Joe Biden on Thursday began a visit to Wisconsin by meeting with the family of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was gravely wounded after a white police officer shot him in the back last month.
For more than an hour after arriving in the battleground state, Biden and his wife, Jill, met privately with Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr, his mother, Julia Jackson, his siblings, and some members of his legal team, including attorney Ben Crump, who joined by phone.
Blake remains hospitalized after being shot seven times in the back. His shooting touched off weeks of protests in Kenosha, renewing nationwide demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality that have raged all summer since the police killing of George Floyd in May.
After the meeting, Biden is expected to hold a discussion with business figures, civic leaders and law enforcement officials in Kenosha.
“I’m not going to tell Kenosha what to do, but what we’ll do together,” Biden said following a campaign speech from his Wilmington, Delaware, home on Wednesday. He added that his intention was to “start to talk about what has to be done”.
Biden took questions about the Blake shooting after his speech on Wednesday.
He said: “I think we should let the judicial system work its way. I do think at a minimum they need to be charged, the officers.”
The former vice-president and Democratic presidential candidate will visit the battleground state of Wisconsin as Kenosha, a small city located between Milwaukee and Chicago on the shore of Lake Michigan, became a focus of nationwide protests against institutionalized racism and police brutality, ahead of the 2020 election.
The visit by Biden and his wife Jill follows a controversial stop by Donald Trump just two days earlier. During his own trip, the president singled out cities such as Kenosha, Minneapolis and Portland to promote a campaign message of “law and order”.
During his trip, Trump never once said Blake’s name and did not meet with any members of his family, instead touring buildings damaged in the protests and talking to officials.
Although he criticized Black Lives Matter activists, citing them for escalating tensions, Trump refused to condemn the violence of his supporters, including Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, who allegedly shot and killed two protesters two nights after Blake was shot, when he and other armed, white agitators appeared on the streets of Kenosha.
Daily protests and rallies since that time in Kenosha have been peaceful, apart from limited scuffles with supporters of Trump after his visit to the city had concluded on Tuesday.
The US attorney general, William Barr, then echoed the president’s rhetoric, attempting to differentiate Blake’s ordeal from that of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man whose May killing by Minneapolis police has sparked months of ongoing protests, by claiming that “in the Jacob case, he was in the midst of committing a felony”, and falsely claiming that Blake had been armed.
A federal civil rights investigation is underway into the shooting of Blake.
Biden has ramped up criticism of the president, accusing him of exploiting unrest in cities and racial tensions for political gain, asking repeatedly during a speech on Monday: “Do you really feel safer under Donald Trump?”
The former vice-president also cautioned demonstrators that “violence will not bring change,” only destruction, adding that “rioting”, “setting fires” and “looting is not protesting”.
“It’s wrong in every way. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted,” Biden said.
In response to clashes, the Wisconsin governor, Tony Evers, called for the president not to visit, echoing local NAACP leadership who have called for no politicians present in the community.
Biden, however, insisted he had spoken to city officials and the governor’s staff in planning the visit.