By Nathan Layne and Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) – Police shot a Black man in the back multiple times in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as his three sons watched on Sunday, his family’s lawyer said, sparking a night of sometimes-violent unrest and prompting the governor to call a special legislative session to address problems with law enforcement.
The man, 29-year-old Jacob Blake, was rushed to a hospital after the shooting late on Sunday afternoon. Blake’s father told NBC News on Monday that his son was out of surgery and in stable condition.
A video circulating on social media showed Blake walking toward the driver’s side of a gray SUV followed by two officers with their guns drawn at his back. Seven gunshot sounds can be heard as Blake, who appears to be unarmed, opens the car door.
It was unknown whether the officers saw something inside the vehicle to justify deadly force. It was also not clear whether one or both officers fired their weapons.
Crowds gathered at the scene, set fires and threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at police, prompting authorities to impose a curfew through early Monday morning. Kenosha County announced on Twitter that its courthouse and administration building would be closed due to damage from the unrest.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, issued a statement condemning the “excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with Black Wisconsinites” and called a special session next Monday for state legislators to take up bills to improve police accountability introduced a few months ago.
In a public address Evers singled out Republican lawmakers, who he said he had not heeded calls from the public for action.
“We must rise to this movement and this moment and meet it with our empathy, our humanity and a fierce commitment to disrupt the cycle of systemic racism and bias that devastates Black families and communities,” Evers said.
Pete Deates, president of the city’s police union, the Kenosha Professional Police Association, said Evers was “wholly irresponsible” for rushing to judgment and asked the public to wait until all facts are known.
The shooting occurred three months after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, in Minneapolis police custody sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and structural racism in the United States.
“And this morning, the nation wakes up yet again with grief and outrage that yet another Black American is a victim of excessive force,” Biden said in a statement. “These shots pierce the soul of our nation.”
Social media posts showed crowds marching on Sunday evening down streets in Kenosha, a city of around 100,000 people on Lake Michigan about 65 miles (100 km) north of Chicago, and activists said more demonstrations were planned for Monday night.
“This city is not going to stop burning itself down until they (protesters) know that this officer has been fired,” said Whitney Cabal, one of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter chapter in Kenosha. “There was no reason for seven shots to be fired into this man’s back while he had three kids in the car.”
The shooting occurred around 5 p.m. as officers were responding to what they termed a “domestic incident.” The victim was immediately taken to a hospital by the police, according to a Kenosha Police Department statement. Police gave no further explanation as to what led to the shooting.
Ben Crump, who said the Blake family had retained him and who has represented George Floyd’s family, said in a statement that Blake had been trying to de-escalate a domestic incident when the officers first shot him with a taser gun.
“As he was walking away to check on his children, police fired their weapons several times into his back at point blank range. Blake’s three sons were only a few feet away and witnessed police shoot their father,” Crump said.
The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave while the investigation is underway, the Wisconsin Department of Justice said early on Monday, which is standard procedure in an officer-involved shooting.
(additional reporting by Ann Maria Shibu in Bengaluru and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis)