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Eric Litke
By Eric Litke August 27, 2020

No evidence that Jacob Blake “brandished” a knife, got a gun before police shooting in Kenosha

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  • There was no gun involved. State investigators said there was none found at the scene.

  • Police did find a knife in the SUV, but authorities haven’t said if it was there throughout the confrontation or if Blake held it at some point.

  • Grainy video shows an object in Blake’s hand, but he didn’t "brandish" it, and it’s not clear if it’s a knife, sunglasses or something else.

Editor’s Note: Prosecutors revealed Jan. 5, 2021, that Jacob Blake was armed with a "razor blade-type knife" when he was shot by police. Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley said as a result the officer who shot Blake could successfully argue self-defense, and therefore wouldn’t face criminal charges. That does not affect the rating for this item because ratings are based on what is known at the time. When this statement was made in August 2020, it was not clear what Blake was holding or when, given the grainy cell phone video and lack of detail released by police.

As we wait for a full Wisconsin Department of Justice report on the Jacob Blake shooting, speculation has run rampant online about whether the 29-year-old Kenosha man was armed — and with what — in the moments before a Kenosha police officer shot him seven times in the back.

The lack of detailed information from law enforcement has only added to the speculation.

That includes a widely shared Aug. 26, 2020, Facebook post that starts out blaring "FACTS MATTER!!" before asserting this:

"Jacob Blake declared he had a gun in the car and was going to go get it. He continued to brandish the knife while disregarding officer commands. When he reached into the car, officers fired. This is why they are burning down Kenosha, Wisconsin right now."

It was accompanied by a screen grab from an onlooker’s video of Blake, where an object in his hand is circled.

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook).

Here’s what we know.

There was no gun

The Facebook post avoids directly claiming a gun, instead attributing statements to Blake about having and getting a gun.

We don’t know what was said, and we may never know since the responding officers weren’t wearing body cameras. The Kenosha Police Department doesn’t use them. Audio in the cell-phone video shot by a witness is hard to discern due to bystanders’ shouts.

So there’s no way to prove this part of the claim directly — though no witness reports have emerged since the incident that offer this account. The man who made the Facebook post did not respond to a request for the evidence behind the claim.

But we know there was no gun.

An Aug. 26, 2020, news release from the Department of Justice said officers found a knife on the driver’s side floorboard, but "a search of the vehicle located no additional weapons."

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Knife involvement still ambiguous

The role of the knife is much less clear.

The DOJ has not clarified whether the knife was on the floorboard throughout the confrontation, or if Blake may have held it at some point. Spokeswoman Gillian Drummond declined to answer that question when asked by PolitiFact Wisconsin on Aug. 27, 2020.

Video taken by onlookers shows something in Blake’s hand, but the resolution is low, so it could be a knife, sunglasses or something else.

The man who said he made the widely shared cellphone video of the shooting, 22-year-old Raysean White, told the Associated Press he heard officers yell, "Drop the knife! Drop the knife!" as they scuffled with Blake before the shooting. 

White said he didn’t see a knife in Blake’s hands.

The audio captured by White is inconclusive, though there is a phrase or two that could be interpreted as, "Drop the knife."

Blake’s representatives have said he was unarmed. His father told the Chicago Sun-Times for an Aug. 25, 2020, story, "My son didn’t have a weapon. He didn’t have a gun." 

Blake’s attorney, Ben Crump, said in a statement released Aug. 27, 2020, "Jacob did nothing to provoke police. … Witnesses confirm that he was not in possession of a knife and didn’t threaten officers in any way." But another attorney representing the Blake family, Patrick Salvi Jr., had told CNN the day before that Blake didn’t have a weapon in the vehicle, which turned out to not be true.

What we do know is that referring to Blake as "brandishing" appears to be an exaggeration.

Video of the shooting shows Blake walking around the front of the car with his back to officers and his left arm swinging at his side, grasping some object. 

Brandishing is defined by Merriam-Webster as "to shake or wave (something, such as a weapon) menacingly." That’s not what the video shows.

Our ruling

A viral Facebook post says Blake "declared he had a gun in the car and was going to go get it" and was "brandishing" a knife.

We have no way of knowing for sure what Blake said, but we know there was no gun. And we don’t yet know if the knife police later found in the SUV was there throughout the confrontation or held by Blake at some point. But Blake was not "brandishing" anything in the video taken by bystanders.

For our fact checks, the burden of proof is on the speaker. Due to the lack of evidence establishing these claims at this point, we rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, Aug 26, 2020

Wisconsin Department of Justice, UPDATE: Kenosha Officer Involved Shooting, Aug. 26, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kenosha police shoot Jacob Blake in Wisconsin on Aug. 23, 2020, Aug. 23, 2020

Associated Press, Kenosha protesters, police clash again after Black man shot, Aug. 25, 2020

Chicago Sun-Times, Jacob Blake’s father says son’s paralyzed from waist down after police shooting in Kenosha, Aug. 25, 2020

Attorney Ben Crump, press statement, Aug. 27, 2020

CNN, Federal investigators launch a civil rights probe into shooting of Jacob Blake, Aug. 26, 2020

Email exchange with Gilliam Drummond, Wisconsin Department of Justice spokeswoman, Aug. 27, 2020

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More by Eric Litke

No evidence that Jacob Blake “brandished” a knife, got a gun before police shooting in Kenosha

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