“What I came away with was the overwhelming sense of resilience and optimism about the kind of response they’re getting,” Biden said. Blake’s mother “said I’m praying for Jacob, but I’m praying for the police man was well. I’m praying that things change.”
Biden added that Blake was fighting to overcome the shooting and that he said “nothing was going to defeat him.”
Biden visited Kenosha as protests grip the city following Blake’s shooting by a white police officer. Blake was shot several times in the back in front of his young children. The unrest erupted amid a summer of uprisings against anti-Black police violence and racism.
President Donald Trump had visited Kenosha earlier this week, though state and local officials discouraged his visit, fearing it would sow further divisions through his law-and-order message. Trump did not meet with the Blake family, saying he didn’t want to sit through a meeting with the family’s lawyers present.
Biden, however, said he met with the family and their lawyers. A statement from the family’s lawyers said Biden and the Blakes discussed ways to address systemic racism and police violence. They also discussed Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to be nominated vice president by a major party, the statement said.
“It was very obvious that Vice President Biden cared, as he extended to Jacob Sr. a sense of humanity, treating him as a person worthy of consideration and prayer,” the statement said, referring to Jacob Blake’s father.
After the meeting, Biden joined several members of the Kenosha community — from a fire fighter to a small business owner to an alderman — at Grace Lutheran Church to hear about their experiences through the unrest that has rocked the city. The speakers also touched on racial disparity that has existed in Kenosha long before the shooting, painting a picture of a community in pain.
Biden spent the majority of the community meeting listening. But in his responses, he called himself a “congenital optimist” and pushed a message of hope.
“I’m optimistic about the opportunity, if we seize it,” Biden said.
Biden said the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis was a “wake-up call” not only for the country, but for the world. It brought home the reality of anti-Black violence in America and spurned a new drive throughout the country to fight for racial justice, he said. Biden cited the high support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the vocal mobilizations that have gripped cities around the world.
“The public is ready to do these things,” Biden said, referring to policy items intended to combat racial disparities. “I promise you.”
One of the community members who spoke was Porsche Bennett, an organizer for Black Lives Activists Kenosha. Bennett expressed dismay at the lack of progress she’d seen in the city, in spite of positive rhetoric, and urged Biden to see a distinction between rioters and protesters.
“In a protest, our voice is heard,” she said. She expressed dismay at hearing empty promises and hoped there would be substantive action to improve conditions for her children.
Biden and other Democrats’ responses to the riots have been a major attack point for Republicans, who characterize them as weak on maintaining order. Biden has since strongly denounced rioting and looting — a notion he repeated in Kenosha by asserting that voting is the best way to effect change.
Still, Biden expressed empathy for the frustration that could lead people to more disruptive forms of unrest. He said he could never understand the feeling of wondering if his child would come home simply because of the color of his skin.
“I can intellectually understand. But I can’t feel it,” Biden said.
The former Delaware senator and vice president also spoke about his own experiences amid the unrest that gripped Wilmington, Del., in the wake of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassinations. He described the military personnel stationed on street corners and the hopelessness looming over the racial clashes of the era.
He contrasted that image with his vice presidency several decades later, serving with the country’s first Black president. Biden used the story to assert that progress toward racial justice was possible. Biden listed a number of policy initiatives he would launch to address racial disparity, from criminal justice to education reform.
“I can’t guarantee everything will be solved in four years,” Biden said. “But I can tell you one thing: It’ll be a whole heck of a lot better.”