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360: The state of Kenosha one year after the shooting of Jacob Blake and the riots that followed

Posted at 6:00 AM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 07:53:09-04

KENOSHA — From business recovery to police reform and violence interruption, Kenoshans have had a lot on their minds since the police shooting of Jacob Blake and the unrest that followed nearly one year ago.

To hear different perspectives, we are going 360. We talk to the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA), and to a local community activist. Both of them share ideas on how to ease tension between the two sides. We also talk to two business owners impacted by the riots last summer: one business owner who is shutting down his shop and another who reopened in a new location. That's where we start.

State of Kenosha Introduction

"As a community, we don’t want to see it happen again. I don’t believe it will. But, there is that uneasiness about it," said Scott Carpenter, manager of B&L Office Furniture.

You might remember seeing Carpenter and his parents standing in a pile of rubble last year. Their shop on 60th Street burned to the ground during several nights of riots following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

One year later, the furniture store reopened in a new location on 75th Street and business is back. But, Scott says the healing throughout Kenosha will take time.

"My opinion is: It’s in our hearts. We really need to take a good look at ourselves and think about changing how we feel if we want the world to change. It all starts with you. It all starts with me. The community - they want to see change," he said.

Across town in downtown Kenosha, Daniel Brown is packing up his retail shop. He owns Something Different, a sports memorabilia store.

"We’ve been here 25 years. Planned on being here 5, 10, 15 more years," said Brown when our crew caught up with him.

His shop was destroyed and after a year of planning to remodel and reopen, the building was sold and this popular retail store is closing and moving to an online-only format.

"None of us deserved this. Nobody deserves what happened," Brown said.

He agrees the community is healing, but that there's still a lot of work to do.

The Kenosha Area Business Alliance estimates 100 businesses and buildings were destroyed by the riots. The damage was estimated at $50 million.

State of Kenosha Damage

"Things were taken away out of emotion, out of anger, out of unrest, and I understand that. But, that does not mean that you have to turn against the community because of the community," said Brandon Wheat, Chief Minister of Defense for Kenosha Coalition Organizing Resolution (KCOR).

KCOR is a new community organization aimed at bridging the divide and interrupting violence in Kenosha. Wheat says one year later, there is still a lot of tension in the community.

"There's a lot of divide. I don’t know where it comes from. But, hopefully one day they will come to the table and talk," Wheat said.

He believes community leaders, police and residents must all learn how to talk. His organization hosts block parties and community meetings and canvasses neighborhoods to try and bring more people to the table.

"It’s a long process ahead of us," Wheat said.

Jim Palmer, Executive Director of the WPPA, says it is not just up to community groups to make that conversation happen.

"I think that leaders of the agency, the chief, as well as the local police union, the group that represents the officers - to have frequent interactions, frequent meetings, faith leaders and leaders of communities of color, just to recognize that an open dialogue benefits everyone," said Palmer.

He says in his experience, even if disagreements continue to exist, the relationships can help deescalate tension and dismiss misconceptions.

"There are going to be areas in which they continue to disagree. But, at least have that line of communication established," said Palmer.

Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian released a statement that reads in full:

"One year following the events of August 2020, I can tell you with confidence – Kenosha has moved forward to unify and heal. More than ever before, we are investing in our people, our infrastructure, and our business development – the essential elements to create a thriving Kenosha for all.

Real change began long before August 23, 2020. Community Police Relations have grown through the Kenosha Action Roadmap to Inclusion, Equality & Equity, an effort which we started in early 2020 as a long-term plan to identify and address any racism that might be embedded as normal practice in key areas in Kenosha. This process has involved continuing honest and productive discussions that happen regularly among city and community leaders. Importantly, we are working with a developer to create affordable and workforce housing in the uptown area that was hardest hit by the riots, and we are renovating the old Brown Bank building to bring training opportunities.

We are continually looking out for the people of Kenosha. It is the theme in everything we are doing to recover, rebuild and protect our community."

One thing that is clear is that despite differing perspectives, everyone has the intention of building back better.

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