- Mandela Barneslieutenant governor of Wisconsin.
Protests continue in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where police shot an unarmed Black man in the back seven times as he was getting into his car, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Jacob Blake was reportedly breaking up a fight before police shot him, and the shooting was witnessed by his three young children. On Tuesday, the situation escalated further when at least one white gunman opened fire on a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters. Two people were killed, and a third was injured, as police continued a violent crackdown on protesters demanding justice for Blake. We speak with Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who says the police response to Blake was completely unjustified. “There’s no way that any officer could look at that video and say that that’s the way policing should happen,” he says. “We need police departments, sheriff’s departments to acknowledge that there is a real problem in the culture of policing.”
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to begin with a warning to our audience: The following story contains graphic footage of violence. A white gunman opened fire Tuesday night on people protesting the police shooting of unarmed Black man Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Two people were killed, a third was injured, in the gunfire.
PROTESTER 1: Oh my god! Oh my god!
PROTESTER 2: Medic! Medic! Medic! Medic!
AMY GOODMAN: Bystander video shows the man, a white man, falling to the ground and shooting into a crowd as protesters attempt to disarm him. Kenosha police say armed vigilantes had been in the streets, and they were looking for a man with a long gun. As we broadcast, no arrests have been made yet, and those killed have not been identified.
Earlier Tuesday night, police in riot gear shot tear gas and rubber bullets at Black Lives Matter protesters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse. This marks the third night of unrest in Kenosha since Sunday, when police shot Jacob Blake, an unarmed 29-year-old Black man, seven times in the back as he was getting into a car. His three children, ages 3, 5 and 8, witnessed the shooting from the car. Blake was reportedly trying to break up a fight between two women before the shooting. Jacob Blake’s family and lawyers said Tuesday he’s conscious but still in critical condition, that he’s paralyzed from the waist down. Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson; sister, Letetra Widman; and father, Jacob Blake Sr., spoke at a news conference outside the courthouse.
JACOB BLAKE SR.: They shot my son seven times — seven times — like he didn’t matter. But my son matters. … How would you feel if your white son walked up to you, as a mother, and said, “Mommy, why did the police shoot my daddy in the back?” You have no clue.
JULIA JACKSON: My son has been fighting for his life. … So, I’m really asking and encouraging everyone, in Wisconsin and abroad, to take a moment and examine your hearts. Citizens, police officers, firemen, clergy, politicians, do Jacob justice on this level and examine your hearts.
LETETRA WIDMAN: I am my brother’s keeper. And when you say the name Jacob Blake, make sure you say “father,” make sure you say “cousin,” make sure you say “son,” make sure you say “uncle,” but, most importantly, make sure you say “human.”
AMY GOODMAN: And this is civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who’s representing Jacob Blake.
BENJAMIN CRUMP: We don’t have to give you a lot of legal treatises to let you know that what they did to Jacob Sr. and Julia’s son was done with deliberate indifference. … But the medical diagnosis right now is that he is paralyzed. And because those bullets severed his spinal cord and shattered some of his vertebrae, that attorney Salvi will get to in more detail, it is going to take a miracle — it is going to take a miracle — for Jacob Blake Jr. to ever walk again.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined in Madison, Wisconsin, by Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, the first African American to be elected to this position.
Lieutenant Governor, thanks so much for joining us on Democracy Now! If you can start off by giving us the latest on what is understood? The sheriff, although they haven’t explained why the police shot Jacob Blake, has said that in this latest incidents of violence, which looks like white shooters — called them militia or vigilantes in the streets. Two are dead now, and one critically wounded. Can you explain what you understand is happening in Kenosha? And then we’ll go back to the original police shooting.
LT. GOV. MANDELA BARNES: Yeah. Thank you so much, Amy.
Yeah, the most recent report I still have, that I saw, as of 10 minutes ago, said that two people were dead. And Sheriff David Beth was able to talk about what happened there. And this is the Kenosha County sheriff. It was the city of Kenosha Police Department, if I’m not mistaken, that carried out the shooting on Jacob Blake.
