Racial Tensions Roil as Joe Biden Tries His Hand at Unifying in Kenosha, WI
It’s been almost two weeks since the shooting of an unarmed Black man in Kenosha, WI, renewed fervor across the
It’s been almost two weeks since the shooting of an unarmed Black man in Kenosha, WI, renewed fervor across the country. Since then, several new videos have surfaced of incidents involving police brutality against Black men. With the election inching closer by the day, both incumbent President Donald J Trump and opponent former Vice President Joe Biden have chosen to visit Kenosha to use the unrest there as a test of their ability to handle the racial tensions roiling across the country.
What happened in Kenosha?
On August 23, police responded to reports of a domestic altercation in Kenosha, WI. When they arrived, witnesses say Jacob Blake was attempting to break up a fight between two women. What happened from there is unclear, as a video from a witness starts rolling minutes later with police following Blake with guns already drawn. Witness Raysean Whitefilmed Blake walking around the front of his SUV as officers followed, weapons drawn and aimed at his back. Blake calmly opens the driver’s side door of the SUV. The officer directly behind Blake, now identified as Ofc. Rusten Sheskey, grabbed the back of Blake’s shirt and attempted to pull him backwards, gun aimed downward at Blake’s back. Witnesses begin screaming. Blake leans down into the car and reaches for something that appears to be in the door pocket or on the floor of the vehicle, and Sheskey opens fire. 7 shots ring out on the video, and Blake slumps into the car, head striking the steering wheel and setting off the horn. Officers rendered first aid at the scene, but Blake was ultimately paralyzed by the waist down although he did survive. According to Blake’s attorney, three of his children were in the vehicle and saw their father shot from a few feet away.
What happened right after the shooting?
In the immediate wake of the shooting, Black Lives Matter protesters arrived and unrest sprang up in downtown Kenosha. Governor Tony Evers worked quickly to release a statement in support of the protesters, “Tonight, Jacob Blake was shot in the back multiple times, in broad daylight, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Kathy and I join his family, friends, and neighbors in hoping earnestly that he will not succumb to his injuries. While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.
We stand with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equity, and accountability for Black lives in our country—lives like those of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor, Tony Robinson, Dontre Hamilton, Ernest Lacy, and Sylville Smith. And we stand against excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with Black Wisconsinites.
I have said all along that although we must offer our empathy, equally important is our action. In the coming days, we will demand just that of elected officials in our state who have failed to recognize the racism in our state and our country for far too long.”
Investigation isn’t enough
An investigation was promised, but protesters were not mollified and supporting protests sprang up in other cities across the United States. Riots broke out in the streets and downtown Kenosha was damaged. A self-described militia arrived to protect local businesses, and Illinois teenager Kyle Rittenhouse drove to Wisconsin to join the militia. But when Rittenhouse arrived heavily armed, he wasn’t prepared for what he encountered and after starting an altercation and threatening protesters, he shot 3 people, killing 2; Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum. Infuriatingly, Rittenhouse was allowed through police lines after shooting people and initially escaped justice. However, the next day he was caught and arrested.
Presidential candidates battle over Rittenhouse
In the wake of the shootings of the protesters, President Trump refused to condemn Rittenhouse, instead blaming the deaths on left-wing radicals. Huffpost shares what Trump said; “Speaking at a White House coronavirus update, Trump called Rittenhouse’s attack at a Black Lives Matter demonstration, held days after Kenosha police wounded Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black father, an ‘interesting situation.’ ‘He was trying to get away from them, I guess … and he fell,’ Trump claimed, citing videos of the Rittenhouse attack. ‘And then they very violently attacked him.’
The president claimed that the teenager, who was carrying an assault-style rifle, ‘probably would’ve been killed.’
‘He was in very big trouble. He probably would’ve been killed, but it’s under investigation.’”
Biden wasn’t having Trump’s both-sides card, and slammed the President’s response, saying, “Tonight, the president declined to rebuke violence. He wouldn’t even repudiate one of his supporters who is charged with murder because of his attacks on others. He is too weak, too scared of the hatred he has stirred to put an end to it.
