Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, Thursday, holding a community meeting in the wake of civil unrest spawned by the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer.
Before arriving in the 100,000-resident Midwestern city along Lake Michigan, the former vice president met at the nearby Milwaukee airport with relatives of Jacob Blake, the Black man shot seven times in the back on August 23 as police attempted to arrest him in a domestic dispute.
Biden’s visit came two days after his opponent in the November 3 election, Republican President Donald Trump, visited Kenosha and voiced support for law enforcement officials and their efforts to quell disturbances that erupted after Blake was left partially paralyzed in the confrontation with police. Trump did not meet with Blake’s family while he was in Kenosha.
Biden’s campaign said he and his wife, Jill Biden, met with Blake’s parents and other family members, some of whom took part by phone, for an hour. It said three members of Blake’s legal team were also either present or took part by phone.
“The family was grateful for the meeting and was very impressed that the Bidens were so engaged and willing to really listen. Jacob’s mother led them all in prayer for Jacob’s recovery,” Ben Crump, the family’s attorney, said. “It was very obvious that Vice President Biden cared, as he extended to Jacob Jr. a sense of humanity, treating him as a person worthy of consideration and prayer.”
Crump said Biden spoke about racial injustices in policing and changes he felt are needed in law enforcement to address systemic racism.
'We've got to heal'
Ahead of the visit, Biden said Wednesday that he hoped “to bring together Americans to heal and address the challenges we face.”
"What we want to do is — we've got to heal,” Biden said. “We've got to put things together. Bring people together."
Biden’s visit underscores how he and Trump are trying to gain a political edge on the sensitive U.S. reckoning over racial issues and police treatment of minorities. The issue came to the forefront when a Black man, George Floyd, died in late May while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and spiraled into coast-to-coast protests over Floyd’s death and similar, subsequent incidents.
Trump marked his visit to Kenosha with vocal support for law enforcement, saying, “You have to be decisive, and you have to be tough, and you have to be strong, and you have to be willing to bring people in,” such as National Guard troops, to quell violence.
Biden has criticized the U.S. leader for failing to condemn all violence from the political left and right, while at the same time refusing to criticize a teenager accused of killing two people and wounding another during protests prompted by the shooting of Blake.
“This president keeps throwing gasoline on the fire,” Biden said at his news conference. He added, “I didn’t hear him say much” about Blake being shot seven times. “The fact is he’s not acting very responsibly,” Biden said of Trump.
Biden’s visit was the first stop in Wisconsin by a Democratic presidential candidate in eight years. In 2016, the state looked safe for Democrats, and the party’s candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, skipped campaigning there. But Trump narrowly won Wisconsin, along with two other normally Democratic states, Pennsylvania and Michigan, to capture a four-year term in the White House.
Convention plan scrapped
Democrats had been scheduled to hold their national convention last month in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s biggest city, but abandoned those plans in favor of a virtual convention for fear of spreading coronavirus infections if thousands of convention delegates jammed into a basketball arena, as had been scheduled.
During his visit to Kenosha, Trump said of urban protests, “You have anarchists, and you have the looters, and you have the rioters. You have all types. You have agitators.”
Trump attacked “reckless, far-left politicians,” adding, “We must give far greater support to our law enforcement.”
Trump said that in Kenosha, “Violent mobs demolished or damaged at least 25 businesses, burned down public buildings and threw bricks at police officers, which your police officers won’t stand for.”
“And they didn’t stand for it,” Trump said. “These are not acts of peaceful protests but really domestic terror.”
Biden this week accused Trump of “rooting for chaos and violence” during the election season because he sees it as “a political lifeline.”
Biden said at his Wednesday news conference that “burning and looting is wrong, and that person should be held accountable.”
Authorities have charged Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, a white teenager from Illinois, with five felonies in connection with the shootings of three people during the August 25 protests. Rittenhouse claimed to be in Kenosha in order to protect businesses during the civil unrest.