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Fact check: Jacob Blake did not 'brandish' knife, get gun before Kenosha police shooting

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Claim: Says Jacob Blake ‘declared he had a gun in the car and was going to go get it’ and was ‘brandishing’ a knife.

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 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.”

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

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 cellphone 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 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.”

More: A visual timeline of violence in Kenosha after police shooting of Jacob Blake

More: Jacob Blake was shot less than 3 minutes after Wisconsin police arrived at the scene, according to dispatch audio

Jacob Blake's father, mother and sister share their emotional thoughts amid reports Jacob is paralyzed after being shot 7 times by police in Kenosha.Jacob Blake's father, mother and sister share their emotional thoughts amid reports Jacob is paralyzed after being shot 7 times by police in Kenosha.
Jacob Blake’s father, mother and sister share their emotional thoughts amid reports Jacob is paralyzed after being shot 7 times by police in Kenosha.

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 USA TODAY on Aug. 27.

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, although 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 story, “My son didn’t have a weapon. He didn’t have a gun.” 

Jacob Blake's attorney Ben Crump tells the public that Jacob needs a miracle to walk again after suffering seven gun shots from police officer.Jacob Blake's attorney Ben Crump tells the public that Jacob needs a miracle to walk again after suffering seven gun shots from police officer.
Jacob Blake’s attorney Ben Crump tells the public that Jacob needs a miracle to walk again after suffering seven gun shots from police officer.

Blake’s attorney, Ben Crump, said in a statement released Aug. 27, “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: False

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. Due to the lack of evidence establishing these claims at this point, we rate this claim FALSE.

Our fact-check sources

Contact Eric Litke at (414) 225-5061 or elitke@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ericlitke.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Jacob Blake didn’t ‘brandish’ knife in Kenosha shooting