National Guard soldiers and scores of police officers waited behind the large black security gates surrounding the Kenosha city hall, looking on as a crowd of protesters gathered in Civic Park. President Donald Trump had just completed his controversial visit to the city, which has experienced massive protests and unrest since the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha officer.
Trump’s decision to hold a motorcade parade through a city still processing the events of the prior week, including the death of two people shot by a Trump supporter and self-styled militia member, struck some residents as opportunistic.
“I did not want him to come here,” said Penny Seymore, a long-time Kenosha resident in her 70’s who has attended multiple protests since the Blake shooting. “He has no empathy for what happened. It’s all about him, Trump, and not about Jacob Blake, or anyone else. I just thought that him coming here, he saw this as an opportunity to rile up the community and blame Black activists rather than these crazy people with guns — these wanna-be cops who are running around here and terrorizing the population.”
Seymore joined dozens of other residents and activists in a protest and march out of Civic Park and around the surrounding area. The demonstration was organized to coincide with Trump’s visit. Periodically, small groups of Trump supporters showed up to instigate arguments and fights with the Black Lives Matter protesters. Kenosha officers stationed at the city hall had to respond and break up these confrontations at least twice as the president was preparing to leave Kenosha. Earlier in the day, protesters had been met by larger groups of Trump supporters. By late afternoon, the small groups who stuck around to start arguments were the stragglers.
“When the protest first began, I didn’t know that there were so many interest groups here,” 19-year-old Kejuan Goldsmith, a local activist who organized the march, told Wisconsin Examiner. For that reason, convincing the entire crowd to not engage with the Trump supporters proved difficult. Multiple people wanted to blow their own horns, and at times it didn’t help to de-escalate these confrontations.
Besides being weighed down by the challenges of organizing in a volatile environment, Goldsmith said he was “disgusted” by the president’s visit. “He should have never been here,” said Goldsmith, who was particularly critical of Trump for not bothering to speak with Blake’s family. “No matter the circumstances, you’re a president. Your job is to unite us. He’s not even uniting us right now, he’s dividing. So the fact that he’s dividing us, why would we want him here? When we’re trying to unite? When we’re trying to be peaceful? When we’re trying to be a family again, after all the destruction in this city? So why would we want you here to divide us one more time?”
Emily Carlini, a marcher who has lived in Kenosha all her life, acknowledged the duality of the event playing out in her town. “It’s really sad seeing places you love destroyed and people you know out of work and struggling, but it’s also cool to see the movement and people getting their voice out there. So, there’s a lot of mixed emotions.” Carlini said Trump’s visit was “a little unnecessary. I don’t know if it did much good. But I also think it did less harm than I expected it to, so far.”
Katrina D., a local resident who attended the protest but didn’t want her last name published, had similar feelings. “He kind of ran through Kenosha very quickly,” she said of Trump. “I have it recorded on my phone. His motorcade came flying through, and then they went over to the nice part of town and filmed his little press conference over there. He might have toured the burned-out buildings here for two seconds, but I seen him fly through. That’s all a publicity stunt in my mind.”
She was left feeling that the president came not because he cared, “because if that’s the case then you could have been where we’re standing, right now, giving a speech … Where he went literally made no sense. There was no damage over there, at all. So how was he over there rather than the parts of the community that’s actually being affected? Now, we didn’t necessarily want him here in the first place. But if you’re actually here to support us, like you say you are, then you need to do that. And show that.”
Penelope Hersey, another Kenosha resident-turned-marcher, felt the same way. “I think that by Trump coming here, I think that that incites a lot more anger and hate. It doesn’t allow the friends and family to heal. And it takes the attention off the real issue and puts it on Trump. Trump is in the spotlight, and that’s not OK. We need justice for Jake.”
The people marching in Kenosha’s streets are determined to not stop. “We want justice,” said Goldsmith. “That officer is still not in handcuffs. We’re not going to get it in one night. We got to keep coming out here.”
Seymore echoed that determination. “I think social justice is for everybody,” she declared. “And I think that the Black community here, nationwide, and worldwide has been denigrated and has not received social justice.”
As in many cities across the country, Kenosha’s Black Lives Matter protests are diverse, with different people showing up for different reasons. Two other protesters, Jess and Ale, also didn’t want their last names published but still wanted to share their thoughts. They carried anti-ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] signs, which have become a rarer sight among the Black Lives Matter protests in Wisconsin. “I saw [the protest] as an opportunity to show our Latino side and these kids who are in cages …And the injustice in general with Jacob Blake,” Jess said. “It could be anybody. It could be my brother. It could be my partner. It could be me. It could be any of us.” Ale echoed the point. “We should all stay together. This is not about a color right now. We’re standing with Black Lives Matter because, right now, they need the help.”
Carlini hopes that people outside of Kenosha and Wisconsin understand that the problem doesn’t end in the Badger State. “It’s going to be whatever city is the next city. And everybody has to start to understand each other, be nice to each other. Just be kind.”
Goldsmith remains determinedly focused.“I know that we have to do what’s necessary,” he said. “And that means we got to keep coming out here and creating change. Because that officer still needs to be arrested.”