Right-wing media seek to justify shooting of Jacob Blake by smearing his past

Conservative media have long tried to justify incidents of police brutality by demanding a “perfect” victim

Molly Butler / Media Matters

On August 23, police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, were recorded shooting a Black man, Jacob Blake, multiple times in the back at point-blank range, sparking nationwide outrage and protests. While details are still emerging, right-wing media jumped to find reasons to smear Blake as an imperfect victim and argue that the police might have been justified in shooting him.

While it is still unclear exactly what preceded the shooting, the viral video showed a police officer holding on to Blake’s shirt with one hand as he attempted to get in his car, then shooting him several times in the back. Blake’s children were reportedly in the car at the time of the shooting. Blake remains hospitalized in stable condition, and his father has said he may be paralyzed long-term if he survives.

Many in right-wing media jumped to find reasons why the police might have been justified to fire multiple gunshots into Blake’s back, including pointing to past allegations of misconduct against him and suggesting that his shooting was justified if he was not compliant with police orders.

This reaction follows a familiar pattern in which right-wing media seek to justify incidents of police brutality by finding reasons to blame the victims for not being “perfect.” Writer Nylah Burton addressed those trying to justify Blake getting shot by looking at his past, writing:

I won’t waste time litigating the details of the previous charges against Blake. ... To do so would be to fall into the trap that Black people are constantly ensnared in, the trap that says we must earn our right to live by being angelic, inhuman, unmoving. Even when we are seemingly perfect — like Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man and talented musician who died by cardiac arrest after being placed in a chokehold by Aurora, Colorado police — our lives are still the state’s to claim. I have no interest in making myself hoarse by repeating the same argument we’ve been having for years: that we do not deserve to be executed, no matter what we may have done.

Here are some examples of right-wing media pointing to Blake’s past or noncompliance with an officer as justification for police shooting him in the back:  

  • On America’s Newsroom, Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin concluded his report on the shooting by noting an incident between Blake and the police from years before.
  • Fox News host Tucker Carlson introduced his prime-time segment on the shooting by saying the police had an “altercation with a man called Jacob Blake, who apparently was wanted on multiple charges including sexual assault” and “had an extensive history of run-ins with the law.” Carlson then claimed that Blake “refused police orders to surrender” before being shot, suggesting officers were forced to fire “when he appeared to reach for something in the darkness.”
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Citation From the August 24, 2020, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight

  • On Outnumbered, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich complained that the shooting ”has already been framed in racial terms” before arguing that we “don’t know the whole story.” Pavlich also raised the victim’s history with police and suggested that Blake might have “put himself in that situation after being told multiple times to stop resisting arrest.”
  • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh published an op-ed detailing “the parts of the story rioters are ignoring” in which he suggested that the shooting could be justified and asking, “Is there a version of this story where Blake’s actions are justified or innocuous?” Walsh later blamed Blake for “bringing the officers back to his car where his kids were sitting” when “he knew they had their guns out.” 
  • On his radio show, Fox News host Mark Levin called Blake a “longtime hoodlum” and defended the police for shooting him in the back, saying, “The guy's going into his car, for all they know he's trying to grab a gun.”

Mark Levin on Jacob Blake shooting

Mark Levin
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Citation From the August 24, 2020, edition of Westwood One's The Mark Levin Show

  • Right-wing YouTuber Steven Crowder posted a video titled “Jacob Blake's Shooting was COMPLETELY JUSTIFIED.” In the video, Crowder and his producers suggested that the video circulating on social media was enough justification for the police to shoot Blake in the back for resisting arrest. Crowder also proceeded to do a racist impersonation of Blake. Crowder’s video had received over half a million views by the time of publishing.
  • TheBlaze detailed Crowder’s video, writing that he “adds context to the police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake.” The write-up justified the shooting and stated that Blake’s “only option in this scenario is to comply or die.”
  • Far-right troll Andy Ngo emphasized that Blake “has a criminal history” and claimed that there is a warrant out for his arrest.
  • Conservative radio host Vicki McKenna invoked Blake’s past involvement with police and suggested officers may have been “effecting an arrest on an outstanding warrant.” She also said the incident was “just like George Floyd,” citing Floyd’s death to discredit the idea that police excessively used force against Blake and saying that “the more we learn about George Floyd, the likelier it is this guy was on his way to death from a fentanyl overdose.”

David Clarke on Jacob Blake protests: "I am tired of seeing these subhumans be allowed to destroy property"

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Citation From the August 24, 2020, edition of 1310 WIBA's The Vicki McKenna Show

Correction (9/8/20): This piece originally referenced Jacob Blake’s death. Blake survived the shooting, and currently is hospitalized