Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden met for 90 minutes Thursday with relatives of Jacob Blake, whose shooting by police sparked violent protests before meeting with community members in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Biden and his wife Jill had a private meeting at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport with Blake’s father Jacob Blake Sr., sister Letetra Widman, brother Myron Jackson, sister Zietha Blake and mother Julia Jackson, who attended by phone. Also attending the meeting were members of Blake’s legal team Ben Crump, Patrick Salvi Sr. and B’Ivory LaMarr, on Jacob Blake’s legal team.
Biden’s campaign provided no summary of what was said. The Bidens then headed to Kenosha, for a meeting with community leaders, in an effort to calm violent protests that erupted after police shot and paralyzed the 29-year-old. Biden didn’t respond to questions shouted from reporters outside the gathering.
In Kenosha, Biden met with about two dozen people from Kenosha at Grace Lutheran Church.
Barb DeBerge, owner of DeBerge Framing & Gallery, told Biden that people broke into her building and looted it, but were unable to burn it to the ground because of the work of a good Samaritan.
“We’re lucky we’re still standing,” DeBerge said. “Otherwise our store would have been up in flames.”
Biden described his time as a public defender after graduating from law school – on the day Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. He said Wilmington had 10 months of National Guard occupation and that he thought Black and white Americans would never cooperate again.
“Don’t tell me things can’t change,” said Biden, referring to his time as vice president under President Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president.
But he said he made a mistake.
“I thought you could defeat hate,” Biden said. “Hate only hides.”
Biden’s visit to the key battleground state comes two days after President Donald Trump traveled to Kenosha to tour burned-out buildings damaged in protests that turned into deadly clashes. Two protesters were shot and killed amid the protests and police have charged Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, in the deaths.
The dueling visits highlight the importance of racial justice protests in the final stretch to the Nov. 3 election, demonstrations that swept the country following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Biden has called for justice and healing while Trump decried lawlessness and described himself as the law-and-order president. As Trump sought to restore order in Kenosha, Portland and elsewhere, Biden accused the president of stoking division.
Biden kept his mask on throughout his speech at the church, but walked among the pews to get closer to Kenosha residents, who shared their experiences .
“We know what the problems are. We need to put money behind solutions,” said Tim Thompkins, Kenosha resident and a former Marine. “We need to create jobs with living wages,”
Jeff Weidner, a 30-year firefighter and former President of Kenosha Local IAFF 414, said first responders often face patients with health problems that get worse because of a lack of insurance or the funds for medication.
“Those are some of the things we see in terms of problems in the community that need attention,” Weidner said.
Angela Cunningham, a Kenosha lawyer and former prosecutor in Milwaukee, suggested police should get fewer protections against charges in cases of violence. She also urged a database to track discrepancies in how defendants of different races are treated.
“What I have seen in the courts is unfair treatment of white defendants as opposed to Black and brown defendants,” Cunningham said.
Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, called Biden’s visit inappropriate as a political candidate, in contrast to the president’s official visit Tuesday.
“This is not the time to be injecting politics into a really serious situation that the president helped solve,” Stepien told “Fox & Friends” on Thursday. “You don’t see many supporters of the president throwing bricks through windows or setting buildings on fire.”
But Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., welcomed Biden to the state with a tweet and said he hopes the former vice president understands what it took to halt rioting in Kenosha.
“I hope he actually views the destruction and starts to understand how devastating it is,” Johnson said.
Trump will campaign in Pennsylvania on Thursday at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, not far from where Biden delivered a speech Monday in Pittsburgh. Like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania is a key battleground state that both campaigns view as key to victory Nov. 3.
Biden leads Trump by 7 points – 50% to 43% – in a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll, down from a 12-point edge in June. A Fox News poll released Wednesday shows Biden is leading Trump by 8 points – 50% to 42% – among likely Wisconsin voters, suggesting the race has not narrowed since the conventions or the unrest in Kenosha.
Biden’s visit to Wisconsin for the first time as the Democratic nominee comes as the campaign spends $45 million this week on broadcast and digital ads across 10 battleground states including Wisconsin. The ads include video from Biden’s Monday speech in Pittsburgh contrasting himself with Trump about how to deal with racial unrest, the economy and COVID-19.
“We can’t turn away. Now is the time for racial justice,” Biden said during the ad titled “We’re listening” slated this weekend for Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. “I believe with every fiber in my being we have such an opportunity now to change people’s lives for the better.”
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