On the day that President Donald Trump visited Kenosha with a focus on “law and order,” the family of Jacob Blake and supporters in the community gathered together at the scene of the Aug. 23 police shooting that set off more than a week of unrest.
The event had a festive atmosphere, complete with singing, barbecuing and a bouncy house filled with shrieking children. There was also a booth registering voters, free COVID-19 testing and a food drive.
In terms that Trump — a former reality TV star — can understand, it was counter-programming.
“Our focus today is on helping the Kenosha community and thanking the local community for its support,” said Justin Blake, the uncle of Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha Police officer.
But Tuesday, that corner — at 28th Avenue and 40th Street on Kenosha’s north side — was a gathering focused on unity, hope, peace and gratitude.
“It’s not just for my nephew, Jake,” Justin Blake said, “but for all the little Jakes around the country. We’re staying focused on getting justice and on healing. We want to come together.”
Blake added that he “thanks Kenosha for coming out here” — the gathering, which kept growing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., drew a diverse crowd — and said, “I don’t want outsiders to think the local people did this. It was the police who shot my nephew.”
Rock star welcome
For the second time in a week, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was in Kenosha. When he pulled up in a black SUV, the throng of people — some carrying cell phones and others toting large, heavy cameras and microphones — surrounded the longtime civil rights activist and founder of Chicago’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
Jackson spoke to the large crowd, standing next to Justin Blake, and posed for photos with people who were clearly excited to meet him.
Also present were state representatives Tod Ohnstad and Tip McGuire, both D-Kenosha.
“This is the perfect place for me to be today,” Ohnstad said, while the smell of grilling hamburgers filled the air and music played in the background. “Kenosha’s been through a lot, but certainly nothing like this. Our community will start healing now.”
McGuire “wants to be part of our community coming together. The national press has a view of Kenosha that is not the same as we view ourselves. We are coming together.”
Focus on voting
James Hall, president of the Urban League of Racine and Kenosha, was busy working at a voter registration table.
“Our team will also go door to door, encouraging people to come here and register to vote,” he said.
Voting is also a huge reason Calena Roberts came to Tuesday’s event from Milwaukee.
She and others were holding a “Justice for Jacob” banner and are part of the “Fight for $15” movement, working to establish a $15 minimum wage.
“We were also at the Saturday rally in Kenosha,” Roberts said. “We are seeking justice for Jacob and all the young men and women. We are all somebody and want to make sure we are seen and we are heard.”
Part of their effort, she said, includes “pushing people to get registered and to get out and vote. I’m energized to see so many young people are motivated and excited. It gives me hope.”
A bigger message
State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, who helped organize the event and said she’s “been dealing with these issues my entire career,” frames the shooting “as an issue beyond policing. It’s about humanity. We all want to see our children are safe, all parents want that. Our message of love is a reflection of humanity.”
Taylor was frustrated that Monday’s special session of the Legislature called by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on police accountability and transparency lasted some 30 seconds. In what is known as a “skeletal session,” there was no debate and most senators were absent. The session will remain open until Thursday, when it can be closed or extended.
“They at least held it open,” Taylor said, “but we’ve got to act on it.”
Taylor also said she’s hoping to work on proposals with state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, who authored a series of bills centered around police accountability and budgets.
“I am willing to work with him and take a look at how we can reconcile our bills and work on these issues,” Taylor said.
Tanya Mclean, a Kenosha resident and friend of Jacob Blake’s family who helped organize the event, told the crowd she was “inspired to see people of all races and backgrounds come together. We know Trump is here to sow chaos and fear, but we are working to bring the country closer to its promise of liberty and justice for all. We just want the care and safety that we all deserve.”
Justin Blake, his voice choked with emotion, spoke again to the crowd, saying, “We need to put our differences aside and work together for senior citizens, for children and for our community. We can make things better, not just in Kenosha but nationwide.”
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.