Nation's eyes are on Kenosha ahead of President Trump's visit after Jacob Blake shooting

By Jaweed KaleemNational Correspondent Aug. 31, 20203:49 PM UPDATED4:57 PM Facebook Twitter Show more sharing options Share Close extra sharing options Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Email Copy Link URLCopied! Print

Still in mourning from three shootings last week that left a Black man paralyzed at the hands of police and two white men dead from the bullets of a teenage murder suspect, Kenosha was bracing for more unrest Tuesday as President Trump lands in an embattled city that has become a symbol of the nation’s strife over race, policing and protest.

The Democratic mayor and state governor have called on the president, who will meet with law enforcement and view burned buildings downtown, to cancel his plans, fearing the visit could inflame already high tensions. Conservative leaders have pleaded with Trump to move forward, saying the region needs his touch in a “time of crisis.”

Residents in Kenosha County, which like many parts of this crucial swing state are politically divided, are troubled over the future of the country ahead of one of the most consequential American elections in generations. One can hear bitterness, worry and uncertainty from the charred buildings downtown to the vigilant suburbs north and west.

“I’m not sure why he’s [Trump] coming here,” said Pam Zell, a Democrat who lives two miles from Uptown Kenosha, where plumes of tear gas and smoke gave way to largely peaceful protests in support of Blake and a smaller pro-police rally this weekend.

“What’s he going to do? Laugh and say everything is the fault of the Democrats?” said Zell, 57, who was recently laid off from a college campus bagel shop. She described herself as “understanding that Black lives matter.”

Kevin Pinter, a Republican who lives in Pleasant Prairie, a western suburb right across city lines, said he was looking forward to Trump showing Kenosha “can be an example for the country.”

“Any time the president goes anywhere, the bad guys follow to cause trouble,” said Pinter, 36, who co-runs a Christian humanitarian nonprofit. “So I get that concern. But he can come here and show our country how our city is now under control, unlike others that are rioting.”

Trump, who is scheduled to land in the city in the early afternoon, has plans to meet “local law enforcement, some business owners” and “survey the damage,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday. She said that the president did not plan to meet with the Blake family and that “we are holding his family close in our hearts.”

Crowds gather to rally for Jacob Blake on Saturday in Kenosha, Wis.
Crowds gather to rally for Jacob Blake on Saturday in Kenosha, Wis. The city is bracing for more unrest when President Trump lands on Tuesday.

Kenosha, a city of 100,000 in a county that Trump won by fewer than 250 votes four years ago, is shaping up to be a key election focus for Democrats and Republicans. Trump won Wisconsin by a sliver in 2016 and the state — bombarded by presidential tweets and a rallying cry of Black Lives Matter protesters — again finds itself stitched into the raucous narrative over where the fractious nation is headed.

Like he’s done with Portland, Ore., where over the weekend a far-right group member was shot and killed, and other places that have faced unrest, Trump has described Kenosha as a Democrat-run city in a Democrat-run state that he can save with “law and order.”

“If I didn’t INSIST on having the National Guard activate and go into Kenosha, Wisconsin, there would be no Kenosha right now. Also, there would have been great death and injury. I want to thank Law Enforcement and the National Guard. I will see you on Tuesday!” he tweeted Monday.

The Wisconsin governor, Democrat Tony Evers, activated the state National Guard last Monday. Federal law enforcement including the FBI and U.S. marshals arrived later in the week.

Biden, who spoke in Pittsburgh on Monday for his first campaign event since the Democratic convention, pinned the blame for violence, including a fatal shooting of a Trump supporter in Portland, on Trump, who he said has emboldened white nationalists and militia groups.

“Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected?” Biden said.

City and county leaders in Kenosha, where a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew was extended through Wednesday, were apprehensive as more than 1,000 National Guard troops from several states patrolled downtown. It is a scene repeated many times since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis three months ago.

Asked Monday if he was worried the president’s visit would inflame tensions or lead to more violence, the Kenosha County executive, Jim Kreuser, said, “we’ll see tomorrow, won’t we?”

The mayor, John Antaramian, who himself came under attack after admitting the city was ill-prepared for protests, said regarding Trump that it would “be better had he waited” for another time. But several members of the Kenosha County Board of Supervisors wrote to the president telling him stick to his plans.

“Kenoshans are hurting and looking for leadership, and your leadership in this time of crisis is greatly appreciated by those devastated by the violence in Kenosha,” the letter said.

The violent narratives surrounding a Black man and a white boy are the grist for this city’s — and the nation’s — latest tensions.

Family members and a lawyer said Blake, 29, was paralyzed after police shot him seven times in the back on Aug. 23. A lawyer said that most of Blake’s colon and small intestine have been removed. State authorities, which are investigating alongside the U.S. Department of Justice, said police were responding to a report of a domestic dispute and that Blake resisted arrest. Police recovered a knife in his car but have not said if they knew Blake had it or if he tried to use it.

Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Illinois, is also under arrest, facing murder charges in the fatal shooting of two men Tuesday night. He said in an interview with a conservative news website reporter before the shooting that he had shown up in town to protect businesses and offer medical help. Lawyers for the teen said he acted in self-defense.

At a news conference Monday, Trump defended Rittenhouse. “That was an interesting situation. You saw the same tape as I saw. And he was trying to get away from them. I guess it looks like he fell and then they very violently attacked him.... But I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed. It’s under investigation,” he said.

The charges against Rittenhouse allege he already shot and killed one person in the time period Trump appeared to describe.

In Kenosha, where downtown businesses are now boarded up with colorful “Black Lives Matter” and “Kenosha will rise” murals, some residents said they planned to ignore the president’s visit and hold their own gatherings to bring the community together. Others said they would cheer on Trump, including pro-police groups.

Violet Spears, a 51-year-old Black resident who lives near downtown, said she would join her son with the local Boys and Girls Club to support cleanup efforts in the city. “I’m scared Trump coming will give people a bad image of who people like me are, people who are trying to help our community,” said Spears, a Democrat.

The Blake family planned a community service event to coincide with Trump’s arrival with “cleanup, food drive, healing circle” and a voter registration booth at the site where police shot Blake.

“We don’t need more pain and division from a president set on advancing his campaign at the expense of our city,” said Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle. “We need justice and relief for our vibrant community.”