NBA Players Launch Historic Boycott for Jacob Blake

By Terrance Turner

The shooting of unarmed Black man Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday has led to a historic move. In response to the shooting, the Milwaukee Bucks — who play just 40 miles north of Kenosha — decided to sit out tonight’s Game 5. The Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, and Portland Trail Blazers all boycotted their scheduled games tonight. There will be no NBA playoff basketball tonight.

Moreover, the boycott may stretch beyond tonight. ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted earlier today: “Emotions are raw, players were already worn out of bubble environment prior to the Jacob Blake shooting and sources say discussions within teams [involve] postponing tomorrow’s three games too — and beyond. ‘The season is in jeopardy,’ one vet player here told ESPN.”

Tonight, players met in the NBA bubble to discuss the situation. NBA Insider Shams Charania said tonight that the Lakers and Clippers voted to end the NBA season. Lakers star LeBron James reportedly walked out of the meeting, joined by players from both L.A. teams. According to NBA writer Vince Goodwill, his frustration stemmed in part from the fact that the Bucks initiated the boycott without letting others know. Further action will be taken tomorrow, at the Board of Governors meeting.

The shooting occurred on Aug. 23. Police were called to the scene of a domestic incident at 5:11 pm, in the Wilson Heights neighborhood of Kenosha, according to a police report. The Wisconsin Department of Justice notes the police were called to the neighborhood by a woman who requested assistance because “her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises.” According to Vox, “In dispatch audio of the incident, a dispatcher can be heard saying, “Jacob Blake isn’t supposed to be there and he took the complainant’s keys and is refusing to give them back.”

It was Officer Rusten Sheskey who pulled the trigger. (Sheskey, 31, has been the subject of five internal investigations since he joined the Kenosha department in 2013, including reprimands for crashing his squad car three times in three years. He has also earned 16 awards, letters or formal commendations.) Cellphone video of the incident shows Blake walking to the driver’s side door of an SUV as officers follow him, shouting, with guns drawn. As Blake opens the door and leans into the SUV, Sheskey grabs his shirt from behind and opens fire. Blake was shot seven times in the back — in front of his children.

Following the shooting, several witnesses told Kenosha News that Blake was trying to break up a “verbal altercation” between two women just after 5 pm. By 5:15, there were three officers on the scene. According to the Associated Press, “The Kenosha police union said Blake was armed with a knife, and Sheskey ordered him several times to drop it but he would not. Sheskey’s attorney, Brendan Matthews, said Sheskey fired because Blake started turning toward the officer while holding a knife.” Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley chose to believe the officers.

UPDATE (Jan. 5): Kenosha D.A. Michael Graveley announced today that there will be no charges of the officers in this case. Sheskey will face no criminal charges; neither will the two officers present when the shooting took place. Graveley said Blake was clearly armed with a knife and had admitted having it. He further claimed that Sheskey fired the gun after Blake motioned towards him with the knife. But these claims are difficult to prove, as officers wore no body cameras.

Blake’s death sparked protests across the country. Windows were smashed, and garbage trucks were set on fire. One protest in Kenosha, which took place two days after the shoooting, turned deadly. Protesters clashed with a group of armed men who claimed to be “protecting” property. One of them was 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse. Video of the incident shows a man, allegedly Rittenhouse, running down the street with an AR-15-style rifle as he’s pursued by others attempting to apprehend him. Rittenhouse falls to the ground, then turns around and begins shooting at the people trying to disarm him. (He killed two of them. Rittenhouse pled not guilty to homicide charges today.)

After the shooting, the man with the rifle walks away from the scene toward law enforcement, according to a video viewed by Kenosha News. In the video, a bystander frantically yells to the officers that the man with the rifle shot someone. “Hey, he just shot them,” the man screams. However, law enforcement officials drive directly past the man with the gun.

When asked why officers did not immediately apprehend Rittenhouse, Kenosha Sheriff David G. Beth answered, “In situations that are high-stress, you have such incredible tunnel vision.” Tunnel vision did not prevent officers from firing seven times at Blake, over a knife. But it did prevent them from arresting a 17-year-old who killed two people with an illegally possessed gun.

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