Hundreds of community members gathered in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood on Monday night in solidarity with Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man who was shot multiple times in the back by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday. Blake is currently paralyzed from the waist down, according to a tweet from his lawyer, Ben Crump. It is unclear if the condition is permanent.
“We shouldn’t have to be here today,” said Quincy Shannon, a community organizer who spoke at the event outside of Manual High School in Five Points. “This pain, this trauma, we shouldn’t have to endure it day after day, moment after moment, minute after minute. When all we’re asking for is to just exist.”
The shooting of Blake came in the midst of national public outcry over police brutality and systemic racism, sparked by the recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police. The night before Blake’s shooting, protests broke out in Lafayette, Louisiana, after police shot and killed 31-year-old Trayford Pellerin outside of a convenience store.
The gathering in Denver — organized by Denver Public Schools board member Tay Anderson, state Rep. Leslie Herod and the advocacy group Caravan for Racial Justice — took place on the one-year anniversary of the violent police encounter that led to 23-year-old Elijah McClain’s death.
“A year ago today, Aurora police killed Elijah Jovan McClain,” Elisabeth Epps, founder of the Colorado Freedom Fund, said during the event on Monday. “Elijah was 23. My only son is 23. And I’ve said this before, and I’m hopeful it remains the case, I’m so glad you don’t know my son’s name.”
“So those killers were from Aurora. Their badges said Aurora, but surely you understand that Aurora, Colorado, is also Denver, it’s Oakland, it’s Ferguson, it’s Hong Kong, it’s Minsk, it’s Kenosha,” Epps said. “You get that, right?”
In a video that has circulated on social media, Kenosha police officers are seen shooting Blake in the back multiple times as he tries to enter the driver’s side of his SUV. Blake’s three young children and fianceé were reportedly inside the vehicle when he was shot.
Blake was airlifted to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee where he remained in the intensive care unit as of Monday night.
“What hits me the most is how this happened with his kids in the back seat,” said Rep. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat. “I can’t imagine what his kids must be going through. They will be forever traumatized.”
“We can’t justify shooting somebody in the back seven times at point-blank range as if they are a threat when they’ve done nothing wrong,” Coleman said. “We have to do better.”
The officers who shot Blake have been placed on temporary administrative leave and the case is being investigated by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
“I hope everyone here can inspire five more people to be like them, that are willing to make change,” said Hashim Coates, a political strategist and activist who spoke at the event in Denver. “I’m tired of being here for this. I want to be at one of these celebrations where there’s actually a conviction of one of these murderers.”
Dorothy King-Stockton, a retired teacher and long-time resident of Five Points, said that the event at Manual High School on Monday offered a space for community healing.
“We all have to find a way to come together and connect, as people. And this allowed another opportunity for that, for our inner cleansing,” said King-Stockton, as she leaned against her car and watched the crowd disperse after the event concluded.
King-Stockton, who is the daughter of the late civil rights activist Dorothy Ann Witt King, said that history will continue to repeat itself until the pain of the past is recognized and rectified. “We’ve planted the seeds, we tended the soil, and the plants, they come back every year. And that’s what’s happening. And that has to be recognized,” she said.
“How we treat one another is absolutely important. It is absolutely vital that we realize this,” said King-Stockton, who participated in various demonstrations and protests throughout the 1960s. “(The late U.S. Rep.) John Lewis said, ‘We are all one family. You are all my friends.’ And the sooner we realize that and get other people to realize that, well, that’s what’s so important. That’s what this is about.”