Another Black man’s life has been compromised by state violence. A Kenosha police officer put seven bullets in his back. He was shot at close range in front of his three small children. Jacob Blake lies now in a hospital bed with a severed spinal cord, most of his damaged large and small intestine removed with holes in his stomach – massive traumatic injuries that surely could have killed him. Yet he lives – and what kind of a life will it be now for the twenty-nine-year-old father? His family? His children?
I just can’t wrap my head around the necessity of shooting someone one or even two times trying to move away from the police. He was trying to get into his car, not threatening anyone. It isn’t as if a man with three children can get far without being tracked down and arrested later if necessary. He didn’t HAVE to be stopped at that exact moment by potentially lethal force.
Cities have expected their police to do work outside what they are best trained to do. If a domestic dispute was happening that Blake may have been involved in, unarmed social workers might have been a much better solution. When a car is stopped for a traffic infraction, better an unarmed traffic officer can handle it. In either case, if things get violent, the social worker or traffic officer can call for back-up. In today’s surveillance society where there is nowhere to run and hide, an individual can be easily tracked down and arrested later in a better controlled moment when violence can be prevented.
There are many situations police officers are asked to step into that don’t require someone armed with a gun or taser. The threat of violence implicit in the presence of an armed police officer can cause an escalation of aggression. The interpretation that makes sense to me of “defund the police” is to change the structure of today’s police work and who does it, as well as diverting funds into social services that prevent crime in the first place.
What disturbed me even more though was what happened Tuesday night following the rioting and vandalism in response to the shooting. Private militia members showed up on the streets heavily armed and were met with the support of the police. Rather than doing their jobs with the extra forces sent in from the Governor, the police allowed these men with long guns and assault rifles to station themselves as vigilante community protectors. Not surprisingly this generated a tense standoff with demonstrators. And 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois shot and killed two people, Anthony Huber, 26, of Silver Lake and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha and injuring yet another, Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, of West Allis. He is being held on charges of first-degree murder. Another four lives ruined by violence.
Wisconsin is an open-carry state. I’m not sure if there is anything the police can currently do about such situations. My hope is this doesn’t get repeated in the future and become a movement. This display of force, as basically counter demonstrators, is likely to create more violence and bloodshed not less if it happens again. If both sides decide to carry arms, we could have warfare in the streets. We’re fortunate we haven’t seen more killing from actions like this in the past.
What these armed untrained individuals carrying powerful weapons roaming the streets intimidating people are doing is taking the law into their own hands. They are usurping the role of those sworn to protect and defend us. This kind of terrorism must stop and not be encouraged by police officers. That’s one reason we have a national guard to restore order when police officers can’t handle a situation.
The Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t look like it is going to become dormant as it has in the past when the next big crisis diverts the nation’s attention. The focus now is on policing. We have a new mayor’s task force with a diverse selection of community leaders here in Albany, mandated by the state, organized to look at the work of the Albany police. It is my fervent hope that we can find solutions that increase support for our police to deal with violent crime like gun violence in our city and divert them from situations where they can do more harm than good.
Message from Bradford Community Church UU:
We, the members and clergy of Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist, are outraged at the violence perpetuated in the name of law enforcement on our people of color throughout our nation’s history and yesterday in Kenosha in the case of Jacob Blake for whose life we now pray.
Despite the fact that we cannot condone violent response to injustice, we understand and appreciate the anger and frustration that fueled the events of last night. While we are relieved that our church home mostly survived the inferno in the lot next door, we affirm that we would rather lose 100 buildings than one more life to police violence.
Some folks have already commented that our decision to display “Black Lives Matter” on our road sign in some way contributed to the fire or that our support of the BLM movement is hypocritical or “un-Christian.” Indeed, all lives do matter to us (that’s what “Universalist” means), but given the overwhelming and disproportionate injustice suffered by Americans of color we are compelled by our faith to speak up and affirm that Black Lives Matter too.
If this is not your faith, so be it, but it is most certainly ours and we ask that all folks be respectful in honoring our sacred calling to speak truth to power, protect the innocent, empower the disenfranchised and promote equity and compassion in human relations.
In the name of Love,
Rev. Erik David Carlson
On Behalf of Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist, Kenosha