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Jacob Blake case in Kenosha highlights handling of police shootings

Posted at 2:12 PM, Aug 28, 2020

Nightly protests like the ones in Kenosha have been seen in cities across the country before: Ferguson, Baltimore, Minneapolis. The calls for charges against officers involved in shootings may be growing louder amongst protesters, but charges and prosecutions in these cases remain rare.

Five days after Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey grabbed Jacob Blake’s shirt and fired seven shots into his back, many are angry no charges have been filed.

“The reason people expect charges in these cases to be filed so quickly is because when a civilian harms someone, they're charged, you know, immediately,” said Kate Levine, an associate law professor at Cardozo Law School in New York.

“I believe that all ordinary citizens should be treated the way the police are treated, and prosecutors should do a thorough investigation before they charge,” said Levine, who studies police prosecutions.

Bowling Green criminal justice professor Phil Stinson tracks these types of cases. He says even when charged with more serious crimes, like manslaughter or murder, officers are rarely convicted.

“About 1,000 times each year, an on-duty police officer shoots and kills someone. And it's actually a very rare event that an officer is charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from one of those shootings,” he said.

In many cases, experts say it takes public pressure or independent video evidence to even get charges filed.

In the case of Laquan McDonald, a black teen shot dead by a white police officer in 2014, it wasn’t until dashcam video was released 13 months after the shooting that Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged and eventually convicted of 2nd degree murder.

"Absent the release of that footage, what you have is the police officers saying Laquan McDonald was threatening us. Right. And only when you see the video do you see this is a kid walking away from them, not threatening them,” said Levine.

According to a statistical analysis by Bowling Green University, since 2005, 119 police officers were arrested for shooting and killing someone while on duty. While 44 were convicted of a crime, most were for convicted for lesser offenses. Only seven were convicted of murder.

“Instead of treating it as a potential criminal homicide case in a crime scene, it seems that the assumptions they start with in these cases are that an officer was involved in a shooting and that it was probably legally justified,” said Stinson.

In Louisville, police executed a no-knock warrant on the wrong apartment shooting and killing 26-year-old Breonna Taylor. Five months since the deadly incident, none of the officers face criminal charges.

And now, Jacob Blake is paralyzed from his wounds and recovering in a Wisconsin hospital.

Stinson says we’ve reached a tipping point.

“People of all walks of life are realizing that these are not isolated incidents. These types of things happen with impunity on a regular basis. And we need to make great changes to policing in the United States.”