On the 10th day after protests against police began to rock Kenosha, Prime Motors Kenosha manager Amarjit Badi took the boards off his storefront.
“We are lucky we were not affected by it,” Badi, 69, told WisPolitics.com. We are only 10 blocks away from the destruction.”
Protests began the evening of Aug. 23, when footage began circulating of a Kenosha police officer shooting a 29-year-old Black man, Jacob Blake. Some demonstrations have brought considerable damage to the city, a former automotive manufacturing hub. Mayor John Antaramian requested $30 million in state funding on Aug. 30 for repairs. City property has sustained about $2 million in damage as of Sept. 1, according to an AP report.
Kenosha has received plenty of attention from politicians in the period since protests began: President Trump visited the city and met with business owners on Tuesday, and former Vice President Joe Biden visited yesterday. Kenosha County supported Trump by a razor-thin margin in 2016 as he narrowly won Wisconsin.
Badi didn’t vote in that election because he wasn’t yet a U.S. citizen. However, he’ll be eligible to vote this November and hasn’t yet made up his mind.
“I think it was good that [Trump] came over and talked to the people and looked at the damage,” he said. “I think [Biden visiting] is good. People need to know from both of them what their plans are.”
Erin Decker, chair of the Kenosha County Republicans, didn’t think that Trump’s visit would impact the shape of the race but thought it was good for the president to see the city himself and “assess the damage.”
She said she welcomed Biden’s visit, as well, because it kept Kenosha in the national spotlight. But she accused the former VP of avoiding voters through invite-only events.
“I just read that Biden is not making his events public,” she said. “It just shows that he’s still hiding from the American people.”
A Biden campaign aide confirmed that the day’s events were by invitation in order to maintain social distancing.
Kenosha County Democratic chair Lori Hawkins touted the number of “stakeholders” who met with Biden during his visit and praised the campaign’s compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.
“It felt like people in the room felt comfortable laying out their truths with what they needed from the president,” Hawkins said.
She also hit back at the idea that Biden was avoiding interaction with voters, calling Trump’s visit earlier in the week “a campaign stop and a photo op.”
Steve Lund, a former editorial page editor at the Kenosha News, first heard about Blake’s shooting from his daughter, who lives in Milwaukee. Once protests got started, he was “close enough to smell the smoke” but wasn’t aware of the extent of the damage in the city until a jog through downtown the next day.
However, he doesn’t think the unrest is going to swing the outcome of the county’s vote this November.
“I think everybody has made their mind up a long time ago,” he said. “I think turnout is the only issue left.”
Restaurant manager David Good, 60, said the demonstrations hadn’t impacted him personally, but he was glad to see Biden paying a visit to the state.
“It’s a Democratic state,” Good said. “He should be here. He should be showing his support. He should have been the first one here.”
Good lamented that Kenosha police don’t wear body cameras, which he thought “would have dispelled all this.”
As of Thursday, Sheridan Road was still blocked off while the rest of downtown Kenosha was beginning to come back to life. Although the rubble is starting to clear, Lund said the week’s events would leave their mark on the city.
“Regardless of whether you knew Jacob Blake, the whole business is very personal,” he said. “Now everybody knows someone who lost something important.”
–By Caroline Kubzansky for WisPolitics.com.
Note: This story is a follow-up to a profile of Kenosha County first published Aug. 7. See the earlier item here: https://www.wispolitics.com/2020/parties-work-to-woo-elusive-undecided-swing-voters-in-kenosha-county/