Analysis & Comment

Opinion | Jacob Blake Is My Nephew. My Family Is Suffering.

Hotels, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, media interviews. In recent months, this has been the daily ordeal of my brother, Jacob Blake Sr. — or as we call him in our family, “Big Jake.”

He regularly visited the hospital bedside in Milwaukee where his son, my nephew, lay partly paralyzed for over a month before being transferred to a spinal rehabilitation facility in Chicago. At first, Jacob Blake Jr. — “Li’l Jake” — was semiconscious. Bullets had ripped through his slim body when a police officer shot him seven times in the back outside an apartment complex in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 23.

His small legs were chained to the steel frame of the hospital bed. “Chains should not be placed on a human being,” I remember my brother saying. At his first hospital visit, he just sat by his son’s side holding his hand. The silence was broken only by the beeps and clatter of hospital monitors.

Our family was preparing for painful news about the prognosis. But one day, as his father held his hand, Li’l Jake opened his eyes and said the words every father wants to hear: “Daddy, is that really you? I love you.”

To my brother and our entire family, this was a deliverance. Li’l Jake was alive.

Our story is different from those of many families whose lives have been devastated by police brutality — our Li’l Jake survived. But in mostly every other way, the experience is similar. When the cameras stop rolling, the lights fade and public attention turns away, we’re left with our pain and we return to the battle against racism and for justice and reform.

My brother, who has recently spent six to eight hours a day with Li’l Jake at his rehabilitation facility, is a massive man. He was once a defensive tackle at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. He also has diabetes, heart disease and chronic neuropathy. The shooting of his son has forced this him to put himself at further risk during a pandemic that disproportionately affects Black men and others in our community.

The toll on my brother has gone largely unnoticed — except, of course, by members of our family. One night, he sat in the dark on a rock next to the hotel where he was staying, so sick and tired he couldn’t move, his hand swollen to the size of a catcher’s mitt from gout. By chance, the director of the hospital where Li’l Jake was being treated found him and he was taken to the emergency room for treatment.

Despite this kind of setback, my brother knows he must keep going on, willing his big body to take the next step each day. For his son. For his family. For justice. “If I have to sacrifice myself for my son and my family, so be it,” he has told me.

After Big Jake was released from the hospital the morning after being admitted, he began convulsing and vomited several times in his hotel room. Still sick, my brother forced himself to an airport conference room for a meeting scheduled with Senator Kamala Harris. Before she arrived, he had to go outside. He did not want to throw up in front of her.

Ms. Harris proceeded to the meeting room not knowing that he was sick. But once she found out, she behaved like a family member.

“Jacob,” Ms. Harris said, “you need to get better for yourself and because your voice is very important.” As he prepared to go to the hospital yet again, he gave a thumbs-up and wearily pushed on. For Li’l Jake and for justice, not only for his family, but for so many other families as well.

This has been a grueling family ordeal for the two Jakes. But not only for them. My brother’s three adult children, Jakorey, Letetra and Zietha, have wearily traveled with their dad from events like August’s March on Washington to hospital waiting rooms. Li’l Jake’s 20-year-old brother was taken to a hospital in Illinois and treated for depression. That facility is about 100 miles from Wisconsin. Yet my brother knew he had to be there, even if it meant turning around again after just a few hours to be with Li’l Jake. This exhausting journey has become familiar to our family.

This kind of sacrifice is not new. Generations of our family have risen above their tribulations. My father, the Rev. Jacob S. Blake, marched with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery and fought for fair housing in Illinois. My uncle, Rev. Eustace L. Blake, led a protest against police brutality in Newark, N.J., in 1964. He urged his parishioners at the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church to actively participate in African-American organizations like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. “The price of freedom is not cheap,” he told them.

Other family members helped found community service organizations and were steel and hospital workers union members. Still others pushed the ideals of this nation forward by working to end segregation in New York City public schools and in other places around the nation.

These generations connect this family at this moment of truth. The truth that we, too, are human beings. The truth that the late sage John Lewis said is the “foundation of all things.” The truth that cannot be denied, tarnished or whitewashed.

Yes, we are weary. We as an African-American community are weary. We are tired of this fight to “prove” the value of our humanity — a truth that should be self-evident. But justice in this country is still for some and not for others. That there are still two systems, one for the privileged and one for the rest of us.

Some of us know the truth: that oppression of a people cannot be justified in any way or in any era. With exhausted bodies and voices, we continue to pay a high price. But as tired as we may be, we, like my brother, keep putting one foot in front of the other for our survival and for justice in this nation. Apparently we still have miles to go.

Rick Blake is the uncle of Jacob Blake.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Source: Read Full Article