Some residents in Kenosha fear a planned visit by President Donald Trump after unrest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake may stir more emotions and cause more violence and destruction in the divided southeastern Wisconsin city after several days of peace.
Trump was scheduled to tour the damage Tuesday and meet with law enforcement as demonstrators call for the officer who shot Blake to be fired and face attempted murder charges. Trump’s visit comes a week after authorities say a 17-year-old from northern Illinois shot and killed two protesters.
The tension began Aug. 23 after a video showed a Kenosha police officer shooting Blake, a Black man, in the back while responding to a call about a domestic dispute. All last week, Black Lives Matter protesters held events to call for changes to policing, and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called a special session of the Legislature for Monday to take up a host of police reform measures. But Republicans don’t plan to take immediate action.
Volunteers and businesses on Sunday worked to clean up from fires and vandalism that destroyed buildings and prompted surviving restaurants, grocery stores, and barbershops to board up.
Kenosha police said Sunday that they had arrested 175 people since the protests began in the bedroom community between Chicago and Milwaukee. Of those, 102 were from outside Kenosha, including 44 different cities. Many arrests were for curfew violations, and included possible charges for burglary, possession of illegal drugs and carrying concealed weapons without a permit, officials said. More than 20 firearms had been seized.
Family members say Blake, 29, is paralyzed, and a lawyer said most of his colon and small intestines were removed. His family led a large peaceful protest Saturday, just before Trump announced his plans to visit. On Sunday, Evers sent Trump a letter urging him not to come, saying the visit “will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”
But Kenosha County Board supervisors also wrote to Trump, urging him not to cancel.
“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 from seven supervisors said.
Trump showed no signs of backing down, tweeting about the unrest in Kenosha and saying, ” I will see you on Tuesday!”
Diana Kreye, a 60-year-old resident of nearby Brighton, said Trump is exploiting the conflict.
“I don’t like that this has all become political,” said Kreye, an undecided voter. “Let the city heal. Now is not the time for a photo op.”
With its 10 electoral votes, Wisconsin is a swing state vital to Trump’s reelection. In 2016, the president won the state by nearly 23,000 votes out of nearly 3 million cast — a winning margin of less than a percentage point.
The result was a departure from the state’s historic preference of voting Democratic in presidential campaigns. In the eight presidential contests since 1988, Democrats won the state seven out of eight times.
In 2016, Kenosha County was the most purple of the state’s 72 counties. Trump eked out a 238-vote win over Democrat Hillary Clinton out of more than 76,000 ballots cast — the tightest margin in the state. Once represented by former Republican U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Kenosha County is situated in Wisconsin’s far southeastern corner, butting up against the Illinois state line.
Some think Trump’s visit to the area could help ease recent tensions. “I hope he says something that can calm us all down,” said Angel Tirado, 42. “Maybe he’ll bring us together.”
Others doubt the president had any intention of closing divisions and pointed to his recent tweets and history of making racist comments.
“He’s not coming down here to heal,” said David Sanchez, 66, a retiree and Kenosha resident who expects thousands of people to show up to protest Trump. “He’s coming to Kenosha to start more trouble. I don’t care what he says.”
“He has done nothing over the last three years to bring people together,” said Raymond Roberts, 38, a data scientist and Afghanistan War veteran. “This is a bellwether county in a bellwether state. It’s all about his reelection.”
Trump has throughout the summer sought to cast U.S. cities as under siege by violence and lawlessness, despite the fact that most of the demonstrations against racial injustice have been peaceful.
On Sunday, a group of about 100 police supporters gathered downtown for a “back the blue” rally. That was a fraction of the size of a Saturday protest against police violence that attracted about 1,000 people.
Also Sunday, some Trump supporters walked by burned buildings and shouted that the Black Lives Matter movement was a “terrorist organization.”
Oscar Escobar, 41, a Kenosha resident who owns a moving company and co-owns a bar and grill, said he doesn’t align with either Democrats or Republicans. He said it’s good that Trump plans to visit.
“I think it’s a great thing for him to show that he cares about what’s happening here in Kenosha and not turning his back on us and just leaving us alone,” Escobar said.
WBEZ reporter Dave McKinney contributed, along with AP reporters Jennifer Peltz in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin.