KENOSHA/MILWAUKEE — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s trip to southeastern Wisconsin centered around sending a message of unity during the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting.
Right after Biden touched down at Mitchell International Airport Thursday, he met with the Blake family before heading to Kenosha to share how he would fight systemic racism and require police reform.
His message was in stark contrast with President Donald Trump, who visited Kenosha on Tuesday. While the president backed local businesses hit by looting and stressed law and order in America's streets, Biden said he wanted to use the trip to Kenosha to find common ground and unify the nation.
"I am optimistic about the opportunity, if we seize it," Biden said at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha.
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Biden's meeting with the Blake family
Cameras weren’t allowed inside Biden’s meeting with Blake’s family, but during the conversation, Biden spoke with Jacob Blake over the phone from his hospital bed.
“He talked about how nothing was going to defeat him how whether he walked again or not he was not going to give up,” Biden said.
Biden spoke with Blake on the phone for 15 minutes during a visit to Wisconsin. Blake remains in the hospital, paralyzed from the waist down, after a Kenosha police officer shot him seven times in the back on Aug. 23.
"What I came away with was the overwhelming sense of resilience and optimism about the kind of response they’re getting," Biden later told local leaders in Kenosha.
"I’m praying for Jacob, but I’m praying for the police man as well. I’m praying that things change," Biden said. He added that Blake is now out of ICU.
Biden and his wife, Jill, also spent an hour and a half with the Blake family, including Jacob’s father, sisters and brother, as well as one of their attorneys, B’Ivory LaMarr. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump attended by phone.
Biden stresses unity in Kenosha
Biden then traveled south to Kenosha, a city in the national spotlight after the police shooting and unrest that followed. During a meeting at a Kenosha church, twenty community leaders shared their concerns moving forward.
“We are heavily angry,” said Black Lives Activists of Kenosha Organizer Porsche Bennett.
Bennett’s frustrations center around the inequalities she experiences as an African-American, especially when it comes to encounters with police.
“The action we want are hold theses officers accountable to the same crimes that we get held accountable to,” Bennett said.
“I can’t understand what it’s like to walk out the door or send my son out the door or my daughter and worry about just because they’re black they may not come back,” Biden responded. “I can intellectually understand it, but I can’t feel it. I really am optimistic.”
Talking education in Wauwatosa
Biden’s last stop took him to a Wauwatosa neighborhood where the topic shifted to education and the challenges teachers face during the pandemic.
“I teach the most vulnerable students I believe in the city,” said Milwaukee Public Schools Elementary Teacher Luz Hernandez. “I teach children whose parents are limited English speaking.”
Hernandez said she and another teacher told Biden and his wife Jill about the struggles of the first few days of virtual learning and listened to his proposals that would increase public school funding and resources.
While Biden was in Kenosha, he condemned the looting and destruction that happened early last week. He said the people who are responsible need to be held accountable.
Meanwhile, some 30 protesters marched past Grace Lutheran Church ahead of Biden’s arrival, chanting “Black Lives Matter!” while being trailed by a police vehicle instructing them to move out of the street.
A larger group of 100 in front of the church chanted “Dump Trump! Dump Trump! Dump Trump!” as Biden’s motorcade rolled up. A small group of people waving Trump/Pence and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags stood on the corner, according to the AP.
Reaction from Gov. Evers
Gov. Tony Evers said on Thursday that he did not want presidential candidate Joe Biden to visit Kenosha where he met with family members of Jacob Blake, a Black man shot by police.
Evers also asked President Donald Trump not to come. Both Trump and Biden ignored Evers’ requests and made stops to Kenosha, the latest epicenter of racial unrest in the country.
Reaction from President Trump
Trump didn’t meet with the Blake family when he visited Kenosha earlier this week. The president is scheduled to hold a campaign rally Thursday evening in Pennsylvania, another key Rust Belt battleground.
Tim Murtaugh, the Trump 2020 communications director, issued the following statement:
“Joe Biden made a political trip to Kenosha today – his first visit to Wisconsin – after months of saying he could not travel because of the science of coronavirus. What changed was political science, as he knows he is in serious decline in the polls. To top it off, people participating in his church meeting in Kenosha were handed scripts to read from during the public comment period, proving again that Biden’s handlers don’t trust him in uncontrolled situations."