Courtney Subramanian and Rebecca Morin
Published 7:48 PM EDT Sep 3, 2020
WASHINGTON – Seeking a contrast with President Donald Trump, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Thursday to highlight a different dimension of the wave of violent protests that has upended the embattled city over a police shooting of a Black man.
Shortly after he and his wife, Jill Biden, arrived in Milwaukee, Biden spoke to Jacob Blake, a Black man who was left paralyzed after a white police officer shot him seven times on Aug. 23, and met with members of his family for 90 minutes.
“He talked about how nothing was going to defeat him, how whether he walked again or not, he wasn’t going to give up,” Biden said of his conversation with Blake during a gathering of community members at a Kenosha church.
The former vice president struck a more optimistic tone as he sought to allay tensions over violent protests that erupted after police shot Blake, and led to the death of two protesters by a suspected vigilante shooter.
“What I came away with was the overwhelming sense of resilience and optimism that they have about the kind of response they’re getting,” he said of the Blake family.
Blake’s attorney, Ben Crump, said Biden and his wife’s conversation focused on “changing the disparate treatment of minorities in police interactions, the impact of selecting Kamala Harris as a Black woman as his running mate, and Vice President Biden’s plans for change.”
Biden’s visit came two days after the president traveled to Kenosha to promote his own message about the ongoing protests over racial justice and police brutality – a trip that did not include a visit with the Blake family.
The president said he wouldn’t meet with the family because they requested their lawyers be involved, which Trump said was “inappropriate.”
Trump has sought to blame Democrats for the civil unrest, painting Kenosha’s protests as an example of the “anti-police and “anti-American riots” that would continue if he isn’t re-elected.
While Biden focused much of his trip on the racial injustice that led to recent upheaval, Trump used his trip to praise members of the National Guard and local law enforcement for quelling the unrest.
The former vice president assailed Trump for failing to show leadership through a string of crises the country is facing and said he “legitimized a dark side of human nature” in his response to the 2017 white nationalists rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one counterprotester was killed.
“I made a mistake about something. I thought you could defeat hate. It only hides,” he said.
Here are several other key moments from Biden and Trump’s trips to Kenosha this week:
More: ‘I thought we could defeat hate’: Joe Biden meets with Jacob Blake’s family in Kenosha visit
More: Trump claims credit for bringing calm to Kenosha in visit criticized as politicizing unrest
The governor didn’t want Trump or Biden there
Biden’s and Trump’s visits weren’t exactly embraced by local officials. While Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., accompanied Trump on his visit, Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers stated he didn’t want either the president or Biden visiting the area.
“Candidates can make their own decisions,” Evers said in a call with reporters on Thursday. “I would prefer that no one be here.”
Evers urged the president to cancel his trip while the city recovered from last week’s wave of violence that left a Black man paralyzed after a police shooting, two protesters dead and a trail of destruction.
“I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing,” Evers wrote in a letter to the president on Sunday. “I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”
But Evers, who has endorsed Biden, said he did not write a letter to the former vice president but made his position clear in a phone call.
Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian shared those concerns, telling reporters “Kenosha needs peace and needs to heal and needs people to allow us to do that.” The local head of the NAACP said no politicians should visit because tensions were running high.
But Biden said he spoke to city leaders and the governor’s staff in planning the visit, with a goal of bringing factions of the community together.
“There’s been overwhelming requests that I do come,” Biden said Wednesday. “What we want to do is we’ve got to heal. We got to put things together, bring people together.”
Trump poses in front of burned-out buildings and rubble
Upon his arrival in Wisconsin, the president surveyed the damage caused by protests that sometimes escalated into destructive violence in the days following Blake’s shooting, leaving burned-out buildings and smoldering ash in its wake.
Trump has sought to use Kenosha and other cities experiencing ongoing protests, like Portland, Oregon, as examples of his campaign message that the country is under threat of being overtaken by radical left-wing mobs.
While Biden has called for racial justice and healing, Trump has blamed Democrats for “lawlessness” and widespread demonstrations while labeling himself a law-and-order president.
