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WUWM's Teran Powell reports on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

Kenosha Activist Weighs In On Race Relations, One Year After Police Shooting Of Jacob Blake Jr.

Kenosha in 2020
Teran Powell
Kenosha demonstrators at the Kenosha County Courthouse protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake Jr. in August 2020.

One year ago, Jacob Blake, Jr., a Black man, was paralyzed after Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey, a white man, shot him in the back — multiple times — at close range.

Officers were responding to a domestic dispute.

Video of the shooting shows Blake walking away from officers after being tased. As Blake tries to enter his SUV, Sheskey is seen grabbing Blake’s shirt from behind and firing toward his back.

Sheskey claims he feared Blake would stab him or flee with the children in the vehicle. An attorney for Blake’s family says there’s no evidence that Blake threatened the officer with a knife.

The video went viral and protests erupted, adding to a summer of demonstrations against police violence toward communities of color.

The police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others reignited calls for accountability, defunding and abolishing the police.

Porche Bennet-Bey of Kenosha is among activists still demanding action behind verbal promises of police accountability.

Bennett-Bey says the relationship between Black residents and police is shaky. "You got some officers who, you know, have been willing to be a part of community things and stuff like that. And then you still have those officers who feel like because they have that badge, they are more superior than any other person," she says.

Bennett-Bey says she's heard firsthand how some officers feel about Black people. "So, it's still a lot of work to be done on that end to show them like you can’t keep judging all of us just based off the color of our skin because ya’ll don’t want us judging every officer who wears a badge," she says.

Bennett-Bey thinks the police department has the potential to be reformed, but says if people are conditioned to think a certain way about Black people, and other people of color, that makes it harder to progress. She says, "And until we get people who are willing to actually sit down and have conversations and understand what it really means in life to love each other and not hate each other, it’s gonna continue to be a problem."

Protests erupted in Kenosha following Jacob Blake Jr. being shot by police last summer, but Bennett-Bey says protests look a bit different now. There aren't daily demonstrations anymore; if something happens, she says, people will take to the streets to make their voices heard.

But she also says she's learned to protest in a different way these days. "Going into these meetings and being around these people they would tell me all the time, we don’t mind protesting but all the yelling, the screaming and stuff we tune that out. We don’t listen," Bennett-Bey says. "So, I had to learn to protest in a different way. And that was actually by going into these meetings and raising my voice, but not in a literal sense but in a firm way to get them to hear me. And I realized I don’t have to yell to get my point across to y’all.  I can come in here with facts and show y’all that I’m in y’all business so y’all can see that I’m serious about what we need changed around here."

Bennett-Bey says for actual change to happen in Kenosha, people have to come together on one accord and make demands known. She says more people can go to city and county committee meetings and bring others with them so those in power know what the needs of the people are.

"But don’t think, 'OK I said that and that’s it.” No, keep going. If they say they're gonna do something, make sure they stand on that. If they want to have a meeting, bring as many people as you possibly can so they can hear what the people have to say. Like, I know it’s going to take time," she adds, "but … I'm not gonna stop."

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Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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