Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden departs after a private meeting with family members of Jacob Blake, in Milwaukee, September 3 2020. Picture: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden departs after a private meeting with family members of Jacob Blake, in Milwaukee, September 3 2020. Picture: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE

Milwaukee  — Joe Biden and his wife Jill met on Thursday with the family of a black man shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin aiming to test the strength of his message to unite the country as president.

Four members of Jacob Blake’s family and two members of the family’s legal team met the Bidens privately at the Milwaukee airport for about an hour. Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, and Benjamin Crump, his attorney, joined the conversation by phone.

The Democratic nominee is also visiting Kenosha on Thursday, seeking to contrast his approach with President Donald Trump, who visited the city two days ago over the objections of Democratic leaders in the state. Trump did not meet with Blake’s family and focused his visit on condemning the violence and looting that broke out amid the protests.

The president of the Kenosha chapter of the NAACP, Anthony Davis, had asked all politicians to stay away, fearing it would create a circus atmosphere when the city was so roiled.

The city has been engulfed by protests, some of which turned violent, since Blake was shot seven times in the back by a White police officer. Blake’s family says he is now paralysed.

The Bidens met with Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Snr, his sisters Letetra Widman and Zietha Blake and his brother Myron Jackson.

Biden’s trip marks his first campaign visit to Wisconsin, a critical battleground state that Trump narrowly won in 2016. Biden has largely campaigned virtually since the coronavirus pandemic sidelined travel in March, though the former vice-president has held a handful of in-person events near his Delaware home.

“We’ve got to heal,” Biden told reporters during a news conference in Delaware on Wednesday. “We’ve got to put things together, bring people together. And so, my purpose in going will be to do just that — to be a positive influence on what’s going on, talk about what need be done and try to see if there’s a beginning of a mechanism to bring the folks together. We have to heal.”

Biden has sought to make the race a referendum on Trump’s leadership, and he has escalated his rhetoric in recent weeks against the president, blaming him for fomenting violence and dividing the nation. Trump in turn has accused Biden and the Democrats of encouraging the riots and framed his re-election campaign around restoring “law and order”.

During his visit on Tuesday, Trump toured damaged properties and met with police leaders about ways to stop the violence. The president sidestepped any discussion of the underlying issues of the protests, refusing to address police brutality or racism in the country.

“Reckless far-left politicians continue to push the destructive message that our nation and law enforcement are oppressive or racist,” Trump said. “They’ll throw out any word that comes to them. Actually, we should show far greater support for our law enforcement.”

The shooting of Blake followed a number of police killings of black Americans in recent months, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, that have vastly reshaped conversations about systemic racism in the country and jolted the presidential race. Protests have swept the nation, as activists call for cities to defund the police and spend more money on social services.

Trump has falsely claimed that Biden supports defunding the police and devoted much of his convention speech to casting Biden’s candidacy as a threat to America’s greatness. Biden has repeatedly dismissed Trump’s characterisation of his position, explaining he wants to give police more resources.

“Rioting is not protesting,” Biden said his speech in Pittsburgh on Monday, which was made into an ad to run nationwide. “Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple.”


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