What gives Jacob Blake’s dad hope, and what doesn’t

What gives Jacob Blake’s dad hope, and what doesn’t

Charlotte resident Jake Blake, father of Jacob Blake, wearing an N.C. State cap at a rally for his son in January. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

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Shortly after another family held another press conference Thursday, one that looked a whole lot like the one his family held last summer, Jacob Blake’s father was on the phone with me talking about justice.

Big Jake Blake, a Charlotte resident since 2015, told me he doesn’t figure Daunte Wright’s family will receive the result they hope for. Same as he doesn’t expect it for his. Or even for George Floyd’s family this week, as the case of Derek Chauvin heads to a conclusion.

It’s a defense mechanism; it’s his honest assessment.

“You have to be prepared for that sort of thing when you’re Black. It’s not fair, but we know,” Jake told me. “We’ve been taught to have no expectations, man. We hope for the best in every situation. But when you expect things you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.”

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Why it matters: While the country consumes multiple other storylines about police violence against communities of color this month, Jacob Blake remains paralyzed in Chicago.

Driving the news: It almost went unnoticed last week that the police officer who shot him last summer is back at work. The Kenosha, Wis., police department on April 13 cleared officer Rusten Sheskey of any wrongdoing in the August 24, 2020 incident, in which he was responding to a domestic disturbance and wound up firing seven shots in Jacob Blake’s back.

The shooting left Blake paralyzed, set off several nights of violent protests, brought about the cancelation of NBA games, and ended with another shooting that left two more people dead. And still last week’s news about Sheskey’s return to work barely made a ripple.

Blake’s lawyers filed a federal lawsuit against Sheskey in March, saying in court documents the officer shot Blake in the back with “malice, willfulness, and reckless indifference to his rights.” He’s seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

“He doesn’t exist to me,” Jake Blake said of Sheskey. “He tried to eliminate one of my children.”

Zoom out: Last week marked the second time a major development in the Blake case was overshadowed by other national news.

  • On Jan. 5, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley didn’t file charges against Sheskey because he said he couldn’t disprove Sheskey’s claim that he feared for his life.
  • LeBron James called the lack of charges was a “blow to the heart and gut,” but the news was all but wiped from the national headlines the next afternoon with the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol.

Background: After Blake’s incident in August, his arrest history was as much a focus of the discussion as the shooting itself. At the time he was facing sexual assault charges — which were dropped in a plea agreement in November.

Blake also said in a January Good Morning America interview that he dropped a small pocketknife during the incident.

But Jacob’s father says people with pocketknives are arrested without incident every day.

“Even if my son had a pocketknife, man does that mean he should be hung from a tree?” Big Jake said. “That man tried to murder my son.”

Jacob Blake, who turns 30 on April 30, can bend his right leg now but can’t put it back down. His father says Jacob is willing to forgive the officer, but he isn’t.

In December, Jacob finally felt OK going out. He and his dad went to Tasty Sub on Howard Street in north Chicago.

“I could see how he was feeling so normal, but in actuality he was in the chair,” Jake said. “But people were just greeting him like normal. It was one of the best days I’ve had with my son since this incident.”

As frustrated as Big Jake is, he’s found blessings, he says. He wound up in the hospital with an infection earlier this year, and it convinced him to slow down his relentless travel schedule. He spoke at the August 28 rally in Washington and countless others around the country.

“I’ve marched with every color person you can possibly imagine,” he said.

Go deeper: Jacob Blake’s grandfather, the Rev. Jacob Blake, was a civil rights icon in Evanston, Ill. One old newspaper photo I found while working a September feature on the Blake family shows the reverend handing a shotgun over to police officers in an attempt to build trust.

Jake’s childhood friend and mentor, Michael DeVaul, is a well-known Charlotte community leader who got his start in the reverend Blake’s church and YMCA. DeVaul is now the national director for boys and young men of color initiatives for the YMCA of the USA, and he’s taken up fundraising efforts to help Big Jake while he’s away with Jacob.

DeVaul has been in conversations with the YMCAs in Minneapolis about staying open this week to give young people a place to go. He’s tried to give them the same advice he gives Big Jake, and himself.

“As someone who loves Jake Blake, who knew his father, I’m enraged. But I gotta control that,” DeVaul says. “That is the work, to get people to pause for a second. Don’t let the current state take things from you. Your soul is intact.”

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