Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has met the family of Jacob Blake, who was shot by a white police officer, during a visit to the battleground state of Wisconsin.
Mr Biden spent more than an hour in private with Mr Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr, his siblings, and one of his lawyers, B’Ivory LaMarr. Mr Blake’s mother Julia Jackson and another lawyer, Ben Crump, joined by phone.
Mr Crump said the younger Mr Blake participated in the meeting by telephone “from his hospital bed”. Mr Blake, 29, shared the pain he is enduring and Mr Biden commiserated. The family has said that Mr Blake is paralysed from the waist down after being shot seven times in the back by police as they tried to arrest him on August 23.
Mr Crump said Mr Blake’s mother led everyone in prayer for his recovery.
Mr Biden followed his meeting with Mr Blake’s family and representatives with a community discussion at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha. The gathering included business and civic leaders and at least two representatives of law enforcement.
At the church, Mr Biden said of US President Donald Trump: “No president’s ever going to say ‘they’re very fine people on both sides’. No president has ever said anything like that … It legitimises the dark side of human nature.”
Mr Biden was referring to Mr Trump’s comments after a 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly.
The Reverend Jonathan Barker, pastor of the church, opened the meeting with a prayer asking for “justice for Jacob Blake” and for God to “anoint” a national leader in November who will “seek justice, love mercy … and love their neighbour”.
Mr Biden, a practising Catholic, ended the prayer making the sign of the cross. He then heard from Kenosha residents discussing the need to address systemic racism so that society – including commerce – will function peacefully.
The trip, Mr Biden’s first to Wisconsin of the general election campaign, is intended to draw sharp contrasts with Mr Trump. Mr Biden is emphasising an argument that he is a unifying figure, able to lead the nation through a reckoning with systemic racism along with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.
Mr Trump did not meet with the Blake family when he visited Kenosha earlier this week.
Two months before polling day, the trip presents Mr Biden with opportunity and risks, testing his long-standing promise that he can “unify the country” and find consensus even where it is not readily apparent.
The approach is an intentional contrast with Mr Trump, who thrives on conflict. The distinction has sharpened over a summer of nationwide protests. Most have been peaceful, but some of them, as in Kenosha, turned violent and destructive.
Reflecting that his trip comes amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Biden wore a mask as he arrived in Milwaukee. Yet he broke his usual health protocols to shake hands with a campaign staff member.