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Kenosha County DA: ‘I insist on this being a complicated conversation’
KENOSHA, WI – Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley outlined why he chose not to prosecute Kenosha Police officers — Rusten T. Sheskey and Brittany Meronek — for shooting Jacob Blake this summer a total of seven times in front of his children.
During a press conference held Wednesday, Graveley announced that he would also not seek charges related to Blake resisting arrest, fighting with police, or pulling a knife on them.
But he also pointed to the shortcomings of his task because it fell short of also addressing the real fear people of color face when dealing with police, he said.
“I have never in my life, had a moment where I had to contend with explicit or implicit bias, based on my race,” he said. “I have never had a moment in my whole life, where I had to fear for my safety with either police officers, or individuals in authority. And yet I have had conversations with people that I trust and admire, who tell me they do have that life experience. So that is an authentic experience, I do not have, and I do not bring to this decision today.”
Wray’s report: Use of force justified
Retired Madison Police Chief Noble Wray submitted a 20-page report to Gravely following an independent investigation of the incident, which found that Kenosha Police were justified in shooting Blake.
Wray wrote in his report that if Blake behaved differently, it would have led to a different outcome. He noted that the officers used every intervention option on the use of force continuum.
“I found that they applied the correct force option to each situation to mitigate threat and stop the active resistance on the part of Blake,” the report states.
But he also points out that Sheskey may have had an opportunity to establish more rapport with Blake during his initial contact. Still, this is difficult to do in a “rapidly evolving incident like this,” Wray stated.
What happened to Jacob Blake?
Officers responded to a report of family trouble at 5:10 p.m. Aug. 23. That call ended with Blake being paralyzed. The shooting sparked protests — both violent and peaceful — that lasted for days. During some of the violent demonstrations, people looted businesses, burned buildings, and vandalized cars.
Days later, Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, of Antioch, Illinois, a member of the militia, shot and killed two people and injured a third person during the riot. That night he told people he was there to protect the businesses from the protestors. Charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, and attempted first-degree intentional reckless homicide, Rittenhouse entered a plea of not guilty in a Kenosha County Court hours before Gravely’s press conference, according to a story by NPR.
The case involved Blake, but it had impacted many people – police, business owners, politicians, the National Guard, and the community.
Gravely told reporters that he insisted that the case be a “complicated conversation.”
“This is a tragedy for those who love Jacob Blake. He is a father, son, and nephew. And I want to acknowledge and say that I really feel like the Blake family and Mr. Blake himself have tried to be real, truly positive forces in the community, asking the community to have peaceful but real dialogue about change that I think is necessary in this community outlined by the issues exposed in this case. And so I thank them for their positive contributions,” he said.
Acknowledging the complexities
He also acknowledged the police officers involved in the shooting and pointed to the tragedy they, too, have experienced.
“Their whole lives have been judged by a few seconds, the way that they conducted themselves on these shifts,” he said. “And to their families, because there’s a tragedy there. They’ve been impacted in the past several months, as this decision has been awaited.”
He challenged people to be part of the conversation around racism rather than burn things down.
“Can moments of tragedy like this be an opportunity to build things? Are there times and circumstances that are tragic, where communities in their healing process can begin to make themselves a better community that allows for all points of view and allows for all the parties, even those who feel so disenfranchised, to have a voice?”
Editor’s note: We’ll have more coverage over the next few days as this is an ongoing storyline.