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Explainer: How a US shooting sparked mass protests and sports teams walking out on matches

Jacob Blake was shot seven times by a police officer in Wisconsin on Sunday.

police-shooting-wisconsin A flag flies over a Department of Corrections building that was set ablaze during protests, late on Monday, in Kenosha. Source: Morry Gash/AP/PA Images

PROTESTS ARE CONTINUING in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the US after a black man was shot by a white police officer on Sunday.

Demonstrators took to the streets in Kenosha and beyond after footage, filmed by a bystander, emerged of Jacob Blake being shot by Rusten Sheskey seven times at point blank range in front of his children.

Officials said the police were responding to a domestic violence report.

Blake survived the incident, but his family said the 29-year-old is paralysed from the waist down.

The US Department of Justice has opened a federal investigation into the shooting. It has sent more than 200 FBI agents and US Marshals to the city.

Blake’s shooting sparked more outrage in a country already experiencing mass protests over police brutality and racial injustice.

2.55188257 Protesters in Kenosha. Source: PA Images

The shooting comes just three months after another African American man, George Floyd, suffocated beneath the knee of a white officer in Minneapolis, igniting the most widespread civil unrest in the country in decades.

The incident has resulted in NBA players leading an unprecedented wave of sports walkouts in protest.

Here’s a breakdown of this week’s events. 

The shooting on Sunday

Police said the shooting occurred when they were responding to a domestic incident at about 5.11pm local time (11.11pm Irish time) on Sunday.

The incident began when a woman called police saying “her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises”, according to investigators.

Phone footage of the incident shows an altercation and Blake being followed by two police officers with guns drawn as he goes around the front of a grey SUV.

As he opens the door and tries to get into the driver’s seat one of the officers pulls on his T-shirt and he is shot repeatedly in the back.

2.55175034 A protester is helped after police used tear gas. Source: PA Images

Authorities said two police officers have been placed on administrative leave. The other officers involved in the shooting will be identified soon, according to the state’s attorney general.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said three of Blake’s sons, aged three, five and eight, were in the car at the time. Crump said Blake had been trying to break up a fight between two women.

It was the eight-year-old boy’s birthday.

“They saw a cop shoot their father. They will be traumatised forever,” Crump said on Twitter.

Crump represents the family of George Floyd, who died on 25 May when a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes – an incident that sparked mass protests across the US and internationally.

another-police-shooting-of-young-black-man-sparks-new-protests A vehicle burns after being set on fire near where a man was shot dead on Tuesday night. Source: Chris Juhn/Zuma Press/PA Images

The man who said he made the mobile phone video of the shooting on Sunday, 22-year-old Raysean White, said he saw Blake scuffling with three officers and heard them yell, ‘Drop the knife! Drop the knife!’ before the gunfire erupted. He said he did not see a knife in Blake’s hands.

A crowd of protestors faced off against riot police in Kenosha on Sunday night and the city has imposed a 7pm to 7am curfew in a bid to stem the violent clashes – however, many people ignored this. 

Wisconsin governor Tony Evers declared a state of emergency on Tuesday under which he doubled the National Guard deployment in Kenosha from 125 to 250. The night before crowds destroyed dozens of buildings and set more than 30 fires in the city centre.

The demonstrations have turned deadly – two people were shot and killed on Tuesday night. A 17-year-old was arrested on Wednesday in relation to these shootings and has since been charged with homicide.

The suspect has been identified as Kyle Rittenhouse, a local youth whose social media accounts reportedly pointed at an affinity for guns and law enforcement.

Facebook said it had removed the accounts of the teen suspect, along with pages of a local militia in Kenosha.

“We’ve designated this shooting as a mass murder and have removed the shooter’s accounts from Facebook and Instagram,” the internet giant told AFP.

news-unrest-in-wisconsin Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, addressing the media on Monday. Source: USA TODAY Network/SIPA USA/PA Images

Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, has called for an end to the violence. She said the damage in Kenosha does not reflect what her family wants and that, if her son could see it, he would be “very unpleased”.

Police officer named

The white police officer who shot Blake was yesterday named as Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department.

The Wisconsin Justice Department said Sheskey shot Blake while holding onto his shirt after officers first unsuccessfully used a Taser.

Officials said Blake had a knife “in his possession” when he was shot.

It was not clear from the statement if the knife, recovered from inside the car, was in Blake’s hands when he was shot or at any other point during the altercation.

news-unrest-in-wisconsin A firefighter puts out hot spots near the corner of 22nd Street and Roosevelt Street in Kenosha on Tuesday. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Officers were sent to a residence in Kenosha following a domestic disturbance and during the incident “attempted to arrest” Blake, unsuccessfully Tasering him, the statement said.

“Mr Blake walked around his vehicle, opened the driver’s side door, and leaned forward. While holding onto Mr Blake’s shirt, Officer Rusten Sheskey fired his service weapon 7 times. Officer Sheskey fired the weapon into Mr Blake’s back,” a statement said.

Subsequently, the statement said, agents “recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of Mr Blake’s vehicle”.

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Sport walkouts

A number of sports teams and players have refused to take part in games in protest at Blake’s shooting and racism in the US.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) postponed yesterday’s playoff games after the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their game against the Orlando Magic.

The league said in a statement that all three games – Milwaukee versus Orlando, Houston Rockets versus Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers versus Portland Trail Blazers – would not take place.

“Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” players for the Milwaukee Bucks, whose base is just to the north of Kenosha, said in a statement after boycotting their game.

Just hours after the Bucks’ walkout, players from the Washington Mystics, a Women’s National Basketball Association team, made a symbolic statement at the IMG Academy in Florida.

Each player had a different letter written on the front of their t-shirt, spelling out Blake’s name. The back of the shirts each had seven holes cut out – the number of times Blake was shot.

The WNBA also postponed games in solidarity with the protests.

LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers have voted to abandon the entire NBA season in protest.

Tennis player Naomi Osaka and a number of baseball and soccer players also pulled out of fixtures in protest.

US election

It is, of course, an election year in the US and the protests have been politicised.

US President Donald Trump confirmed he is deploying federal law enforcement and National Guard troops to Kenosha “to restore law and order” — although local officials said they already had hundreds of state police, 250 National Guard troops, and FBI and federal marshals helping with the situation.

Trump’s comments made clear the violence would also be fodder for the ongoing presidential race, with the election just over two months away.

His campaign has portrayed anti-police protests in numerous cities as an extreme leftist threat to the country.

US Vice President Mike Pence yesterday told the Republican Party convention that people “won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America”.

Democratic rival Biden, meanwhile, said he has spoken to Blake’s family, and promised them “justice”.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2020  

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Órla Ryan

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