By Allison Schatz
On a drizzly, gray October afternoon in Evanston, Jacob Blake Sr., father of Jacob Blake—a 29-year-old African American man shot seven times in the back by Kenosha police officer Rustin Sheskey this past August—spoke to the crowd with anguish in his voice.
Like millions of Americans, the Blake and Taylor families feel outrage over the violence Americans have experienced at the hands of police. But for them, this outrage is personal, and they feel called to transform that pain into action. And at a rally and march in Evanston on Saturday, October 3, this call to action was loud and clear.
To date, more than 721 Americans have been killed by police since January, more than 142 of whom were black. The Evanston march and rally was a call for change, through voting, set against the backdrop of a summer that saw mass protests throughout the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
To crowds of protesters, Jacob Blake Sr implored, “Close your eyes and imagine that was your child.” His face contorted with pain, as he continued, “I have no choice but to stand for my child because he cannot stand, to walk for my son because he cannot walk, and to understand that we need to change laws.”
The message was clear at Saturday’s rally and march for unity and change, organized by the group Evanston for Black Lives and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Community support was in the hundreds, and speakers included members of Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor’s families, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr, and U.S. Reps. Bobby Rush and Jan Schakowsky.
The event began at 3 p.m. in front of Jacob Blake Manor, an affordable housing community home to low-income seniors named in honor of Jacob Blake’s late grandfather. The Rev Blake was a former pastor at Ebenezer AME Church in Evanston, the city’s oldest black church, which is now an African American Heritage site. The Blake family’s historical ties to the community made Evanston an obvious choice for the rally.
In fact, generations of the Blake family called Evanston home for years, and the late Rev. Jacob Blake was an activist in the early civil rights movement and among the first proponents for fair housing in the city. The march ended in front of Ebenezer-Primm Towers, an affordable housing building he helped establish. “Little Jake,” as his family calls him, went to Evanston Township High School before moving to Kenosha.
As the crowd of several hundred walked peacefully down Emerson Street chanting “you can’t stop the revolution” and “no justice, no peace,” the message was clear: Change needs to happen this November.
Bianca Austin, Taylor’s aunt, dressed in Breonna Taylor’s EMT jacket, spoke on the need for change and the importance of voting. “Take this election as if you’re fighting for your life right now; we want everyone to get out and vote,” she said. “We need you to come out here and stand with us, and fight these people, because we can’t do it by ourselves.”
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority had organizers in the crowd helping people register to vote, and they passed out fliers with QR codes people could scan to register.
The rally and march came just one day after Kentucky’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, released recordings of the grand jury proceedings in the Taylor case, and a mere eight days after the indictment that named only one of the three officers involved in the shooting and subsequent death of Taylor.
There was a clear emphasis at Saturday’s rally on unity in the fight for change and the importance of using your voice through voting this November. Justin Blake, cousin of Jacob, told the crowds, “This isn’t about black or white, Democrat or Republican. This is about human rights, and we are going to drive that point home today.”
The passion and commitment of the Blake and Taylor families was evident on Saturday, and their pain has emboldened them to fight back against the victimization of so many Americans by police. The potency of the moment was summed up best by Rush, who shouted to the crowds, “You can kill the revolutionary, but you cannot kill the revolution!”
As the event wrapped up, an emotional Letetra Widman, sister to Jacob Blake, held up her cell phone to show the support of the crowd to her brother Jacob, who was live on Facetime. Blake is paralyzed from the waist down and remains in the hospital.
Allison Schatz is an Investigative reporter who covers mental health and social justice issues at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @AllisonSchatz8.