But while we still don’t have answers, what we know is, last night, with the fans of hate being flamed, you see these militia groups decide to take up arms and try to handle a situation on their own. And these sorts of instances, you know, you can look back at President Donald Trump when he threatened gun violence. He even threatened to sic dogs on protesters outside of the White House. If this is the message coming from the top about how to handle people who are, you know, standing up against racial injustice in this country, I mean, those — the protesters are the people who are, like I said before, the people who are trying to bring this country together, the people who are standing up and demanding an America that is truly representative and responsive to all people.
And so, to see the video first thing in the morning, and I’ve — recently, it’s just been so difficult to go to sleep, one, because of everything going on; two, because you don’t know what you’re going to wake up to see next. And to see this is — it’s heartbreaking to know that people who want a safer country, who want a safer state, who want a safer world to live in for themselves, for children, have been subject to being shot at by vigilantes and a gunman.
And I don’t know this person’s political affiliation. I don’t know what group specifically this person came from who opened fire. But what we do know is that it happened. What we do know is that activity wasn’t discouraged by some of our leaders.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Lieutenant Governor Barnes, that’s what I wanted to ask you about. From your understanding, what are the instructions? Because there are now National Guard that have been mobilized. What are the instructions to the guard and to local police about how to deal with, one, the protesters, and then with any potential vigilantes? Because the initial reports I read were that there were these armed men outside a gas station for a while, and then the shooting happened much later on.
LT. GOV. MANDELA BARNES: So, and I’ll start from the back, because you said that the armed men were outside the gas station for a while. I mean, how many times across this country do you see armed gunmen, you know, protesting, walking into state capitols, and everybody just thinks it’s OK? People treat that like it’s some kind of normal activity that people are walking around with assault rifles. You know, in many instances, these people have been led on by various conspiracy theories that have ruminated on the internet, and these people are demanding to have their country back. And to assume that nothing bad is going to happen, to assume that these people are up to — or, have the most fine intentions, is completely ridiculous.
And so, for folks that — you know, we can’t even act surprised that this happened, because this is what they’ve been saying that they are going to do, whatever armed militia group. You know, they don’t do those quasi-military tactical trainings for nothing. They are preparing for an event, and it’s something like this, where people are standing up, demanding racial justice in this country — is a perfect opportunity for them to strike. And that is what you saw in that video.
Armed guard — or, excuse me, the National Guard was mobilized. The instructions for the National Guard were to protect critical assets and help with fires. And I don’t know what the police response would have been. I don’t know if they were expecting — I mean, I’m pretty sure they weren’t expecting a gunman to open fire, but I don’t know why people wouldn’t expect for it to happen, because if you see somebody with a gun who is living in constant fear of whatever, you should expect them to want to use that weapon.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you to go back to the incident that touched all of this off: the shooting of Jacob Blake. Could you tell us what you understand is what the police have reported on what touched off the altercation between police and Blake? Because the police have been relatively — they haven’t said much at all, even for a normal shooting event.
LT. GOV. MANDELA BARNES: They haven’t said much at all. They have not said much at all. And with them not having said much at all, you have to — it’s easy to assume that what the report finds out will not be good. I don’t have any additional information. I wish I did, but at the same time I wish I didn’t have additional information. We see the video. We saw what happened. And we know that it should not have, when the way that that was carried out, the way that the shooting happened — I mean, I don’t know — if they wanted to prevent him from getting into the car, there are multiple means to prevent him from getting into the car: You could tackle the guy; you could use a baton to stop him from getting into a car; you could, at worst, tase him. But the amount of officers there, that were there on site, that were present, it’s not justified, how this situation ended up and for him to be shot in his back as many times. You know, you hear the grueling accounts of the internal damage that was done to him.
