In response to the shooting of three people, two fatally, by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, Kenosha, Wis., Police Chief Daniel Miskinis blamed the victims, saying had they been respectful of the curfew, they would not have been shot.
These comments came in the wake of video of the police expressing their thanks for what Rittenhouse and his fellow vigilante militia members were doing and even more damning video of Rittenhouse walking away from the scene of the crime, right past multiple police officers.
This stands in stark contrast to the video, which sparked the outrage in Kenosha — and once again across the country — where police were caught on video shooting Jacob Blake SEVEN times in his back, right in front of his children. Amazingly, he survived, though he will likely be paralyzed from his waist down. Yet, reports say that he is being handcuffed to his hospital bed. Since when is a paralyzed man a serious flight risk?
What is the difference between Kyle Rittenhouse and Jacob Blake? We all know the answer, one is White and the other is Black. Here, we have juxtaposed in real time the disparate treatment of these two men by the police, the exact same police force.
Rittenhouse’s stated purpose being there was to protect property, and yet he was not protecting property when he ventured out into the street to engage with people who were not anywhere near the property he claimed to be protecting.
He went to Kenosha with the intent, the hope, that he would be able to shoot someone. We must recognize that any time someone unholsters his/her firearm, it is with the sole intent of killing someone or something. Yet, the Kenosha police ignored scores of vigilantes standing by with rifles and handguns displayed openly, fingers on triggers.
The vigilantes who went to Kenosha represent another aspect of Black dehumanization. The most important value for them is the protection of property, more important than the value of Blake’s life.
The anger following each of these unjust attacks and murders of Black people at the hands of police often leads to violence and destruction of property. Unfortunately, this enables those who want to ignore the unjust killings to shift the narrative to the violence. The “questions” are inevitable, “What about Black on Black crime?” or, “I want to support them, but why do they have to resort to violence?”
This perspective is clear in Police Chief Miskinis’ public comments that Tuesday’s murders were because of curfew violations. There was a knife in Blake’s car, therefore the shooting was justified. These are the narratives that Miskinis and the Kenosha police want you to hear. The story here is the vandalism, the destruction of property.
However, the answer is so much more simple. Miskinis and so many others fail to recognize that none of this would happen if our law enforcement officers would simply stop unjustly shooting our Black brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and children.
Among the things that would be true if the Kenosha police had not shot Blake in the back seven times: Blake would still be able to walk, Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum would still be fathers to their daughters and both would be planning their weddings with their respective fiancées, and Gaige Grosskreutz would not be in danger of losing one of his arms.
Huber and Rosenbaum are dead not because they violated a curfew, but because the Kenosha police did not act as if Blake’s life matters as much as the life of Rittenhouse. That is what started all of this, and that is what we must make sure that everyone remembers.
David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.