Relative Quiet as Trump Visits Kenosha

Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter activists clashed, but elsewhere, a Justice for Jacob Blake event had an almost festive atmosphere.

KENOSHA, Wisconsin--If the attendees of the Justice for Jacob Blake block party were bothered by President Donald Trump’s trip to the turbulent city on Tuesday, they weren’t letting on.

“As far as him coming here, I think I’m optimistic,” said Norvelle Woods, who lives nearby.

“I think that all media is always good media, so him being here is positive,” Woods told me, flanked by his small black Cane Corso puppy Okoye (named for the warrior princess played by Danai Gurira in the movie Black Panther.)

“As long as there’s attention to it, we can all come up collectively with solutions.”

In fact, the mood was almost festive as neighbors filled the block, some residents manning grills cooking ribs, chicken, and hamburgers. At the site of a shooting that left Blake paralyzed, there were bouncy houses for the kids, and stations set up to provide haircuts, grief counseling, and voter registration.

The neighborhood came out to demand justice for Blake, the 29-year old man who was shot seven times by Kenosha police on August 23 after they were called to investigate a domestic disturbance. The shooting, caught on film by a neighbor, shocked the country and resulted in widespread destruction of businesses in Kenosha over the past week. 

One week prior to Trump’s visit, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse of Antioch, Ill., shot and killed two protesters. Rittenhouse has been charged with six crimes, including first-degree intentional homicide.

But Blake’s backers largely ignored Trump’s visit to the city to inspect the damage and meet with local law enforcement officials.

“I’m not directing anything toward that gentleman today, and I use that term loosely,” said Justin Blake, Jacob’s uncle. “We’re going to focus on Little Jake—his healing, his children’s healing, and healing Kenosha,” Justin Blake said.

He called for the officer who shot Jacob, Rusten Sheskey, to be fired and indicted for attempted murder.* 

“Are you saying the City of Kenosha is supporting the policeman they saw that day?” said Blake. “If so, we need to take a look at our morals and our ethics around this country and ask, ‘are we supporting a Nazi-style police force on young black men?’”

Kenosha is currently investigating the shooting, in which Blake, who had an outstanding warrant for a felony sexual assault, allegedly wrestled with officers before walking to his car and leaning in, head first, before he was shot in the back. After the shooting, a knife was found on the floorboard of the automobile. Until last Friday, Blake was still handcuffed to his hospital bed, as the sexual assault charge was still in effect. 

Just miles from where Justin Blake spoke, President Trump’s motorcade moved through Kenosha as well-wishers and protesters lined the heavily-policed streets. The president then toured some of the buildings torched in the riots that took place several days before.

“We're going to work with you. We're going to help you rebuild. It's a great area, it's a great state,” Trump said at B&L Office Furniture, which had been destroyed last Monday night. “A thing like this should never happen. They have to call early."

Trump took credit for relative peace in the city over the past few nights, noting Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers requested federal help after the Rittenhouse shooting last Tuesday. The president said some police forces are opening themselves up to criticism by “choking.”

“I feel terribly for anybody who goes through that,” Trump said of the Jacob Blake shooting. “As you know it's under investigation. It's a big thing happening right now ... I hope they come up with the right answer. It's a complicated answer,” he said.

Trump vowed to send $42 million to Wisconsin to help rebuild the cities ravaged by violence as well as to help prosecute crimes. Of that, Kenosha will receive $4 million.

Later, Trump held a roundtable meeting with local elected officials, including Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Brian Steil, who represents the district. 

But Trump has yet to condemn the Rittenhouse killings, which have become a cause célèbre among many of his supporters. During a protest taking place across the city, one Trump supporter yelled into a bullhorn, demanding “Justice for Kyle Rittenhouse,” calling him an “American hero.”

As Trump met with the local officials, both pro-Trump and Black Lives Matter demonstrators gathered at Civic Center Park, near the uniformly boarded up downtown area.

Earlier in the day, Trump supporters waved flags and cheered National Guard troops that lined up outside the park.

“Kenosha has a long history of welcoming presidents,” said Trump supporter Barbara Griffin, who is a fifth generation resident of the city. “We are a patriotic town, a working peoples’ town,” she said.

“One thing with Trump—everything he’s promised, he’s kept those promises,” said Geri Dougherty, who has lived in Kenosha for 12 years. “He was told not to come, but he’s here, and we love our president,” she said. On Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers wrote to Trump asking him not to come to the city, saying it would “hinder our healing.”

“You go to the Uptown area, and it’s a diverse area—those stores were barely squeaking by,” said Griffin. “Those were people that worked 16 hours a day to put bread on their table, and you destroy it and say that’s the cause you’re fighting for? It’s ludicrous.”

Throughout the day, Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter activists clashed in the park, frequently hurling insults at each other. In the afternoon, after Trump had left, his supporters mostly left, leaving a mélange of racial justice protesters trying to generate viral moments. Dozens of young people walked around, phones aloft, waiting for yelling to flare up, then dispersing when the performance finished. At about 5:30, one of the remaining Trump supporters was punched and kicked by protesters, but he was quickly led away.

But what was missing was any sort of coordinated demonstration while the president was in town. At the Justice for Jacob cookout, Rev. Jesse Jackson counseled against protests and demonstrations, arguing that doing so while the president was in town would provide a "commercial for Trump's vision."

But Norvelle Woods told me he thinks Trump has already lost the election, and it has nothing to do with police brutality.

“Trump blew it with the pandemic,” Woods said. “If the pandemic hadn’t happened, he would have won Wisconsin, and probably the election.”

“What you see here? This has been America. Regardless of how we look at it—today, tomorrow, next president, another president—[racism] will always be the scab of America,” Woods said. 

“Sometimes we peel that scab and we have to make it heal again.”

*Correction, September 2: This piece initially said that Joe Biden called for the officer involved the Jacob Blake shooting to be indicted for murder. It should have said “attempted murder.”

Christian Schneider is a reporter for The College Fix and author of 1916: The Blog,

Photographs by Christian Schneider.