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24-Hour Rally In Kenosha Drives Home Messages Of 'Justice For Jacob' And Ending Systemic Racism

Susan Bence
Themese of equality, diversity and the importance of voting ran through the 24-hour rally in downtown Kenosha.

It’s been just over five weeks since a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times.

The group “Justice For Jacob” is calling for the immediate firing and indictment of the officer, in addition to other measures the group says would end police violence and systemic racism.

To drive home the message, organizers are holding a 24-hour rally scheduled to end Monday at noon in downtown Kenosha. The gathering attracted both people from the Kenosha community and out of state.

One voice after another amplified by a mic system under the canopy of a yellow and white striped tent rang out across Civic Center Park.

People sat on benches and metal chairs scattered 6 feet plus apart. Some recorded speeches on phones, others simply listened.

Volunteers stood at makeshift stations quietly urging people to register to vote. A few tents stood scattered throughout the park — a quiet statement that some people would spend the night as the 24-hour rally continued.

Credit Susan Bence
Chicago attorney and law professor Paul Pearson spoke in the early hours of the rally.

Paul Pearson was among the people who picked up the microphone. The attorney and law professor from Chicago says he’s a friend of the Blake family.

More than a month since Blake was shot and seriously wounded by police, Pearson says the time has come not simply to “hope” for justice for Blake and other victims of violence by police.

“If we want the change to come about, we have to be that change that we desire, we cannot hope for someone else to bring that to us. So we have come to this point where we recognize that and we’re willing to put the action and the work in as a community a build a systemic change, positive change we’d like to see,” Pearson says.

Credit Susan Bence
Kenosha resident Hollie White (red T-shirt, far left) says she didn't recognize racial disparities in Kenosha until she began her career in social work.

Kenosha resident Hollie White says she came to the park as a concerned citizen.

“I would say when I was younger, being a white woman I don’t think I had any clue that a lot of things were going on. But as I got into my professional role, I work as a therapist, I’m a licensed social worker here, there are just so many disparities I wasn’t privy to until I started working in that space,” White says.

White says she’s come to realize the Kenosha shooting was a clear case of systemic racism.

"I think that all that people are looking for is that this is a fair investigation and that there are outside parties investigating this that don’t have any gain one way or another, and that the Kenosha police department stays out of it as well as neighboring counties,” White says. “But I think at the bare minimum, I think people are tired of being dismissed and investigations not being fair or thorough.”

Credit Susan Bence
Patricia White (far left) attended the rally with her daughter and three grandchildren. White says she wants them to grow up to be successful and not scared.

Waukegan, Ill., resident Patricia White stood nearby. She seemed to be drinking in every syllable from every speaker.

“To be here in person is like a dream come true. You get a chance to hear stuff, people are talking. You know a lot of things go on, but you’re never a part of it. So I feel a part of this today. Black Lives Matter and to be honest with you, I’m just so, so tired of people doing things and not getting punished for it. It’s not fair,” she says.

White visited the park with her daughter and three grandchildren.

“They have to grow up and I want to see them grow up in life and be something and be somebody. That’s what I want — and not to be scared,” White says.

Credit Susan Bence
Kenosha native Gregory Bennett wants to help create a thriving Kenosha in which everyone can flourish.

Gregory Bennett is one of the organizers of the 24-hour rally. He calls it a day of unity and peace.

“If we create consistency of peace and love and accountability then we’ll fix everything because transparency without accountability equals chaos. So if we’re transparent by holding each other accountable as well as the police accountable, then we’ll prevent chaos,” Bennett says.

Bennett understands the challenges ahead. He grew up in Kenosha and says he wants to help restore a thriving city – but one in which everyone can thrive equally.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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