Spec­ta­tors bring mix of cu­rios­ity, causes — and hope: ‘We’re here for a pur­pose’

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY RACHEL HIN­TON, PO­LIT­I­CAL RE­PORTER rhin­ton@sun­ | @rrhin­ton

KENOSHA, Wis. — Some came look­ing for heal­ing. Some showed up to demon­strate for racial jus­tice or other causes. Oth­ers brought hopes that the shoot­ing of a Black man over a week ago, and the un­rest that fol­lowed, would cre­ate change that’s “go­ing to vi­brate all over this na­tion.”

The crowd that waited for a glimpse of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den in this south­east­ern Wis­con­sin city on Thurs­day had var­ied mo­tives — but nowhere near the volatile mix of dis­parate views that greeted Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump two days ear­lier.

“I think Bi­den cares. Trump just came for votes and for pub­lic­ity,” said Sherry Young, who waited with her son to see the for­mer vice pres­i­dent out­side a church where he was speak­ing.

Kenosha was largely quiet Thurs­day as po­lice en­forced no park­ing rules, and a smat­ter­ing of com­mu­nity mem­bers gath­ered on porches and along the side­walks near Grace Lutheran Church, on the cor­ner of 60th Street and 20th Av­enue, await­ing the ar­rival of the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee.

Pro­test­ers in vans, on bikes and on foot stopped traf­fic, shout­ing “Black Lives Mat­ter” and “Ja­cob Blake” be­fore Bi­den ar­rived at the

Kenosha church, their pan-African flag wav­ing wildly in the af­ter­noon breeze.

The for­mer vice pres­i­dent’s ar­rival in Kenosha fol­lowed a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion he had with the fam­ily of Ja­cob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot seven times in the back by po­lice. Bi­den also spoke to Blake by phone.

That Aug. 23 shoot­ing sparked days of protests and ri­ots that turned vi­o­lent at times. A 17-yearold from An­ti­och has been charged with shoot­ing two peo­ple to death and wound­ing another dur­ing one night of un­rest.

Bi­den’s con­ver­sa­tions with the Blakes won him points with some of those stand­ing out­side of Grace Lutheran.

Trump toured the wreck­age of looted and van­dal­ized busi­nesses dur­ing his Tues­day visit. He was also part of a com­mu­nity con­ver­sa­tion in which he promised $5 mil­lion to Kenosha law en­force­ment and small busi­nesses.

Trump aban­doned plans to speak with Blake’s fam­ily af­ter they wanted lawyers to be in­volved, telling re­porters “I don’t need to get in­volved with that.”

Seven­teen-year-old Chloe Lenz said both Bi­den’s and Trump’s vis­its to her hometown are a good thing even if the ap­pear­ances may be driven by the up­com­ing elec­tion.

“It shows peo­ple we’re not alone and helps peo­ple know what’s hap­pen­ing and how sad it is to see the city de­stroyed,” Lenz said.

Blake’s un­cle, Justin Blake, stood out­side with sup­port­ers ahead of Bi­den’s talk. He fo­cused on a need to ad­dress job­less­ness and other is­sues ef­fect­ing Black peo­ple. He said he be­lieves Bi­den will “be part of that heal­ing.”

“We’re here for a pur­pose,” Blake said. “When all the cam­eras go away, I can’t stand my nephew back up, but we can make a dif­fer­ence while we have this plat­form right now that all the lit­tle Jakes be­hind him world­wide and na­tion­wide don’t have to be par­a­lyzed and shot seven times.”

Blake said he and oth­ers want to set a prece­dent in Kenosha that’s “go­ing to vi­brate all over this na­tion to al­low the moth­ers, the fathers of lit­tle Jakes to not worry ... that they might be shot seven times and par­a­lyzed for life.”

While Bi­den spoke in­side of the Lutheran church, those who showed up to protest con­tin­ued to demon­strate, play­ing mu­sic, chant­ing and, at times, taunt­ing po­lice who stood by as se­cu­rity or ar­gu­ing with anti-abor­tion demon­stra­tors who also showed up.

Cather­ine Borowski was the sole vis­i­ble Trump sup­porter — her bright red “Make Amer­ica Great Again” hat mak­ing her stand out in a sea of Bi­den signs.

Borowski, who lives in Kenosha, said she came to the church be­cause she was “curious” to see how the re­cep­tion for Bi­den would dif­fer from Trump’s Tues­day tour. No one shouted “F—- Bi­den” through a bull­horn, she said, un­like Tues­day, when some de­liv­ered a sim­i­lar mes­sage to Trump.

Though she was in the mi­nor­ity at Thurs­day’s event, Borowski hoped for unity, or at least less po­lar­iza­tion. As she spoke to a Sun­Times re­porter, a man in a Bi­den hat walked by and mut­tered to her. She heard him say, “not with that hat.”

“Let’s just talk to peo­ple — the hu­man­ness has been lost,” Borowski said. “These are my neigh­bors. We can all get along, we shouldn’t have to hide, we should be able to have healthy con­ver­sa­tions in­stead of shout­ing peo­ple down. If we could talk and re­ally lis­ten — lis­ten from our hearts we could re­ally make a dif­fer­ence talk­ing to each other.”


Justin Blake, Ja­cob Blake’s un­cle, marches Thurs­day with Black Lives Mat­ter pro­test­ers out­side Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, while Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den was in­side meet­ing with com­mu­nity mem­bers.

Michelle Stauder, of Kenosha, holds a sign on Thurs­day in sup­port of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den in Civic Cen­ter Park.

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