Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Thursday spoke with Jacob Blake, a Black man whose shooting by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, two weeks ago led to days of violent protests.
“I had an opportunity to spend some time with Jacob on the phone. He’s out of (intensive care), we spoke for about 15 minutes,” Biden told a community meeting at a church in Kenosha.
“He talked about how nothing was going to defeat him, how whether he walked again or not, he was not going to give up.”
Upon landing in Milwaukee, which is about 72km (45 miles) north of Kenosha, Biden met Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr, his siblings, and one of his lawyers, B’Ivory LaMarr. Blake, Blake’s mother Julia Jackson and another lawyer, Ben Crump, joined by phone. Blake remains hospitalised after being shot seven times in the back by a white Kenosha police officer as authorities tried to arrest him.
Biden, who US President Donald Trump has said would be “weak” in dealing with rioters, framed his visit to Kenosha as an effort to unify the country after months of protests demanding racial justice.
“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 during a community discussion at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha with business and civic leaders and at least two representatives of law enforcement.
“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.
“There’s certain things worth losing over,” he concluded, “and this is something worth losing over if you have to — but we’re not going to lose.”
Biden’s visit to Kenosha comes two days after Trump toured the city, albeit with a much different agenda, one that did not include a meeting with the Blake family or even a public mention of Blake’s name, for that matter.
Trump, who defied requests by the city’s mayor and Democratic Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers not to visit, instead emphasised his “law and order” campaign theme, calling the violence “domestic terror” and “anti-American”.
Protests broke out in cities across the US following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in police custody, with some of them turning violent.
On August 23, a policeman shot Blake in the back seven times, sparking civil unrest that attracted groups of white men carrying weapons. Two nights after Blake was shot, two protesters were shot dead and another wounded allegedly by 17-year old Kyle Rittenhouse, from neighbouring Antioch, Illinois.
A video appeared to show Rittenhouse shooting protesters in two separate incidents, killing two white men and wounding a third, and making Kenosha a flashpoint in the presidential campaign. Trump and fellow Republicans may feel that the violence in Kenosha could have a political impact in that battleground state.
Unlike protests in large cities such as Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; New York City and Chicago, which are all surrounded by areas that tend to vote Democratic and are generally not factors in deciding presidential elections, Kenosha is in a county where Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 238 votes in 2016 and in a state that he won by 22,748 votes, a less than 1 percent margin.
Biden’s critics, including Trump, have aimed to paint him as “weak” on crime and argued he will not stand up to rioters, forcing Biden, whose advisers are acutely aware of the electoral importance of Wisconsin, to respond multiple times this week, culminating in Thursday’s trip to Kenosha.
Republicans’ hopes – and Democrats’ fears – that Biden’s polling lead over Trump would be negatively affected by Trump’s “law and order” focus, have not been confirmed as of yet. Polling out this week showed Biden’s lead nationally and in several battleground states generally holding steady.
In addition, a Fox News poll of Wisconsin voters released on Wednesday revealed that voters there prefer Biden over Trump by 5 percentage points to handle policing and criminal justice.