FLASHBACK: Media pushed false Jacob Blake narrative that he was ‘unarmed’

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The Department of Justice announced on Friday they would not pursue federal civil rights violation charges against the Wisconsin police officer who shot Jacob Blake last summer. 

When the shooting occurred, many mainstream reporters rushed to judgement and described the incident as another police shooting an unarmed black man. The news resulted in days of unrest with protests and riots occurring in Kenosha, Wisconsin. 

During the 2020 presidential campaign then-candidate Biden promised to launch an investigation into the shooting. Vice President Kamala Harris, who was a senator at the time, called for the officers to be “held accountable” for the shooting.

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At the time, many reporters and news outlets pushed the narrative that Blake was “unarmed.” 

At the beginning of this year, prosecutors revealed video evidence of Blake holding a knife when shot by police. Blake himself admitting to holding a knife in a January interview with “Good Morning America.” 

Blake was shot seven times by a white officer, after police responded to a 911 call from the mother of his children on Aug. 23. He had several warrants out for his arrest for charges, including disorderly conduct and third-degree sexual assault. Police tried to arrest him and after a brief tussle with officers, Blake moved toward the front of his car. 

“I realized I had dropped my knife, had a little pocket knife. So I picked it up after I got off of him because they tased me and I fell on top of him,” Blake said in the “Good Morning America” interview. 

The Washington Post continued to push the “unarmed” narrative. In a January tweet, the Post wrote “Police officers won’t be charged in shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man who was shot 7 times in the back in Kenosha, Wis.”

The tweet was later deleted following backlash and they added a correction to their article. 

“An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Jacob Blake as unarmed. While his family has said he was not armed when shot by police, prosecutors on Tuesday said video evidence depicts him holding a knife. The story has been corrected,” the Post added to the top of its article. 

One CNN host consistently pushed the narrative that Blake was “unarmed” despite there being no investigation to verify that claim. Grabien Media founder Tom Elliott posted a video compilation of CNN anchor Jake Tapper referred to Blake as “unarmed.” 

Even ESPN pushed the false narrative despite the evidence to the contrary. In April 2021, ESPN broadcaster Mark Jones said that “Blake, of course, was unarmed and shot seven times.” 

In addition to pushing the false “unarmed” narrative, reporters left out important context to the Blake’s encounter with police officers. 

The Atlantic writer David A. Graham omitted details of the encounter writing “None of this is fully known, but regardless of what preceded the shooting, and even if Blake ignored a police command to stop, it’s nearly impossible to imagine any way that his shooting was justified.”

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MSNBC ignored details regarding the shooting in January in favor of denouncing a “bad system.” Contributor Brittany Packnett Cunningham rebuffed efforts to discuss details about the case claiming instead that “Blackness is treated as a weapon unto itself worthy of a death sentence, as presumptions of innocence are applied to blue and not Black. And justice — let alone accountability — rarely materializes.”

The New York Times also omitted the detail of Blake having a knife in its Jan. 5 account of the shooting. While the article referenced officers claiming Blake to have been armed, the piece also cited Blake’s lawyer Benjamin Crump claiming he was not. 

Journalist Jeryl Bier noted that this account also did not update its article after Blake himself admitted to having a knife during the time of the shooting.

“I realized I had dropped my knife, had a little pocket knife. So I picked it up after I got off of him because they tased me and I fell on top of him,” Blake told “Good Morning America” on January 14.

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In January, the Kenosha County District Attorney announced that the city would not be pressing charges against the officers based on evidence gathered outside the publicized cellphone footage of the shooting.

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