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Biden calls for Kenosha police officers to be charged, meets family of Jacob Blake

Joe Biden meets with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden meets with members of the community Thursday at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Joe Biden met with relatives of Jacob Blake, the Black man who was shot and paralyzed by police, when the former vice president arrived in this shaken city Thursday. Biden offered a stark contrast to President Trump, who instead pledged his support to law enforcement this week after touring downtown buildings burned by rioting.

Ahead of his visit to Kenosha with his wife, Jill, Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Del., that the officers involved in the shooting “need to be charged.” Biden said he planned to meet with community leaders, business owners and law enforcement during his visit. He also visited Thursday with the Blake family.

“We’ve got to heal, we’ve got to put things together, bring people together,” said Biden, who was making his first stop in Wisconsin since securing the Democratic presidential nomination. His purpose in making the trip, he said, was “to do just that.”

Three officers attempted to arrest Blake when responding to a call about a domestic dispute Aug. 23. Officer Rusten Sheskey shot Blake, 29, seven times in the back as he tried to enter an SUV with his three children in the back seat. Blake, who police say had a knife in the car, suffered spinal injuries and remained hospitalized Wednesday, relatives said. The officers are on leave as state and federal officials investigate. Protesters have called for them to be fired.

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Blake’s uncle Justin Blake said the family agreed to meet with Biden to keep attention on the investigation and pressure Democrats to take action to fight systemic racism.

“I hope he’s ready,” said Blake, 50, a Chicago labor foreman and community organizer. “I’m trying to keep his feet to the fire like everyone else. We’re not leaving here until we get justice.”

The Wisconsin Department of Justice was still investigating Blake’s shooting, and the U.S. Justice Department has also opened a civil rights investigation.

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Blake said he didn’t expect his nephew — whom he calls “Little Jake” — to meet Biden or talk to him by phone. Although he was released from intensive care Wednesday, his uncle said, Blake was still heavily medicated. He said it wasn’t clear whether his nephew, a father of five boys, would be able to walk again.

“He has yet to be in his right mind to talk for an extended period of time because of the pain,” Blake said of his nephew during a stop at a Kenosha barbershop that serves as a community center.

He said the family was evaluating spinal experts and whether to transfer Blake to a specialty hospital. They also were trying to get therapy for Blake’s sons who saw the shooting, he said, one of whom recently got upset during a car ride.

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VIDEO | 02:04
Jacob Blake’s uncle: ‘There’s change in the air’

Justin Blake, the uncle of Jacob Blake — whose Aug. 23 shooting by police in Kenosha, Wis., sparked protests — spoke with The Times at a barbershop community center about the family’s plans to meet Joe Biden during his visit Thursday.

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Since the shooting, Blake’s family has received threats and has had to move to a different location, his uncle said. But they don’t plan to leave Kenosha.

“We’re going to stand here and fight hard for Little Jake’s rights and for all the Little Jakes across the country,” he said.

After visiting Kenosha with Trump, Atty. Gen. William Barr told CNN on Wednesday that Jacob Blake was committing a felony and “armed” when police shot him. Blake’s attorney Benjamin Crump called Barr “misinformed.”

“The police officers were the aggressors from start to finish,” Crump said in a statement. “There was never any point in time when there was justification for deadly force.”

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Trump, who visited Kenosha more than a week after protests broke out over Blake’s shooting, said he refused a phone call with the family because they wanted lawyers present. The president toured businesses destroyed and torched during rioting last week. He spoke with local law enforcement and described protests, which have remained largely peaceful for six days, as “acts of domestic terror.”

Justin Blake said he resented Trump siding with police during his visit.

Jacob Blake's uncle, Justin Blake, said he agreed to meet Joe Biden during his visit to Kenosha.
Jacob Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, said he and his family agreed to meet Joe Biden during his visit to Kenosha, Wis., to draw attention to the investigation into the shooting and the need for police reforms.
(Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times)

“It’s best that we didn’t meet,” he said.

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It was unclear whether Biden would also visit the damaged downtown.

The same day Trump visited, four protesters filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against the city and Kenosha County, saying police have selectively enforced a curfew against demonstrators to stifle free speech. The Wisconsin residents contend that authorities arrested 150 protesters for violating the curfew put in place after Blake’s shooting but ignored pro-police demonstrators, according to the lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

“In Kenosha, there are two sets of laws — one that applies to those who protest police brutality and racism, and another for those who support the police,” it said.

Joe Biden rejects the Republican National Convention mantra and asks: “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected?”

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On Wednesday afternoon, Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian said the curfew had been lifted because “the last several nights have been relatively peaceful.”

Kimberly Motley, the attorney representing the suing protesters, said the lawsuit was still pending and that officials “should have been more thoughtful about how they enforced the curfew in the first place.” Motley planned to spend several hours with protesters near the Kenosha courthouse late Wednesday, observing how law enforcement responds to the curfew being lifted.

“What they do tonight — we’ll see,” she said.

City and county officials did not return calls about the lawsuit Wednesday. Kenosha’s sheriff and police chief have insisted that most of those arrested since the Blake shooting were from out of town. Late Sunday, Police Chief Daniel Miskinis issued a statement saying that of 175 people arrested, 102 were from outside Kenosha.

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Motley said it shouldn’t matter where protesters came from.

“They’re arbitrarily applying those curfew violations to people who are protesting police brutality, not white supremacists,” Motley said. “You would think they would find value in also charging the pro-police people who are coming there armed after two people were murdered,” she said in reference to Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Illinois resident charged with murder in the shooting deaths of two people near downtown on Aug. 25.

More than 1,000 National Guard troops from Wisconsin and other states, as well as federal law enforcement, are now in Kenosha, which has a population of 100,000. Trump has claimed credit for sending in the Guard, although it arrived in the city at the request of Gov. Tony Evers.

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During his Kenosha stop, Trump, who has painted Biden as weak on crime and positioned himself as a “law and order” president, described bad policing as the act of “bad apples” and declined to answer questions about complaints of racism in law enforcement. Biden has condemned violence that has hit American cities since the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. He has also spoken out in support of reforms to policing.

In a statement after Trump’s visit, Biden criticized the president for not offering a “condemnation of violence of all kinds, no matter who commits it,” alluding to Trump’s defense of Rittenhouse.

Rittenhouse, who police said fled the scene of the shootings, was arrested Aug. 26 and is being held in Lake County, Ill. His lawyers said he acted in self-defense, an argument Trump repeated this week.

Justin Blake said the Rittenhouse shooting showed how local police treated white suspects differently, noting video showed officers chatting and tossing Rittenhouse water before the shooting, which he was able to flee even though he appeared to be surrendering to police. Blake said his family sympathized with relatives of Rittenhouse’s victims.

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“They’re going through this pain too,” he said.


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