Only hours after the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police, the media narrative had already solidified. In spite of the fact that all we had to go on, at that point, was a short video of police shooting a man while he leaned inside his car, the media had rendered its verdict: Jacob Blake was an “unarmed” victim gunned down by police after he stopped to innocently “break up a fight” between two other people.
Was he in fact unarmed? Was he breaking up a fight? Why was he reaching into his car? What exactly happened between Blake and the police before the shooting? And why were police there in the first place? These were open questions, and three of them remain open. But according to Wisconsin media outlet Madison365, which obtained audio from the police scanner on the night of the shooting, at least one key point in the initial narrative may be more complicated than originally reported.
The audio indicates that someone had called 911 to report that Blake was at her home, was not supposed to be there, and had taken her keys and wouldn’t give them back. Police responding to the scene were informed that Blake had an open warrant for his arrest. It had been previously (rather quietly) reported that Blake was wanted for sexual assault, trespassing, and domestic abuse.
None of this directly vindicates the officers involved, but it is significant for a few reasons. First, the claim by some eye witnesses reported by media outlets that Blake was “breaking up a fight” was potentially untrue. According to the audio, the police were summoned to the scene because of Blake’s own alleged actions. Of course, it shouldn’t be a revelation that eye witness reports are often unreliable, especially where high-profile police shootings are concerned. We should always keep in mind that Black Lives Matter rose to prominence on the back of initial false eye witness reports in Ferguson about Michael Brown putting up his hands in surrender, which led to the “Hands up, don’t shoot” mantra.
Unfortunately, there is even more reason to doubt eye witness reports these days, as these shootings are not happening in a vacuum. We don’t know if the apparent false information in this case was intentional or not, but the temptation to give false information in this intensely anti-police environment must be very strong. And this is only added on top of the well established fact that eye witnesses in general are, as the Scientific American puts it, shockingly inaccurate.
Also, the fact that Blake had taken someone’s keys raises more critical questions about what he was doing when he walked to the vehicle, where his kids were reportedly sitting, and opened the door with police guns trained on him. Was he reaching for a gun? Was it his vehicle? Did he intend to drive away? Now it seems there could have been, potentially, more than one reason why police would open fire. If he was going for a gun, that would be clear justification for an equal response from police. If he, as a wanted alleged domestic and sexual abuser, was about to flee the scene with a vehicle full of kids, possibly involving the children in a dangerous high speed chase, or at least the police suspected this to be the case, that could be another reason for police to stop him by whatever means necessary.
There are still many unfilled holes in the story. But the facts, as they are revealed, clash with the established narrative. And the facts we do have leave open a number of possible justifications for resorting to lethal force. What this all means is that there is no solid basis, at this point, for concluding that the police committed any sort of crime, much less a racially motivated crime. Many more questions need to be answered. This case is not nearly as simple as it was first portrayed. Not that any of this matters to the rioters as they burn down the city.