Updated at 4:47 p.m. CT
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden began a visit to Wisconsin on Thursday by meeting with the family of Jacob Blake, the Black man whose shooting by a white police officer sparked days of sometimes violent protests.
This was Biden’s first trip to Wisconsin this campaign cycle.
He spoke with Blake on the phone for 15 minutes during his visit. Biden says Blake “talked about how nothing was going to defeat him, about how whether he walked again or not, he was not going to give up.”
Biden spent more than an hour in private with Blake's father, Jacob Blake Sr., his siblings, and one of his attorneys, B’Ivory LaMarr. Blake’s mother Julia Jackson and another attorney, Ben Crump, joined by phone. Blake remains hospitalized after being shot seven times in the back as authorities tried to arrest him.
Biden also met with comunity leaders at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha. He says the turmoil their city has experienced in recent weeks can be part of an awakening that helps the United States confront centuries of systemic racism and social discord.
“We’re finally now getting to the point where we’re going to be addressing the original sin of this country, 400 years old … slavery and all the vestiges of it,” Biden said.
Biden told people gathered at the church that it was the Republican president’s reaction to violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., three years ago that motivated him to run for office again. A woman was killed in that rally when one of the white supremacists drove a car through counter-protesters.
“The president of the United States was asked, he was asked: what do you think? And he said — something no president’s ever, ever said – 'there were very fine people on both sides.' No president has ever said anything like that. The generic point I’m making is, [it’s] not all his fault, but it legitimizes, it legitimizes the dark side of human nature. And what it did though, it also exposed what had not been paid enough attention to: the underlying racism that is institutionalized in the United States,” Biden said.
Kenosha was calm ahead of Biden's visit. By midday, a small group of Biden supporters, some Black Lives Matter activists and a Trump supporter had gathered at a city center park that had been a focal point of demonstrations for days. When the president visited Kenosha on Tuesday, a few hundred pro- and anti-Trump protesters convened at the spot.
“No one’s perfect,” said Michelle Stauder, a 60-year-old retired Kenosha school teacher sitting on a barricade erected earlier and clutching a Biden-Harris campaign sign. “But I’m excited about Biden. And I like that he’s here spreading the word of peace and rebuilding.”
Kenneth Turner stood nearby with a Trump-Pence yard sign under his arm. “Everyone is blaming Trump for everything,” the 50-year-old Kenosha man said. “But problems here have been around a long time before Trump.”
The state’s Republicans are criticizing the visit, while Democrats support it.
Former Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans accused Biden of ignoring Wisconsin until it was politically necessary.
“It's amazing that after, you know, two years, almost two years, of being away from Wisconsin, it took these kinds of riots to get Joe Biden to show up,” Walker said.
President Trump visited Kenosha two days ago but concentrated on praising law enforcement and accusing protesters of “domestic terrorism.” Trump didn't meet with the Blake family when he visited Kenosha earlier this week.
Democratic leadership, like U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, says Biden is bringing a message of unity and healing unlike Trump.