Lindsey Graham asks why Jacob Blake "didn't yield" before being shot in the back by Kenosha police

"It's dangerous being a cop," Graham said when asked about racial justice protesters

Published August 26, 2020 6:25PM (EDT)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) questions U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the State Department's 2021 budget in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on July 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) questions U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the State Department's 2021 budget in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on July 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images)

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., raised questions Tuesday about why Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old Black father filmed being shot in the back by police in Kenosha, Wis., "didn't yield" to demands from law enforcement officials.

Graham made the remarks at a press conference announcing the endorsement of the South Carolina Fraternal Order of Police. A reporter asked the three-term incumbent whether protesters might not feel as though their voices had been heard after several months of nationwide demonstrations against police violence and racial injustice.

"Well, one, I don't know what happened there. Let's find out. It's dangerous being a cop," Graham replied. "I don't know why the gentleman didn't yield when he was asked to yield. I don't know what the facts are."

Blake was shot Sunday after Kenosha police responded to a domestic disturbance call. Video of the incident shows officers with guns drawn following Blake around the front of a vehicle. One of the officers can be seen grabbing Blake by the shirt as he tries to access the vehicle, and seven shots can be heard on the recording. 

It is unclear from the recording's audio whether police asked Blake to yield. Witnesses told the Kenosha News that officers used a Taser on Blake prior to the shooting.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Blake's family, said the father had been "breaking up a fight between two women." He tweeted that Blake's three sons were in the car at the time of the shooting. 

Blake is paralyzed from the waist down and suffered damage to his kidney, liver and spinal cord, family members and attorneys told CNN.

"He had a bullet go through some or all of his spinal cord — at least one bullet. He has holes in his stomach. He had to have nearly his entire colon and small intestines removed," family attorney Patrick Salvi Jr. said.

The family intends to file a civil suit against the Kenosha Police Department, Salvi added.

The shooting sparked chaotic protests in Kenosha, which turned deadly Tuesday when two individuals were shot after the county earlier declared an emergency curfew. The county sheriff on Tuesday told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that an armed "militia" had taken to the streets to protect property amid the unrest, though it remains unclear if a member was involved. 

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, called on the National Guard to assist local law enforcement, but turned down President Donald Trump's offer to send more troops.

On Tuesday, Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, continued, "Here's the good news: Police are not above the law. There are places where police act with impunity. This is not one of those nations."

Graham invoked George Floyd's death in police custody this May as "heinous" and "wrong." Minnesota prosecutors have charged all four officers involved in the killing, which sparked a nationwide reckoning on race.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice announced Monday that two officers had been placed on administrative leave. The state's Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) said prosecutors would receive a report on the shooting within 30 days.

"DCI is continuing to review evidence and determine the facts of this incident and will turn over investigative reports to a prosecutor following a complete and thorough investigation," the department said in a news release.

Graham faces a tight re-election bid in South Carolina, a state which is more than 30% Black. A series of polls show him in a dead heat with Democratic rival Jamie Harrison, who was the first Black official to chair the state's Democratic Party.

Citing in part the nationwide protests over racial injustice, which might provide "further motivation for turning out African-American voters in South Carolina, the Cook Political Report recently shifted its election forecast slightly more in Harrison's favor, to "lean Republican."

Should Harrison emerge victorious, Cook pointed out, "South Carolina — the first state to secede from the Union in 1860 — would become the first state in history to have two Black senators serving at the same time." The state is also currently represented by Sen. Tim Scott, who is a Republican.

Harrison said in a statement provided to Salon that Graham is blaming the victim.

"South Carolinians and people throughout the country are calling out for reforms to how police use force," Harrison said. "But instead of delivering solutions, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is blaming the victim and making this pain even worse. This man represents a state that went through a similar ordeal with the shooting death of Walter Scott, another Black man gunned down from behind. It has been five years since that day in North Charleston, and now three months since the killing of George Floyd."

"Our senior senator held a hearing in June for the cameras, but in true Lindsey Graham fashion, it has been all talk and no action since then. We need so much more than empty words. We must come together across party lines and deliver results that will deliver more equitable policing to communities throughout South Carolina," Harrison said.

During the press conference Tuesday, Graham called on Harrison to return donations he received from, which advocates for diverting funds from police departments to other municipal and community programs.

Harrison denies that he wants to defund the police.

"These are political games," Harrison told Salon. "Lindsey Graham has been in Washington for 25 years, and just yesterday he admitted he only cares about 'trying to get re-elected.' I do not support defunding the police, and I'm not going to get into these political games. I'm focused on stopping this deadly pandemic, bringing relief to working families and restoring hope to the millions of South Carolinians statewide."

Graham's campaign was called out in late July for digitally darkening Harrison's face in a campaign ad.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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