Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Wednesday denounced the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis., and urged calm and peaceful protest, but did not mention the shooting deaths of two people overnight.
“What I saw in that video makes me sick. Once again a Black man, Jacob Blake, has been shot by the police in broad daylight with the whole world watching,” Biden said in a video released by his campaign.
Biden said he had spoken to Blake’s family and “told them justice must and will be done.” Blake was shot seven times in the back, a family lawyer said, and his family has said he has been paralyzed from the waist down.
Blake was shot by a police officer while getting into his car — where his three young children sat — after a scuffle with police on the sidewalk next to his vehicle. The officer who shot him has not been identified.
“Put yourself in the shoes of every Black father and Black mother in this country and ask, ‘Is this what we want America to be? Is this the country we should be?’” Biden said.
He also called on protesters to seek justice without resorting to further violence. Alongside peaceful protests there have been riots in recent nights, and soldiers from the Wisconsin National Guard have been dispatched to quell the unrest. Trump announced Wednesday he was sending federal law enforcement officers to Kenosha as well.
“Protesting brutality is a right and absolutely necessary. But burning down communities is not protest — it’s needless violence,” Biden said. “Violence that endangers lives, violence that guts businesses and shutters businesses that serve the community, that’s wrong.”
Biden quoted Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, who said Tuesday that property destruction she’d seen on the streets of Kenosha “doesn’t reflect my son or my family.”
“If Jacob knew what was going on as far as that goes — the violence and the destruction — he would be very unpleased,” Jackson said. “We need healing."
Biden called these comments “the wisest words that I’ve heard spoken so far.”
“So let’s unite and heal, do justice, end the violence, and end systemic racism in this country now,” Biden said.
Biden’s comments came hours after a young white man with a rifle shot and killed two people in the middle of a crowded street in Kenosha on Tuesday night, just before midnight on the third night of protests over Blake’s shooting.
Police on Wednesday arrested 17-year old Kyle Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Ill., in association with that shooting. He has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which reviewed the court documents.
Biden did not reference the deaths of the two people shot in that incident, or talk about the issue of armed vigilantes patrolling the streets and defending private property from potential looting.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, did mention the vigilantes. “The vandalism, armed militias, gun violence and fatal shootings in Kenosha are not advancing the cause of racial justice in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake,” Baldwin said in a statement. “Elected officials at the state and federal level must answer the call of peaceful protests and take action to bring about the change we need.”
Shortly after Biden’s comments were released, NBA players from multiple teams refused to participate in playoff games on Wednesday evening in protest of Blake’s shooting and the rash of police violence toward Black men this year.
Kenosha is 40 miles south of Milwaukee, along the shore of Lake Michigan. Antioch, Ill., where Rittenhouse is from, is 20 miles southwest of Kenosha.
Biden’s comments came Wednesday afternoon, following a statement Tuesday evening by campaign spokeswoman Symone Sanders, in which she said that protesting police brutality is “right and necessary.”
“It’s an utterly American response. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not. Violence that endangers lives is not. Violence that guts and shutters businesses that serve the community is not,” Sanders said.
Since the killing of George Floyd in late May, Biden has commented only sparingly on protests against police brutality and on incidents of violence that have sometimes taken place. Biden on Wednesday followed the same template he has used in each previous statement: voicing support for peaceful protests and condemning violence.
He has also criticized President Trump for stoking division rather than unifying the country.
“He is — horrifyingly, but not surprisingly — intentionally stoking the flames of division in this country,” Biden said on July 28. “We need leadership that will calm the waters and lower the temperature. That’s how we’ll restore peace to the streets.
But Biden has been deliberate and sparing in his remarks overall. His list of statements on Medium shows comments on May 29, June 2, June 10, July 21, July 28, and Aug. 26, that address protests over police abuse and systemic racism. Democrats do not want the country to lose sight of the fact that Donald Trump is president — not Biden — and that it is the sitting president’s job to lead and unite the country.
But Biden’s slowness to comment on the shootings in Wisconsin on Wednesday had some Democrats scratching their heads. One senior Democratic congressional aide said that the violence in American streets is “the Democrats’ kryptonite.” Others who shared their opinions privately also expressed concern.
Others said Trump still owns the chaos.
“I may be wrong, but I think all the chaos — any chaos — hurts Trump because it magnifies the contrast between Trump’s disruptive chaos presidency and the Joe Biden America knows,” Joe Trippi, a Democrat who has had senior roles on multiple presidential campaigns, said in a text message. “It’s hard to make the case that whatever chaos you are seeing under Trump, Joe Biden will make it worse.”
There has been no quantifiable statistical work on the number of protests that have been peaceful compared to those that have been violent, even though the general consensus is that since Floyd’s killing, there have been massive, widespread and usually peaceful protests.
How much violence has occurred is virtually impossible to quantify, but Republicans have pointed to what violence has occurred to insist that Democrats are condoning it, especially as unrest has become more violent in places like Portland, Ore.
Biden on July 21 specifically addressed the situation in Portland, where federal agents arrived in late June. Biden accused the federal agents of “brutally attacking peaceful protestors, including a U.S. Navy veteran,” in a reference to 53-year old Christopher David, who suffered a broken hand after being hit by police with batons and pepper-sprayed on July 19.
“Of course the U.S. government has the right and duty to protect federal property,” Biden said at the time. “The Obama-Biden administration protected federal property across the country without resorting to these egregious tactics — and without trying to stoke the fires of division in this country.”
On Wednesday, the Republican National Committee issued a press release to reporters denouncing what they described as “Biden’s deafening silence on the Kenosha rioting.”
“Joe Biden’s continued silence in response to rioting that is ravaging America’s communities is more proof he is beholden to the radical left,” said Steve Guest, an RNC spokesman.
Thirty minutes later, the Biden campaign released a statement they had been working on since this morning, which notably focused first on the shooting of Blake, his family’s pain and systemic racism in policing.
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