Carloads of protesters from Milwaukee, many of whom have been involved in daily marches in and around the city for weeks, caravanned to Kenosha on Monday evening to take part in demonstrations there after a police officer shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake several times in the back as he leaned into a car on Sunday afternoon, setting off a night of unrest.
Led by Khalil Coleman, one of the main organizers of the daily rallies that have taken place for nearly three months, the group gathered at Rose Park in Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood. About 50 vehicles, some with windows chalked with slogans such as “Justice 4 Jake,” “Say Their Names” and “Long Live the Revolution,” lined up to take part in the caravan.
Protesters gathered around Coleman in the park’s parking lot before departing on the 40-mile trek to Kenosha.
“We want to give them as much support as possible as they go through this trying time of injustice,” Coleman bellowed through a bullhorn.
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In an interview, Coleman said it’s important to “connect the dots” between Blake’s shooting by a police officer and the many other shootings by police of people of color in Milwaukee and other cities in Wisconsin and throughout the country.
“We want to support Kenosha. We want to be there,” he said.
Coleman said the officer who shot Blake is “definitely not the type of police officers we need in the community.”
“The system is broken and needs to be fixed,” Coleman said. “This isn’t going to end after 80 days or so of protesting. It’s not going to end after 200 days of protesting. This is something that is a problem in America. It’s embedded in the DNA and it needs to change.”
State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, a Milwaukee Democrat, also took part in the caravan. He, too, has taken part in many of the daily demonstrations.
“It’s just terrible. It’s beyond words,” Brostoff said of Blake’s shooting. “It’s not just this. Just because it’s caught on camera doesn’t mean it’s the only one.”
Democratic state Rep. David Bowen of Milwaukee, who has been present at protests over the past several weeks, also traveled with the caravan.
He called Blake’s shooting, which reportedly occurred while his three children sat in the back seat of the car, an “astounding” situation.
“People have been asking for the chance to have actual action, actual change and have actual accountability placed on the books for law enforcement,” Bowen said. “We needed this change yesterday. The lack of urgency from the Legislature has really come to full account.”
Despite nearly three months of daily marches, Bowen said he continues to hear from colleagues that they need to focus on other issues before they focus on any type of systemic changes to law enforcement.
“This is so urgent that we need to do it now,” Bowen said.
The civil unrest that occurred following Blake’s shooting reflects a lack of any substantial new direction in public safety, he said. Maintaining the status quo leaves people feeling hopeless, Bowen added.
“I really hope that this will represent the significant shift that is needed for us to rise to the occasion, especially at the state legislature where we aren’t seeing any cooperation,” Bowen said.
“It will take having an uncomfortable conversation. It will take a Republican Caucus recognizing, and honestly a Democratic Caucus as well, that we have to take this on and we can’t just piecemeal our way to very small changes in how public safety is administered and serviced in our communities.”
Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes announced Monday that they are calling the Wisconsin State Legislature into a Special Session on policing accountability and transparency convening on Aug. 31.
“We must begin the long but important path toward ensuring our state and our country start to live up to our promises of equity and justice,” Evers said in a statement. “I am urging the Legislature to rise to this occasion and give this special session the urgent and productive effort this moment demands and that the people of Wisconsin deserve.”
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called the shooting of Blake “shocking,” and based on what he viewed in the video, lacking any possible justification.
“Tragically, Mr. Blake’s shooting is not unique,” Barrett said in a statement. “Law enforcement in every community must examine both the use of force and disparate treatment of people of color. There must be change.”
Blake’s shooting at the hands of police “stirs emotions of anger, confusion and great sadness at a time when we need healing and lasting change,” a statement issued by the Milwaukee Brewers said.
“The video of the shooting of Jacob Blake is deeply disturbing and raises many of the same questions we have been asking related to social injustice and racism in our communities. Once again, we are faced with images of a horrific incident that show what appear to be inexplicable and excessive force inflicted upon a Black individual,” the Brewers organization said.
The Milwaukee Bucks also issued a statement that said the organization stands “firmly against reoccurring issues of excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging the Black community.”
“Our organization will continue to stand for all Black lives as we demand accountability and systemic change on behalf of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sylville Smith, Ernest Lacy, Dontre Hamilton, Tony Robinson, Joel Acevedo and countless other victims. We will work to enact policy change, so these incidents no longer exist,” the statement reads.
As a second night of protests began in Kenosha, Evers summoned 125 members of the National Guard to the city with the responsibility of protecting “critical infrastructure and assist in maintaining public safety and the ability of individuals to peacefully protest.”
“Every person should be able to express their anger and frustration by exercising their First Amendment rights and report on these calls to action without any fear of being unsafe,” Evers said.