“Reckless far-left politicians continue to push the destructive message that our nation and our law enforcement are oppressive or racist,” he said. “These are not acts of peaceful protest but really, domestic terror.”
The president underscored this message by focusing on members of law enforcement and the National Guard during his visit who brought order back to the city. He highlighted businesses affected by the protests, including a burned-out furniture storefront that had been torched by protesters.
He said some of the city’s businesses may have been spared if Evers welcomed federal assistance and called in the National Guard sooner. But it was Evers who activated the state’s National Guard on Aug. 24, a day after Blake was shot. Three days later, the governor asked for help from Arizona, Michigan and Alabama.
But not all small businesses openly embraced the president. The co-owner of a century-old camera shop that was destroyed during protests told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he “politely declined” to meet with the president. The owner told the newspaper he was surprised to see on TV that Trump instead met with the shop’s former owner, who sold it to him in 2011 but still owns the property.
More: Destroyed Kenosha store’s owners refused to be part of Trump ‘circus,’ president met with building owner instead
“We’re going to work with you. We’re going to help you,” Trump told the former owner. “We’ll help you rebuild. It’s a great area. It’s a great state. This should never happen. A thing like this should never happen. They have to call early.”
A picture of Trump standing before the rubble shared widely both by both his supporters and his opponents underscored their respective political messages. Republicans pointed to the picture as an example of Trump’s leadership and a visual of his “law-and-order” presidency, while Democrats used the photo to illuminate the chaos that would continue in Trump’s America if he’s elected to a second term.
The picture – depending on the interpretation – symbolizes how both Biden and Trump are staking out two very different visions for how the country moves forward.
Biden focuses on community needs amid campaign stop
In one of his few campaign events outside Delaware since the coronavirus pandemic, Biden in Kenosha met with more than a dozen community leaders, from activists to lawmakers to a store owner whose business was looted, to discuss Blake’s shooting and the protests and violence that followed.
Throughout the event, which was held at Grace Lutheran Church and lasted more than one hour, Biden sat, listened and took notes.
Biden heard from Tim Thompkins, Kenosha resident and former Marine, who discussed investing in programs to combat racial inequality. Jeff Weidner, former president of Kenosha Local International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) 414, spoke about the support from the community and resources dropped off to fire departments following the riots. A contrast from the image shown by Trump’s photo shoot with rubble caused by the riots.
One of the most impassioned moments came from Porsche Bennett, an organizer for Black Lives Activists Kenosha. She spoke about how people are “heavily angry,” adding that she wants to see tangible action from political leaders and for police officers to be held accountable.
“There’s way more that we want done, and it didn’t just start with Jacob. But we want change. We want change,” Bennett said.
Compare the candidates: What Biden, Trump say about the issues
The event was a stark contrast to Trump’s roundtable held Tuesday in Kenosha on community safety, where the president condemned the protests following Blake’s shooting.
Biden allowed several speakers to voice their concerns before giving a response.
“I can’t say if tomorrow God made me president, I can’t guarantee you everything gets solved in four years,” Biden said during his remarks at the church.
He added: “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.”
Duel campaign trips create a sense of normalcy
Biden over the past several months has mainly kept his campaigning virtual amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, who is known for his large and frequent rallies, has scaled back due to COVID-19.
But this week, both candidates parachuted to Kenosha to contrast the protests and riots following Blake’s shooting. The uptick in campaigning also follows the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention, where Biden and Trump accepted their respective party’s nomination.
Wisconsin is a key battleground state, and Thursday was Biden’s first visit to the state. Trump carried the state in 2016 over then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
However, Biden is leading nationally in several recent polls, as well as in Wisconsin. According to a Fox News poll released Wednesday, Biden holds an 8 point lead over Trump – 50% to 42% – among likely Wisconsin voters.
Although the pandemic still prevents both candidates from fully embracing campaign mode, they are ramping up their stops on the trail. Biden next week will visit Michigan, while Trump on Thursday is speaking in Pennsylvania. Both candidates will also visit Shanksville, Pennsylvania – site of the Flight 93 National Memorial – to the mark anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Michigan and Pennsylvania are key battleground states that both candidates are eyeing in their path to victory and could determine the outcome on Nov. 3.