So once again, I urge the president to join me in saying that while peaceful protest is a right, a necessity, violence is wrong, period. No matter who does it, no matter what political affiliation they have. Period.”
Trump heads to Kenosha
On Tuesday, Trump visited Kenosha, but his message was garbled and reception lukewarm. Trump intended to promote the message that Kenosha and the ensuing riots and destruction of property are what voters can expect under a Biden presidency. As Trump toured a few damaged businesses, several refused to participate in photo ops. While visiting Kenosha, Trump promised support for the police but made no mention of the shooting of Blake. Whatever Trump intended seems to have fallen flat. It’s a hard sell to walk into a city ravaged under Trump’s presidency and make the claim that what they see would be the result of a Biden presidency.
More disturbing videos have surfaced
As the president refuses to condemn Rittenhouse and racial tensions continue to boil over in major cities, more disturbing incidents have come to light in other cities. In Rochester, New York, a Black man suffocated as police detained him. The man, Daniel Prude, died back in March but video has only recently been released showing the incident. Prude’s brother called for help after the victim ran naked from his home in the grips of a mental health crisis. Police responded to the call for aid by putting a hood over Prude’s head, and pressing his face into the pavement for two long minutes as Prude suffocated to death. While Prude was later determined to have been high on PCP at the time, his death was ruled as asphyxiation, caused by the officers. No arrests have been made and activists are furious at the delay in releasing the video. An investigation is reportedly ongoing.
The New York Times reports, “Rochester’s police chief, La’Ron D. Singletary, said he understood that people were angry about Mr. Prude’s death and frustrated about the lack of action in the matter, as well as about the delay in releasing the video.
‘I know that there is a rhetoric that is out there that this is a cover-up,’ Chief Singletary said. ‘This is not a cover-up.’”
Another killing, this time on the west coast
A Black man riding a bicycle in Los Angeles on Monday was shot 20 times by police and killed after they claim he made a motion towards a gun on the ground. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department promises an ongoing investigation, but the latest killing is another in a long line of incidents of police brutality against Black people. Contrast the claim that the Black Los Angeles biker made a move towards a gun with the fact that armed white teen Rittenhouse had actually shot three people and the inconsistencies in outcome are glaring.
Biden heads to Kenosha, hoping to build a legacy as a unifier
Biden headed for Kenosha on Thursday. The former vice president hoped to stretch his wings and prove his ability to unify people in one of the most divided cities in the US right now. In contrast to Trump who didn’t even mention Blake’s name, Biden plans to meet with his family. However, the BBC reports that not everyone is happy to see Biden, either, “Anthony Davis, the president of the local chapter of the NAACP civil rights group, told NBC that he opposes Mr Biden’s visit, just as he did for Mr Trump’s. ‘I said that Kenosha would welcome them any other time,’ he said. ‘But things here are fragile. And we, in this community, really need to put our energy into healing ourselves, sitting down and speaking in detail only the way that locals can.’”
Biden told reporters, “We have to heal,” as he boarded the plane to Wisconsin.
Things seem to get worse by the day, which candidate can unify?
As things continue to worsen by the day, both candidates have an opportunity present themselves as the solution to current problems. Trump aims to prove that he can be a law and order president, and that under his administration, citizens will be able to sleep safely again knowing that the streets are patrolled and under control. By contrast, Biden has been condemning police brutality and trumpeting a message of unity for the country. As he tries his hand at proving himself in Kenosha, the country watches, weary and heartsick. It seems as though every week a new video or image emerges of a Black person being killed in police custody, and the president has failed to find a way thus far to quell the unrest or put voters’ minds at ease that he is capable of or willing to do so. It will be a hard sell for Trump to prove that he can make things better than they are now, when all of this is occurring under his administration. Biden has a unique opportunity to seize the narrative and prove that, whatever Trump promises to offer, what Biden can offer has to be better than what’s happening now.