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The uncle of Jacob Blake adds his voice to the protests outside Kenosha courthouse: ‘We got to stand up. What is America going to look like?’

Justin Blake’s nephew was shot in the back by police last year, sparking the unrest that brought Kyle Rittenhouse to Kenosha with an assault-style rifle.

Protesters face off on the steps of the Kenosha County Courthouse as jurors began their first day of deliberations Tuesday in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

KENOSHA, Wis. — Justin Blake came to the steps of the Kenosha County Courthouse Tuesday to add his voice to the small group of demonstrators that gathered as jurors spent their first day considering the murder case against Kyle Rittenhouse.

The few dozen protesters were split, some rallying for Rittenhouse and others remembering the two men he killed during a night of unrest more than a year ago, Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum.

“Self-defense isn’t a crime,” one sign read. “Kyle is a white supremacist terrorist,” countered another as a life-size cut-out of Rittenhouse stood among them. At least two men flashed a white supremacy hand gesture, taunting people who chanted “Anthony and JoJo.”

Blake called out the name of the man who brought them all together on a cloudy, cold November day: His nephew Jacob Blake who was shot in the back by police, sparking the unrest that brought Rittenhouse to Kenosha with an assault-style rifle

“This is a very important case. This will have national and international ramification the next 50 to 100 years,” said Blake, holding the red, black and green Pan-American flag, which has come to symbolize Black liberation in the United States.

“That’s why we’re exerting so much energy and time because they [the victims] deserve it,” Blake said. “We know what injustice feels like in this city and county and state. We don’t want them to go through that. They deserve better.”

While many see the trial as a test of Second Amendment rights, Blake said the case is really about the struggle for racial justice. He said Huber and Rosenbaum were allies in that fight.

“We got to stand up. What is America going to look like?” he asked. “White people are coming out of power numerically. Does that mean we got to take the throne by sword, by gun? That’s ridiculous.”

Around him the two sides engaged in heated exchanges but the competing rallies remained largely peaceful. They quickly dispersed when the jury called it a day around 6 p.m. They are due back at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Leo Pargo, 30, described the crowd outside the courthouse as the “perfect representation” of the country.

“You have people who are outraged, you have people who are mad, you have people who are really upset, and then you have people who are defending the reason that people are out here upset,” said Pargo, who lives on the South Side of Chicago.

“So I’d say this country is, it’s like two countries in one,” he added. “It’s divided.”

Those tensions have raised fears of more unrest in Kenosha and beyond.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, who faced criticism over his response to the Kenosha protests in 2020, announced last week that 500 members of the National Guard would stand ready for duty in Kenosha if needed.

But the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department released a statement early Tuesday saying it would not be closing roads or imposing curfews ahead of the verdict.

The unrest caused severe damage to some businesses, especially along a busy stretch of 60th Street near downtown. Kenny Harper, of Harper Tax and Financial Literacy Group, called for peace.

Jacob Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, protests on the steps of the Kenosha County Courthouse while the jury deliberates in the Kyle Rittenhouse case inside.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“Remember the children in this neighborhood and community that are watching us,” Harper said. “We’ve had enough, we’ve done enough, there has been enough.

“There’s been enough sadness, there’s been enough pain,” he said. “It is time for healing, it is time for us to recover and for us to rebuild and show Kenosha is a beautiful place.”

Tanya McLean, the executive director of Leaders of Kenosha, joined Harper in calling for peace.

“We denounce those who feel emboldened by the murders of Anthony and JoJo to threaten, hurt and kill us, to follow us home, to scare us and to try to intimate us,” she said. “But we will not be intimidated ... Our legal system will never do true justice. Regardless of the outcome, our communities need and deserve healing, care, reform and anti-racist justice.”