UN: Excessive Use of Force in Jacob Blake Shooting May Violate International Law

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Riots broke out in the city of Kenosha in the U.S. state of Wisconsin in the wake of the August 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake, which has left the 29-year-old African American man partially paralyzed.

The U.N. human rights office views the shooting as a painful reminder of the heightened risk African Americans run when engaging with law enforcement in the United States.

Agency spokesman Rupert Colville said the episode reaffirms the need for urgent action to eradicate links between structural racism and policing.

“From the images available that we have seen at this point, the police appears to use force against Jacob Blake that would seem to be excessive and it does not appear the law enforcement officers abided by the international standards of the intentional use of lethal force with a firearm,” Colville said.

The U.S. State Department responded with a statement saying that it consistently condemned acts of excessive use of force by U.S. law enforcement authorities.

“However, there is no comparison between several isolated cases of the use of excessive force, and the systemic use of violence and torture that is regularly practiced by authoritarian regimes in China, Russia, Belarus, Venezuela, and other authoritarian regimes around the world,” the statement said.

“In our democratic society our law enforcement officers and political leaders are held accountable by independent courts, an independent media, and our citizens through elections. In these other authoritarian societies those remedies don’t exist,” the statement concluded.

Police push back protesters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse, Aug. 24, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Protesters converged on the courthouse during a second night of clashes after the police shooting of Jacob Blake a day earlier.
Police push back protesters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse, Aug. 24, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Protesters converged on the courthouse during a second night of clashes after the police shooting of Jacob Blake a day earlier.

A statement from the Kenosha police union said that based on officers’ inability to gain compliance and control from Blake after using verbal, physical and less lethal means, the officers drew their firearms.

Colville said it seems highly possible the force used against Blake could have been discriminatory in nature.

The human rights spokesman also said he was aghast at the presence of vigilantes at the protests in Kenosha that followed the police shooting of Blake. He said he found the killing of two people and injury of others by a 17-year-old gunman of particular concern.

The teen who took a rifle to the protest of Blake’s shooting told an online news site before going to the demonstration that it was his job “to protect people.” First-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide are among the criminal charges the young man is now facing.

“We would see this as yet another unfortunate example of the insufficient and lax gun control measures in the United States, which is something we have spoken about several times before,” said Colville. “It should be inconceivable that you have a 17-year-old running around with an automatic rifle in a position to shoot people in this way in such a tense situation.”

Colville added the events of the past few days in Kenosha are not only recurrent, but preventable. He warned against the U.S. government sending federal troops into Kenosha to restore law and order. He said their presence would likely make things worse rather than better.