Supporters of the police shooting victim gather away from President Trump’s appearance to focus on healing and justice.
With the presidential election less than 65 days away, the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by police in Kenosha is amplifying partisan and racial divides in the country, and President Donald Trump sought to exploit the division for political gain with a Tuesday visit to the grieving community.
Trump’s visit came despite Gov. Tony Evers, Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, and Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser urging the president to stay away to allow the community more time to heal. Residents are still grieving Blake’s shooting and reeling from a tumultuous week of protests that at times gave way to riots, looting, and a double murder by an armed right-wing militia member.
Blake’s family and supporters, however, refused any temptation to seek conflict and instead gathered away from the presidential event to keep the focus on Jacob.
At the same time Trump was landing at the Waukegan, Illinois, airport, located roughly 20 miles south of Kenosha, a mass of media and supporters were attending a Justice for Jacob Blake Community Celebration. The event took place at the intersection of 40th Street and 28th Avenue, where Blake was shot at point-blank range, seven times in the back on Aug. 23, while three of his children were in the car.
Blake supporters and local activists countered Trumps’ visit with the community event, which included a cookout, music, free COVID-19 testing, free haircuts, and an appearance from civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have reached out to the family, while Trump has not, Blake’s uncle said during a press conference before the celebration.
“We’ve had none whatsoever,” said Justin Blake, Jacob’s uncle, when asked about any contact from Trump. “Whatever they’re talking about is a ruse. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing today, so they can’t take over the narrative.”
During a press conference at the White House Monday, President Trump said he spoke with the Blake family’s pastor (Blake’s father said they do not have a family pastor). Trump then said he decided not to talk with the family directly because they wanted lawyers present.
“I may at some point do that, but they did have a lawyer that wanted to be on the phone, and I said, ‘No, that’s inappropriate,'” Trump said. “I gave my best regards, but again, I spoke with the pastor.”
In contrast, Jacob Blake Sr. spoke with Biden and Harris for roughly 30 minutes on a recent night, said Justin Blake, the only family member to speak to the press.
“Vice President Biden and Sister Harris had a prolonged conversation with my brother the other day. I’m sure he will make time to greet them,” Blake said.
He added they “hashed out some stuff.”
“Being a political science major, I am trying to push for bills, laws, and legislation to make this better,” Blake said.
“We don’t have any words for the orange man. All I ask is that he keeps his foul language away from our family,” said Blake in reference to Trump. “We need a president that is going to unite our country and take us in a different direction.”
When asked if Trump should have come to the Justice for Jacob Celebration, which is occurring half a mile from Bradford High School where Trump is attending a roundtable discussion, Blake said, “It is a free country.”
“He can go anywhere he wants,” Blake said. “We want the same rights he’s got. We want to be able to get our children home safely, too. They should be able to go anywhere they want and come home safely and not get shot seven times.”
With tensions still high in Kenosha and protests continuing, some people in the community were concerned Trump’s visit could spark further unrest.
“I’m basically appalled that Donald Trump would come down here to stir up an already volatile situation,” said Lars Kvam, a Milwaukee factory worker who came to the community event to support the Blake family.
Enrique Manjarrez, a Kenosha photographer who attended the event, said Trump was only coming to Kenosha to “spread negativity” and sow division. The President’s appearance was a political play, Manjarrez said, because Trump could claim victory no matter how the day turned out.
If the day’s proceedings occurred peacefully, Manjarrez said, Trump could give himself credit for sending the National Guard even though Evers was the one who ordered the deployment, a day before Trump got involved. If tensions escalated to violence, Trump could push his “law and order” message, Manjarrez said.
“It’s a win-win situation for him,” Manjarrez said. “At the end of the day, he can be whoever he wants to be. The people of this community are what actually matters.”
Cathy Stehr, an occupational therapist from Milwaukee, said Trump’s visit showed “he just wants attention.”
Jonathan Sadowski contributed to this report.