Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told residents in Kenosha on Thursday, September 3, that the turmoil their city has experienced in recent weeks could be part of an awakening that helps the United States confront centuries of systemic racism and social discord.
“We’re finally now getting to the point where we’re going to be addressing the original sin of this country, 400 years old … slavery and all the vestiges of it,” Biden said at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, where he met with community leaders after a private, hour-long session with police shooting victim Jacob Blake and his family.
Blake, a Black man, remains hospitalized after being shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha police officer while authorities were trying to arrest him. The shooting is the latest high-profile police encounter with a Black man to spark protests that spread nationwide, after George Floyd was killed by white Minneapolis officer in May.
Biden spent the day in Wisconsin, two days after President Donald Trump traveled to Kenosha. He brought up Trump’s response to the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville as evidence of the president’s failed leadership on race.
“I can’t say if tomorrow God made me president, I can’t guarantee you everything gets solved in four years,” Biden said. “But it would be a whole better, we’d get a whole lot further down the road if Trump isn’t re-elected.”
Biden says he was seeking common ground that Trump lacked the ability of reaching with his “law and order” rhetoric and repeated refusals to acknowledge racism confronting Americans with black and brown skin.
Before traveling to Kenosha, Biden spent more than an hour in Milwaukee in a private meeting with Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., his siblings, and one of his attorneys, B’Ivory LaMarr. Blake’s mother Julia Jackson and another attorney, Ben Crump, joined by phone.
The younger Blake participated in the meeting by telephone “from his hospital bed,” Crump said. Blake, 29, shared the pain he has been enduring and Biden commiserated. The family has said that Blake is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot seven times in the back by police as they tried to arrest him on August 23.
Crump said Blake’s mother led everyone in prayer for his recovery. Biden treated Blake “as a person worthy of consideration and prayer,” the lawyer added. At the church meeting, Biden heard searing commentary from community members.
Porsche Bennett, an organizer for Black Lives Activists Kenosha, told Biden she’s “tired” at just 31 years old. “For so many decades we’ve been shown we don’t matter.”
The Rev. Jonathan Barker, pastor of the church, opened the meeting with a prayer asking for “justice for Jacob Blake,” and for God to “anoint” a national leader in November who will “seek justice, love mercy … and love their neighbor.”
A practicing Catholic, Biden ended the prayer making the sign of the cross. He then heard from Kenosha residents discussing the need to address systemic racism so that society and the function of commerce would function peacefully.
“I look at the buildings in our community that are gone,” said Barb DeBerge, owner of DeBerge Framing & Gallery, which still stands. “I just I don’t think I really grieved as much as I should because being a business owner, I have to keep going, I have to keep working.”
The trip, Biden’s first to Wisconsin of the general election campaign, was intended to draw sharp contrasts with Trump. Biden has been emphasizing an argument that he is a unifying figure, able to lead the nation through a reckoning with systemic racism along with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.
Trump did not meet with the Blake family when he visited Kenosha earlier this week, nor did he mention Blake’s name, or respond to repeated questions about racism and police brutality.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, said that he had asked both Trump and Biden not to visit. “I would prefer that no one be here, be it candidate Trump or candidate Biden,” Evers said in a news conference.
Biden again criticized Trump for his sweeping condemnations of protesters, his absolute defense of law enforcement and denials that Americans with black and brown skin face barriers that whites do not — moves aimed at his overwhelmingly white political base.
Biden has defended officers for bravery and public service, but said policing must be overhauled. In Kenosha he repeated his promise of a national commission on policing if he was elected, and continues to denounced violence.
Biden does not want to “defund the police,” contrary to Trump’s claims about him, but to require local forces to agree to certain best practices to get federal funding. He wants to spend more on services, such as mental health counseling, to ease social problems that fall to police to handle, sometimes with violent consequences.