Imagine if George Floyd, Breonna Talyor, Elijah McClain or any of the other scores of Black victims of police violence who didn’t survive their encounters were alive to talk about the aftermath of what happened to them. Imagine if they were able to speak publicly about the trauma they experienced and continue to grapple with, and they were able to see the public response to their stories in real-time. Imagine if they were able to call for their own justice.
This is what makes the story of Jacob Blake so unique. Blake survived his shooting by Kenosha, Wisconsin, Police Officer Rusten Sheskey last year. It’s one of the first high-profile cases since the decades-old Rodney King case where the victim lived to tell their side of the story and talk about the lasting effects of what they experienced.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Blake detailed how his shooting has left him in fear for himself and other Black people who are vulnerable to suffering the same fate he did, and how he won’t feel like he truly survived his encounter with police “until something has changed.”
Blake began by detailing how, during the Fourth of July weekend, the sound of fireworks triggered his anxiety and a panic attack prompted him to call 911. He said what he felt in that moment “was the most painful experience” he’d had since the shooting just over a year ago.
“I’m hearing these booms and it’s not scaring me because I got shot, it’s scaring me because all of those people have gotten shot so every time a boom went off, I’m kind of imagining people dying,” Blake said. He also talked about how watching the shooting he barely survived be replayed on television last year “made the pain worse,” and how he’s probably watched himself being shot some 300 times since.
He also recalled watching the protests that followed his shooting while he was drifting in and out of consciousness while handcuffed to his bed at the time.
“I can’t really explain the feeling—it was out of body,” he said. “I felt like I was floating for a while, watching everything happen. It blew my mind that they were that mad about it, that people care about it, that they care about me.”
As for the violence that erupted during the protests on his behalf, Blake said, “I didn’t agree with what they were doing, but I understood.”
So, now we’re back to Floyd
Blake said he remembered talking about Floyd’s death just weeks before his own shooting.
“One thing that I said, they’re gonna end up shooting the wrong person or killing the wrong person,” he told CNN. “And a month later it happened to me.”
Despite the trauma that continues to haunt him and the physical pain he still endures, there is a bit of great news for Blake. It looks like the man who was reported to be paralyzed from the waist down after being shot seven times will likely walk again.
Blake said he “was so geeked” to even be able to stand again, let alone take steps.
“I forgot how tall I was,” he said as he recalled being able to take a few steps during his son’s birthday celebration on August 23, the one-year anniversary of his shooting.
“At one point it felt like someone was sliding my legs through a woodchipper,” he said. “It’s been progress every two weeks. It made it easier for me to be like I’m healing.”
Still, none of that healing has caused him to forget what happened to him or make him feel satisfied that systemic racism in policing is improving as well as his physical condition is.
“Yeah, I’m here, and yeah I’m about to be walking, but I really don’t feel like I have survived because it could happen to me again,” Blake said. “I have not survived until something has changed.”
Blake said that Sheskey being cleared of all wrongdoing, along with the fact that he was shot while police officers didn’t feel the need to give Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse the same treatment, felt like “a kick right in the you know what.”
“I was angry, I was furious, and I felt like I had every right to be,” he said. “For the reasons they said they shot me, they had every reason to shoot him, but they didn’t. Honestly, if his skin color was different, and I’m not prejudiced or a racist, he probably would have been labeled a terrorist.”