‘Fools rush in.” Three centuries after they were written, those words ring as true as ever. And nowhere are they as relevant at present as in the case of Kenosha, Wis.
On Sunday, a black man named Jacob Blake was shot seven times by a police officer in Kenosha after Blake refused to comply with his orders. The details of what happened remain murky. We know that the cops were called in response to a complaint by a woman who claimed that Blake had taken her keys; we know that there was a warrant out for Blake that cited sexual assault, trespassing, and disorderly conduct; and we know that Blake had a knife “in his possession” at the time of the shooting. Beyond that, however, we remain largely in the dark. The nature of these cases depends heavily on the details, and, at the moment, those details are few and far between.
One would not know this by the reaction. Within hours of the video of the shooting hitting the Internet, the city of Kenosha was on fire. Cars were torched. Businesses were destroyed. A 71-year-old man was hit in the head with a concrete-filled plastic bottle, which fractured his jaw in two places. On Tuesday, a 17-year-old boy brought a rifle to the city, ostensibly to defend property, and ended up shooting two people dead — possibly in self-defense, possibly not. On Wednesday, the celebrities got involved. The NBA postponed all of its games, after a critical mass of players announced that they would not play. In baseball, games between the Brewers and Reds, Mariners and Padres, and Dodgers and Giants were postponed for the same reason. These adjournments drew praise from President Barack Obama, who explained that “it’s going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values.”
We might ask what that means. The move that inspired Obama was spearheaded by the Milwaukee Bucks, which put out a collective statement explaining their decision not to play. “We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake,” the team insisted, “and demand the officers be held accountable.” But therein lies the problem. Properly understood, “justice” is not an outcome but a process, and its achievement is wholly contingent upon the details of each case. We secure “justice” both when an innocent man walks free and when a guilty man is convicted. Determining which is which is the whole ball of wax. “Accountability” works much the same way. One can hold a person accountable only for wrongful actions they have actually taken.
And we do not know what happened in Kenosha.
Finding out will require time and patience and a lot of hard work — work that, by all accounts, is in the process of being done. The police in Kenosha are releasing the information that they have, and the government in Madison is conducting an investigation, while the local hospital is trying to save Jacob Blake’s life. There has been no coverup. Yesterday, the name of the cop who pulled the trigger was released to the public.
So why the rioting? We are told frequently these days that rioting represents the only course that many Americans have available to them. We reject this view entirely. Speaking to CNN, Jacob Blake’s mother explained that she and her family were “frankly disgusted” by what she was seeing. “As his mother,” she insisted, “please don’t burn up property and cause havoc and tear your own homes down in my son’s name. You shouldn’t do it, people shouldn’t do it anyway, but to use my child or any other mother or father’s child — our tragedy — to react in that manner, it’s just not acceptable.” We could not have put it better ourselves.
The best course of action remains the same today as it always has been: To wait for the facts before making demands; to insist upon a fair investigation, conducted without fear or favor; to ensure a sufficient police presence to control the streets; and, most important of all, to resist weaving every ugly incident into an all-encompassing worldview that, in the name of highlighting what is bad about America, serves to blot out all that is good.