And there’s no way that any officer could look at that video and say that that’s the way policing should happen. And, you know, I’ve said before, still, like, as tough as things are, as dire as things are, especially in America, in terms of relations with law enforcement, I’m still not going to sit here and say that it’s every officer, because it’s not. And it’s more than just a single police. It is policing. Policing in America has got to change, because if policing in America allowed for that scene to take place, then the problem is deeper than anybody could imagine. After months of folks stepping up, after months of people protesting in every corner of this state, every corner of this country to demand justice, if an officer still thought that that was OK behavior or an all right response or a proper response to the situation, then they are totally out of touch, out of step, with where we should be in America in terms of justice being applied equally in any way.
AMY GOODMAN: In case there’s anyone who hasn’t seen this video, just a description, now a second cellphone video has come out. The man who took the first video from across the street, he is suffering post-traumatic stress. I mean, he said it was horrifying as he was filming. But the idea that the policeman, as he was getting into his car, is holding the back of his T-shirt and shoots him at point-blank range seven times in the back as his little children are in the car that he’s getting into — 3, 5 and 8 years old.
Now, the second cellphone video, that has come out today, you see family coming out on the property. It’s the other side of the car. And they’re shouting at the police. They already know what’s going to happen. I mean, they already know because they’ve seen these videos so many times. You have little tiny children on the grass. You have parents. You have parents telling their kids to come back. You have Jacob Blake walking around the car, and then you hear — bang, bang, bang — these seven shots.
So, I wanted to ask you about attorney Ben Crump, who’s representing Jacob Blake and has represented the families of, oh, George Floyd, as well as so many others, Breonna Taylor — tweeted, “Kenosha city council passed an ordinance in 2017 requiring all officers wear body cams. But they never bought them. They’re in the budget.. in 2022. If it weren’t for a neighbor’s video, the police shooting of Jacob Blake would’ve vanished & no officers would be held accountable.” That’s the tweet of Ben Crump.
So, that’s the only video we’re seeing right now, because there isn’t bodycam video. If you can talk about how this legislation, that passed, was gotten around? And then talk, at the state level — you are the lieutenant governor — about what is being done at the state level for police reform.
LT. GOV. MANDELA BARNES: Yeah. Like we said before, that video, it was brazen. The officer’s actions were brazen. And I’ve said before also, in my own statement, that “What if there wasn’t video footage of what happened?”
Now, I can’t speak to specifically what happened with the city of Kenosha’s budget and why the bodycams were not made a priority. But, obviously, this is something we’ve been talking about for years and years and years, even back when I was in the Legislature, about the need to have bodycams for added accountability. And when you don’t have that bodycam footage, it is your word versus the officer’s word. And people, the law, people who decide the fate in these situations, district attorneys, typically are going to side with law enforcement, if it’s the words of a police officer versus someone else.
And I’ll say, at the state level, even in the wake of George Floyd, we introduced — or, the governor introduced a legislative package. Now, we know that a legislative package is not going to solve the deep problems, but it takes a coordinated effort. We need action at every level of government. We need local government to act. We need police departments, sheriff’s departments to acknowledge that there is a real problem in the culture of policing. We need our city councils to demand justice. And we need also that accountability, like you said, with the bodycam footage, about them being funded, allocated, having an appropriation in the budget, but never being purchased. That is a real problem. And then, at the state level, we need to make sure that all of our departments, all of our law enforcement departments within our state, are doing the right thing. You know, these are basic steps that people can take, but if there’s a basic step taken at every level, we can have a true response.
But deeper than that, it goes to the culture. It goes to reimagining what keeping people safe looks like. It goes to making sure that there is funding on the front end to prevent violence from happening in the first place, like violence interrupters, but also having support for community organizations, having support for job training programs, you know, whatever the case may be, to create communities, to create societies, where people have an opportunity to thrive, where less or fewer police are actually needed to respond to anything in the first place.
