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Our Opinion: Making sense of the Blake tragedy

Our Opinion: Making sense of the Blake tragedy

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FILE - In this September 2019 file selfie photo taken in Evanston, Ill., Adria-Joi Watkins poses with her second cousin Jacob Blake. He is recovering from being shot multiple times by Kenosha police on Aug. 23.

It has been a week since Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old former Winston-Salem resident, was shot by police in Kenosha, Wis.

Millions have seen the amateur video that shows Blake walking away from police, even as they held guns on him, opening his car door, and then being shot in the back seven times. It’s impossible to conceive of any justification for that.

Details are still sketchy. But uncontested so far is the claim that Blake’s three sons, ages 3, 5 and 8, were in the car and witnessed their father being shot.

Members of Blake’s family have called for peace. His mother, Julia Jackson, said that she was praying for police officers as well as Black and brown people. “Let’s pray for healing for our own nation,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday.

About 30 protesters marched in Winston-Salem on Wednesday. They carried signs that read “Justice for Jacob Blake,” “Justice for John Neville” and “Black Lives Matter,” the Journal’s John Hinton reported.

This is not a very deep thought, but it’s one with which every American should agree: Our law enforcement professionals deserve our respect, but when they misbehave, they should be held to account. This doesn’t have to be either/or. Both parts of that statement are legitimate and reasonable.

But partisan politics tend to muddy our thinking. Before Blake had arrived at the hospital, keyboard warriors were speculating about both the victim and the shooter.

Some say that Blake was “a bad dude” with a police record.

That doesn’t justify being shot in the back seven times.

Some say that he should have just complied with the police’s orders, whatever they were.

Other recent incidents have shown that compliance doesn’t always guarantee survival — nor is it always possible when stress and fear are overwhelming. Nor does it justify being shot in the back seven times. Police must have other options available.

In Kenosha, legitimate protests turned into destruction of property last week, which is just wrong.

But not all protesters set fires or broke windows. The majority protested peacefully, then went home.

In yet another twist, a 17-year-old man from Illinois shot and killed two protesters and wounded a third. Then, within earshot of his gunfire, while carrying his AR-15, he waved at and walked past a line of Kenosha police officers. That’s in sharp contrast to the way Blake was treated.

The teenager was later arrested and charged with first-degree intentional homicide.

Again, it didn’t take long — nor did it take facts or reason — for some to improbably turn this alleged killer into a right-wing hero. Fox News host Tucker Carlson disturbingly claimed he’d rightly gone to Kenosha to “maintain order.”

But he didn’t maintain order. He increased chaos.

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said it best: "Just as it is fair to say that rioting and looting is a completely inappropriate response to George Floyd or Jacob Blake, vigilante justice is a completely inappropriate response to the rioting in the street. There is no justification for what happened in Kenosha. And vigilante justice is a crime and should be punished as a crime."

Meanwhile, athletes from the NBA, the WNBA and other pro sports leagues canceled games to protest Blake’s shooting, drawing criticism from the White House. It seems like no form of protest over racial injustice will ever meet the president’s approval.

Americans will continue to try to make sense of these events and put them into context, while Blake recovers and his family seeks to deal with the aftermath.

Just like the one before it, and the one before that one, this tragedy should never have occurred. And it never should be repeated.

But unless something fundamentally changes, it will be.

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