Anger and questions mounted on Wednesday night and into Thursday over the disparity in police treatment of Jacob Blake, a Black man shot numerous times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin while intervening to stop a fight, and Kyle Rittenhouse, the heavily—and unlawfully—armed white teen who was given a pass by officers after he allegedly shot and killed two Kenosha protesters.
Veteran Kenosha officer Rusten Sheskey fired seven shots at Blake, a 29-year-old father of five, hitting him four times in the back at near point-blank range on Sunday, paralyzing him from the waist down as three of his children looked on. Police said they found a knife under the floorboard of Blake’s car, although there are no claims he was threatening anyone with it.
Bishop Talbert Swan, president of the Springfield, Mass. chapter of the NAACP, tweeted video of a white man menacing police officers with a bladed weapon in response to critics playing up Blake’s knife.
Blake’s shooting stands in stark contrast with the police treatment of Rittenhouse, an aspiring cop and staunch supporter of President Donald Trump whose social media accounts are brimming with Blue Lives Matter posts, and who boasted online about being an armed vigilante. The teen, who posted numerous photos in which he poses with guns, apparently heeded calls on social media encouraging armed militia members to travel to Kenosha to protect property from “evil thugs,” and urging “patriots” to “shoot to kill.”
The 17-year-old teen—the age to legally carry firearms in public in Wisconsin is 18—is seen in a video with other armed civilians violating Kenosha’s 8:00 pm curfew. However, police challenged neither of these violations. Instead, officers in armored vehicles gave them water and told them that, “we appreciate you guys, we really do,” while simultaneously ordering protesters to disperse and accusing them of “trespassing.”
Cellphone video shows Rittenhouse running away after shooting three people, two of them fatally. “I’ve just killed someone,” he says. Only one of the victims, 26-year-old Anthony Huber of Silver Lake, Wisc., has been identified as of Thursday morning.
After the shooting, Rittenhouse walked toward police with his hands in the air, his rifle slung across his chest, as protesters shouted to the officers that the teen had just shot two people. The officers allowed Rittenhouse to pass unmolested. He was able to travel back to his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, some 20 miles (32 km) away, before finally being arrested the following day and subsequently charged with first-degree intentional homicide.
Outraged observers took to Twitter and other social media to note the racist double standards and white privilege highlighted by the two shootings.
“Jacob Blake was shot several times in the back while walking away from police officers,” tweeted Nathalie Baptiste, a reporter for Mother Jones. “Kyle Rittenhouse made it all the way home before being arrested. Law and order is only for certain people.”
Some compared the latest incidents to past police shootings of Black people and the treatment afforded to white shooters, including Dylann Roof, who massacred nine Black worshippers at a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015.
Others criticized media coverage of the incidents.
“A 17-year-old white supremacist domestic terrorist drove across state lines armed with an AR-15,” tweeted Rep. Ayanna Presssley (D-Mass.). “He shot and killed 2 people who had assembled to affirm the value, dignity, and worth of Black lives. Fix your damn headlines.”
On Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” host Trevor Noah wondered “why some people get shot seven times in the back while other people are treated like human beings and reasoned with and taken into custody with no bullets in their bodies.”
Meanwhile, Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis blamed Rittenhouse’s victims for their own deaths because they were “out after curfew”—as was the shooter—while defending vigilantes’ right to “exercise their constitutional rights.”
As professional athletes and teams from numerous sports and leagues postponed games in protest of police killings of Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, right-wing media and sports personalities defended and even applauded Rittenhouse, while demonizing victims of police and white supremacist violence.Popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson said that Rittenhouse “had to maintain order,” while disgraced former San Francisco Giants slugger Aubrey Huff, who has been disinvited from the team’s 2010 World Series championship reunion over past racist and misogynistic comments, called the teen “a national treasure.”
At the Republican National Convention, police brutality and the Kenosha killings went virtually unmentioned, while speakers heaped praise upon President Donald Trump for his tough “law and order” rhetoric. Trump, who has often been accused of courting and even inspiring white supremacists, has been conspicuously silent in the wake of the Kenosha shootings.
Some RNC speakers decried the looting and “mobs” in cities run by Democrats while ignoring police and racist violence.
“From Seattle to Portland to Washington and New York, Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said. “There’s looting, chaos, destruction and murder.”
Some commentators wondered what it would take for many white Americans to finally see the racism that so many others are protesting.
“The fundamental unfairness of [the Blake and Rittenhouse] tragedies in one Wisconsin city… should be enough for even the most stubborn of white Americans to understand why people are marching to assert and rightfully demand that Black lives matter,” wrote Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke. “The clear-as-glass unfairness of it all should be enough.”
But, he concludes, “it won’t be.”