Ac­tivists, neigh­bors and rel­a­tives of Ja­cob Blake en­joy block party, while in an­other part of town, com­pet­ing groups of pro­test­ers face off

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MITCHELL AR­MEN­TROUT AND MANNY RAMOS Staff Re­porters Manny Ramos is a corps mem­ber in Re­port for Amer­ica, a not-for-profit jour­nal­ism pro­gram that aims to bol­ster Sun-Times cov­er­age of is­sues af­fect­ing Chicago’s South and West sides.

KENOSHA, Wis. — The crowd that awaited Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s visit here on Tues­day mir­rored much of the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal cli­mate over the past four years: loud, an­gry, bit­ter and di­vided.

But on the block where Ja­cob Blake was shot in the back by a Kenosha po­lice of­fi­cer barely a week ago, it was a party — still loud, but fo­cused on heal­ing.

“We’re try­ing to turn some­thing good out of all this,” An­thony Gar­den said, slather­ing sauce over racks of ribs on a grill set up out­side Blake’s apart­ment com­plex near 40th Street and 28th Av­enue.

A few hun­dred neigh­bors, ac­tivists and rel­a­tives of Blake took part in the com­mu­nity block party that made the neigh­bor­hood feel more like a La­bor Day week­end gath­er­ing than the cur­rent epi­cen­ter of the na­tion’s lat­est reck­on­ing with po­lice vi­o­lence and racism.

In­stead, kids jumped in bounce houses, dance mu­sic blared, and res­i­dents shared wa­ter bot­tles, snacks, and face masks. Or­ga­niz­ers also set up ta­bles for peo­ple to reg­is­ter to vote, and even get tested for COVID-19.

Or­ga­nizer Tanya McLean said they were out pro­vid­ing the ser­vices that have been de­nied Black com­mu­ni­ties for gen­er­a­tions.

“We still don’t have the care, safety, and sup­port that ev­ery one of us needs,” McLean said, de­nounc­ing “the lan­guage of hate and fear that Trump and oth­ers like him use to di­vide us.”

Craig Young, a Chicago na­tive who lives a few blocks from where Blake was shot, said “Trump should’ve stayed where he was. But it’s good to see peo­ple tak­ing a tragedy and turn­ing it into some­thing fruit­ful. It’s sad it had to hap­pen this way.”

“Peo­ple are heal­ing here,” Kenoshan Jo­quin Gomez said.

But else­where in town and across the re­gion, both sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of Trump were busy mak­ing their feel­ings known — and of­ten com­pet­ing to see who was loud­est.

Upon ar­rival at Waukegan Na­tional Air­port across the state line, Trump’s mo­tor­cade was greeted by peo­ple hold­ing signs, some cheer­fully bear­ing his name, some declar­ing “Black Lives Mat­ter” and oth­ers, sim­ply la­bel­ing the pres­i­dent “Liar.”

Oth­ers chose to forgo signs al­to­gether, in­stead hold­ing up their mid­dle fin­gers.

In Kenosha, the city square that’s been home to days of rau­cous protest — and blood­shed — was mostly quiet through the af­ter­noon as Trump made the rounds a few blocks away to sur­vey ar­eas of dam­age.

Na­tional Guard mem­bers kept watch out­side the Kenosha County Court­house while a plane flew over­head trail­ing a ban­ner that read: “Re­ject Trump’s vi­o­lence. Vote him out.”

Two groups of demon­stra­tors even­tu­ally con­verged, with about 100 wav­ing Trump flags and shout­ing “all lives mat­ter” in re­sponse to the crowd on the other side that roughly dou­bled them in size, chant­ing “Black Lives Mat­ter.”

The dis­course de­volved from there to name-call­ing and mu­tual in­sults, from “Marx­ists” and “com­mu­nists” to “racists” and “Karens.”

Some Trump sup­port­ers also chanted for the release of Kyle Rit­ten­house, the 17-year-old ac­cused of killing two pro­test­ers dur­ing a chaotic night last week. Trump has de­clined to de­nounce the An­ti­och teen’s ac­tions.

Steven Fani, 51, said he brought his fam­ily with him to thank the pres­i­dent.

“It was very dis­heart­en­ing and fright­en­ing to see all the loot­ing and ri­ot­ing hap­pen­ing around me,” the Kenosha res­i­dent said. “I never thought I would see that kind of de­struc­tion in my life here in Amer­ica. … I hope he sees the dev­as­ta­tion and helps out these busi­nesses and these peo­ple hurt by the ri­ots.”

Fani said he wanted “all the facts out first” be­fore he’d make up his mind on whether the po­lice shoot­ing of Blake was jus­ti­fied.

But 18-year-old Kenosha res­i­dent Shamell Green said Trump’s visit only brought “bru­tal­ity and chaos.”

Green clashed re­peat­edly with the sup­port­ers of Trump, ask­ing how they could back such a “di­vi­sive” per­son.

“For years he has stoked flames where there was no need to,” Green said. “He sep­a­rates chil­dren from mi­grant fam­i­lies, he joked about [sex­u­ally] as­sault­ing women, and he is now de­fend­ing a kid who crossed state lines and ended up killing two peo­ple here.”

As they’ve been ev­ery day since the Rit­ten­house shoot­ing, the protests were peace­ful as the down­town crowd dwin­dled to about a hun­dred by 4 p.m.

The tens­est mo­ment came when the re­main­ing Black Lives Mat­ter pro­test­ers were ap­proached by a man wear­ing cloth­ing of the “Proud Boys,” which the Anti-Defama­tion League calls a right-wing ex­trem­ist group whose ac­tiv­ity has at­tracted white su­prem­a­cists.

Pro­test­ers shouted down the man and chased him to a nearby gas sta­tion, draw­ing a dozen squad cars of po­lice who up un­til that point had been con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from all the de­mon­stra­tions.

Af­ter a brief but tense shout­ing match with po­lice, pro­test­ers headed back to the city square while of­fi­cers es­corted the ap­par­ent “Proud Boy” away.


ABOVE: Sup­port­ers of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Black Lives Mat­ter pro­test­ers ar­gue Tues­day out­side of the Kenosha County Court­house.


LEFT: An­thony Gar­den cooks ribs out­side Ja­cob Blake’s apart­ment com­plex in Kenosha.

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