Joe Biden on Thursday met with the family of Jacob Blake, the black man shot by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as the Democratic presidential candidate sought to counter Donald Trump’s law and order message with one of empathy.
Arriving in Kenosha two days after Mr Trump visited the city, Mr Biden spent an hour meeting privately with Mr Blake’s father and siblings, and also spoke by phone to Mr Blake, who remains in hospital after being shot seven times in the back last month.
After the conversation, Mr Biden said Mr Blake was resilient despite the gravity of his injuries. ”[He] talked about how nothing was going to defeat him, how whether he walked again or not, he was not going to give up.”
Following the meeting, Mr Biden held a session with two-dozen Kenosha community leaders, where he jotted down notes as several people spoke before giving his response.
“We’ve reached an inflection point in American history. I honest to God believe we have an enormous opportunity now that the screen, the curtain has been pulled back on just what’s going on in the country, to do a lot of really positive things,” Mr Biden told the small audience, which had assembled in a church.
He took repeated shots at Mr Trump, noting that following clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 the president appeared to equate the right-wing nationalists who organised the demonstrations with anti-racism counter-protesters.
“‘There are very fine people on both sides.’ No President has ever said anything like that,” Mr Biden said.
“I thought you could defeat hate,” the former vice-president said at another point. “Hate only hides. It only hides. And when someone in authority breathes oxygen under that rock, it legitimises those folks to come on out.”
Mr Biden repeated his condemnations of the rioting that took place in Kenosha following Mr Blake’s shooting, saying, “If you loot or burn, you ought to be held accountable.”
But his visit struck a different tone from Mr Trump, who did not meet with Mr Blake’s family during his trip to Kenosha, where he described the recent protests as “domestic terror”.
Mr Biden’s Kenosha visit comes as the former vice-president returns to the campaign trail this week after the coronavirus outbreak forced him to stay at home in Delaware for the majority of the spring and summer.
Mr Biden’s campaign had not given any indication that the former vice-president planned to start holding traditional in-person campaign events in the run-up to the election, but that calculus appears to have changed. His visit to Kenosha came after he gave a speech in Pennsylvania earlier this week.
Mr Trump has also added more campaign events to his schedule, with a visit to Pennsylvania tonight, followed by a rally North Carolina next Tuesday.