You know, I just feel like, just all across the board, there is the larger injustice. Of course, there’s the injustice of unarmed Black men being shot, but there’s a deeper injustice that spreads far beyond that. It’s what leads to these situations. It’s what leads to the prejudice. It’s what prevents people from having an opportunity to grow and reach their full potential. You know, the number of police calls in a certain community, it’s easy to say, “Well, that’s a bad neighborhood.” But it takes more thought to say, “Oh, well, that is a community that has been starved of resources. That’s a community that doesn’t have what another neighborhood five miles down the road has that prevents them from having as many interactions with law enforcement.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Lieutenant Governor Barnes, I wanted to ask you — you mentioned that the governor has called a special session to take up some police brutality legislation. But I wanted to ask you, because this — the Jacob Blake case is being investigated by the local district attorney. District attorneys are notoriously very close to and cozy with their local police departments. Do you support an independent investigation? And have you had discussions with the governor about this? And also, what is precisely some of the key reforms that you’re hoping to take up in the Legislature?
LT. GOV. MANDELA BARNES: Yeah, so, it’s not the district attorney. The state is actually investigating. We do have independent investigations for police shootings. I think we passed that bill in either 2014 or 2015. I was in the Legislature at the time. So, it is the state. It is the Office of Criminal Investigation who’s leading the investigation, independent from the district attorney. So, there is that independent aspect that’s there, recognizing that local law enforcement shouldn’t investigate themselves. The results truly yield the actual justice that people are looking for.
But whether it’s excessive use of force, whether it’s mandatory reporting for a person — or, mandatory intervention for a partner when things start to go south and they don’t deescalate the situation, the mandatory deescalation training, again, the violence interrupters piece, which I’ve talked about, which is one of the most critical ones, because you have these police officers who, unfortunately — I could speak to Milwaukee — who don’t live in the neighborhoods that they serve. And, you know, that’s one of the major parts about this, too, that doesn’t get talked about enough.
Any police officer should live in the city that they serve. If you’re going to have to — if you’re going to uphold the law in a specific jurisdiction, you should live under that law also, under the laws of that jurisdiction, as well. And the fact that police officers were able to move out created an even deeper disconnect. It created a policing in communities where you have very little relativity, where you don’t understand necessarily how people live, how people function. You don’t understand the language. And by understanding the language, I mean just norms of existing in a society within — you know, within the people that you are to serve and protect. You know, that’s been a big problem. And it says something if you don’t want to live in the city that you’re supposed to — that you’re sworn to serve and protect. It says that you want to come in as some sort of guardian and then leave. And without that connection, you make decisions that aren’t always going to be in the interest of improving that community.
AMY GOODMAN: Lieutenant Governor Barnes, we just have a minute, but I wanted to get your response to a local Fox affiliate that says, “According to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ aide, local law enforcement in Wisconsin told the White House they need at least 750 National Guard Tuesday night. Gov. Evers is … sending 250, up from 150 … On Tuesday, Meadows’ aide said Meadows called the governor and offered 500 additional National Guard members to meet the police needs, … Evers declined.” Can you talk about the — what is the mandate of the 250 you’ve already sent? And what about this possibility of the feds sending in, like we saw in Portland?
LT. GOV. MANDELA BARNES: Yeah, so, those numbers that were reported, those were not accurate numbers. I was actually going over those this morning.
And Mark Meadows, they wanted to send Department of Homeland Security. Now, we can go back to our request to the White House, because we wanted to have our COVID-19 relief effort, that is administered by the National Guard, fully funded, and were soundly rejected by the White House. And so, if Mark Meadows wants to talk facts, then let’s talk facts, because that’s the real deal when it comes to numbers. They can’t send people in there to provide coronavirus testing; how can we trust them to appropriately come in and manage a situation that is as volatile as this one?
And when it comes to the number of National Guard troops that were requested by Kenosha County, that 750 number is inflated, as well. Governor Evers responded to the request of local officials.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mandela Barnes, we want to thank you so much for being with us, lieutenant governor of Wisconsin. Of course, we’ll continue to follow what’s happening in Kenosha.
Up next, as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 nears 180,000, we go to night two of the Republican convention. Stay with us.