Americans are bracing for a new round of protests after white officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin, unleashed a barrage of gunfire at an unarmed Black man who appeared to pose no threat to them. In a video of the shooting, the man had his back turned to the officers when at least one opened fire at point-blank range. Considering that seven rounds were fired into Jacob Blake’s back, he was lucky to have survived.

Defenders of the police action can try all they want to portray Blake as the perpetrator of his own troubles. He failed to follow orders. He walked away when commanded to stop. He tried to get into his car where his three sons sat. Maybe, from the officers’ perspective, those constituted super-bad crimes. But under no law we know of can such infractions be construed as capital offenses worthy of attempting Blake’s immediate execution on the street.

Did the Kenosha officers overlook the endless video broadcasts of George Floyd’s killing under the knee of Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin? Did they somehow miss the message from weeks of national upheaval protesting excessive police force against Black citizens?

The message bears repeating just in case some St. Louis-area officers also didn’t get the memo: It’s time to find another way to enforce the law without resorting to lethal force for nonviolent misdemeanors.

“While we do not have all of the details yet,” Democratic Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin said in a statement, “what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.”

Police were responding to what they described as a “domestic incident.” Blake’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, says the incident was a fight between two women. A witness told local television that Blake was trying to break up the fight when officers arrived. The video shows Blake walking away with two officers close behind, guns drawn and aimed toward Blake. Among nearby observers potentially in the line of fire was a toddler. No doubt etched forever in their memories, along with the three sons in the car, will be the sounds of those seven shots followed by Blake’s collapse on the street.

By nightfall, as the video went viral, Kenosha streets erupted in violence as vehicles and buildings were set ablaze. Public anger is understandable, but violence can only play into President Donald Trump’s hands as he searches for any way to distract the nation from the pandemic and turn attention to what he portrays as Democrat chaos and lawlessness. Police forces everywhere need to get the message, through loud and persistent but civil protest, that lethal force must be the last resort, not the first.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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