clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Kenosha comes out to see Biden, bringing mix of curiosity, causes — and hope: ‘We’re here for a purpose’

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

Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, marches with Black Lives Matter protesters outside Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, while Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden were meeting with members of the community inside, Thursday afternoon, Sept. 3, 2020. The Bidens visited Kenosha more than a week after Jacob Blake, 29, was shot in the back by a police officer and left paralyzed from the waist down, leading to days of unrest in the Wisconsin city.
Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, marches with Black Lives Matter protesters outside Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, while Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden were meeting with members of the community inside, Thursday afternoon, Sept. 3, 2020. The Bidens visited Kenosha more than a week after Jacob Blake, 29, was shot in the back by a police officer and left paralyzed from the waist down, leading to days of unrest in the Wisconsin city.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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.

Black Lives Matter protesters march outside Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha Thursday afternoon.
Black Lives Matter protesters march outside Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, while Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden were meeting with members of the community, Thursday afternoon.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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-year-old 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.

Michelle Stauder, 60, holds signage in support of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in downtown Kenosha, hours before Biden was scheduled to visit.
Michelle Stauder, 60, of Kenosha, holds signage in support of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Civic Center Park in downtown Kenosha, hours before Biden was scheduled to visit the Wisconsin on Thursday afternoon.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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 included, 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.

Black Lives Matter protesters march outside Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, while Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden were meeting with members of the community on Thursday afternoon.
Black Lives Matter protesters march outside Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, while Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden were meeting with members of the community on Thursday afternoon.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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,” Justin 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.”

Justin 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.

Supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden rally outside Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha on Thursday afternoon
Supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden rally outside Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, where Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, were scheduled to meet with members of the community on Thursday afternoon
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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 Sun-Times 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.”