcement was in direct response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, according to Evers’ statement.
A day after Blake’s shooting, Evers called the legislature to have a special session – scheduled for August 31, 2020 – to address the topics more immediately. On the day of the special session, however, state Republicans started and recessed the session in both chambers within 30 seconds, according to CNN affiliate WDJT-TV.
Instead of a special session, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced the formation of the Task Force on Racial Disparities. In October, he announced four legislators and 28 community members would be on the task force.
“We know that it’s through listening and learning from one another that Wisconsin can move forward together,” Vos’ statement read.
Wayne Strong, a member of the task force and retired Madison police officer, told the Kenosha News newspaper that he remembered someone at the first October meeting saying “I don’t want to be part of a dog and pony show.”
Bennet told CNN that meetings don’t really mean anything to him.
“We can have a meeting, but it ain’t nothing if nothing comes out of the meeting,” he said.
Bennett-Bey said she goes to a lot of meetings and hearings – but said she thinks the community needs to be more involved in the lawmaking process.
“Either you’re gonna hear us when we’re out in the streets marching, or you’re gonna hear us at these meetings,” she said.
Blake family plans to go to DC
Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., said the family expected no charges when the National Guard was called.
The family and supporters of Blake made a vow after the district attorney’s announcement to take their fight to Washington, DC.
“Now our battle must go in front of the Congress, it must go in front of the Senate,” Blake’s father Jacob Blake Sr. said Tuesday during a press conference.
“We’re gonna protest right into the offices. We’re gonna go see Nancy (Pelosi) first … then we’ll go see the Senate ‘til we’re seen, ‘til we’re heard.”
Bishop Tavis Grant, the national field director of Rainbow PUSH, a Chicago-based non-profit founded by Rev. Jesse Jackson, told CNN he and the Blake family plan to be “proactive and not reactive.”
“Those who want to take to arms have failed at realizing civil rights has not been about taking lives, it’s been about saving lives,” Grant said.
On the homefront, activists said they are still seeking change for the community.
“Everybody that walked, everybody that lobbied, everybody pushed people to go vote and everybody that pushed people to do something felt it was for nothing,” Bennett said.
“Everyone that truly had a voice and felt like they were being heard was spit on. If you want us to feel heard, you gotta put pen to paper and start writing and changing these laws that protect citizens.”
CNN’s Kelsie Smith, Omar Jimenez, Kay Jones, Nicole Chavez and Madeline Holcombe contributed to this report.