Residents Tuesday demanded accountability for injustice, shared personal stories of racism and called for change as they spoke for two hours during the citizens’ comment portion of the Kenosha County Board meeting.
It was the first time many had the opportunity to speak before the County Board following the shooting of Jacob Blake by a city of Kenosha police officer.
"Set aside your beliefs about whether you think the shooting was justified," Kate Trudell said, adding the distrust people have with local law enforcement predates that incident and the problem is much bigger. "People don’t protest and riot when they feel enfranchised. Cities don’t burn when the citizens trust their leaders to solve problems."
Those who spoke at the public podium at the Job Center were incensed that one supervisor had her back turned the entire two-hour citizen comment portion of the meeting.
Numerous speakers called on supervisor Erin Decker, who said at a meeting earlier this summer that systematic racism doesn’t exist, to turn around and listen. Several speakers called her a “racist.””
It isn’t until this “lack of respect and decency” - this inability of people to be “courageously uncomfortable” – and until elected officials take the time to listen first, for as long as someone wants to speak, that change will take place, they said.
Speakers said the silence of some of the other board members is "just as hurtful."
Several criticized a resolution “Addressing the Recent Civil Unrest and Charting a Path Forward” that was to have been introduced Tuesday, claiming it is proof elected officials “don’t understand the problem.”
That resolution failed to advance because the Executive Committee meeting held prior to the County Board meeting was abruptly adjourned after residents who did not hear the chairman call three times for public comment angrily interrupted discussion.
A group of residents began to yell that they were being denied an opportunity to speak.
The interruption and subsequent adjournment did not allow Supervisor Laura Belsky to introduce amendments to the resolution she felt may make it a better starting point.
Residents were told they would have another chance to speak at the County Board meeting that night and it seemed all stayed to do so. They said anyone on the Executive Committee could have made a motion to reintroduce the citizen comment portion of the agenda.
Some spoke about police force during the riots, claiming it was the peaceful protesters, not those doing harm who were targeted.
The draft resolution reaffirms “that systemic racism constitutes a crisis that negatively impacts all of the Kenosha community.” It acknowledges “many people have been injured, both physically and emotionally, and two people were killed during the riots” and “encourages efforts to include voices which have been historically (un-represented or under-represented) on Kenosha County appointed boards, commissions and committees” to ensure these bodies are ‘reflective of the Kenosha County community.”
Most of the goals in the resolution are related to helping those in the "Downtown and Uptown" areas who “suffered substantial damage,” estimated in the $50 million range, to their businesses, homes and property as a result of the civil unrest.
“The Kenosha County Board of Supervisors is resolved to never let this happen again,” the resolution reads.
The resolution calls for the County Board to:
• Ask that State and Federal Government funds be made immediately available for the rehabilitation of the damaged and destroyed properties.
• Call on the State of Wisconsin to guarantee that it will site a new Department of Corrections Probation and Parole office in the same location as the one destroyed during the riots.
• Request Kenosha County Emergency Management conduct a full debriefing and make recommendations as to what, if any, steps can and should be taken to prepare for any future similar events.
• Seek any available State, Federal or any other funding method of funds to facilitate the acquisition of body cameras.
• Work with the State to assist in the rebuilding of the Uptown and Downtown areas.
• Encourages all business owners impacted by the civil unrest to rebuild and remain in the Uptown and Downtown areas.
• Call on the State and Federal Government to ensure that the costs to repair damage to County property not covered by insurance be covered by State and Federal funds.
Belsky said among her amendments is the removal of the Uptown and Downtown distinction as there are other areas of the city that were affected by the riots.