Kenosha, Wisconsin (pop.100,164, about 150,000 with suburbs)) is our nearest city at about 10 minutes away. We are there several times a week.
It was a manufacturing city that has successfully re-invented itself as a distribution center and tourist destination. It’s growing. The downtown is rapidly redeveloping and the Lake Michigan waterfront is spectacular, hosting numerous summer festivals (in normal times). Since we live in a small Chicago bedroom town just across the border in Illinois, we think of Kenosha as our city. It’s a nice place with good people.
Currently, our city in under siege. Every business for miles around is covered in plywood, beginning five blocks from our vey home. The main street on the east side of town, Sheridan Road, is closed for several blocks, isolating the courthouse, city administration building, police station and central park which has been the center of the protests. All of these buildings have narrowly escaped being breached and set afire.
The damage to downtown businesses is heartbreaking. Some have been gutted by fire, like Something Different, my son’s favorite sports swag store and Mangia’s, a former up-scale Italian restaurant adjacent to a new hotel. The Pine Blossom that sells my Doo-Dads vintage lighting is boarded up like the rest of the stores and has thus far been spared.
Night two of the rioting destroyed another area of town called Uptown. A few buildings housing businesses have been completely burned down and some have already been razed.
People have been burned out of their homes. Innocent people have been insured. Armed sentries have organized to protect their neighborhoods. And, sadly on night three, an armed teenage member of a militia from Illinois took to Kenosha and got into an altercation with protesters, killing two and wounding another.
The city has been under a 7 o’clock curfew. Some stores are closed others have shortened their hours. All of the the exits to the city from the interstate have been closed at times.
There are national guard from four states in town, along with representation form an alphabet soup of federal agencies. Things seem to be locked down after three horrible nights. I strongly suspect that protesters, militia groups, video-graphers, and religious groups for far and wide have gravitated to our city.
The mayor of Kenosha has served multiple terms and has led the re-development of former industrial sites. I interviewed him once. He has been a good mayor, but I think he and most of the city and county leaders were caught off guard. There is no precedent in Kenosha for the things that have happened in the last week.
Every now and then I think about challenges and ask myself what I would do if I were in charge. Well, I probably would not have done any better in real time. So, I think about it in terms of hindsight, which is always 20/20.
I would have declared solidarity with the Blake family and the black community, expressing compassion and promising an intolerance of any systemic racism or individual racism in city government or the police department.
I would have immediately put together a Heal our City group of key city officials, black community leaders, and a family representative. The goal of this group would be listening to each other and moving toward presenting a unified front. Ultimately, the goals are to pursue justice, stop racism, and keep people safe by not tearing up the city.
I would have made an absolute commitment to an expeditious, but thorough investigation and a guarantee that justice will be done.
Lastly, I would have immediately called in the National Guard, having seen how these types of events have played out in other cities. I would have been very clear that we will do our very best to keep every person and their property safe. No violence would be tolerated.
Too late for that one.
I am so aggrieved that …
Some police officers are brutal and racist, like in Minneapolis.
These cases are tried in the media, based on a little cell phone video, rather than a true investigation into all of the facts.
There is no patience for justice.
Facts are conformed to fit a prefabricated trending narrative that may or may not be true.
These tragic events become an excuse for domestic terrorism.
We become more divided with people referring to rioters as animals and others calling for defunding the police.
It all becomes politicized.
We have such a dearth of true, compassionate, common sensical, responsible leadership that will lead us to healing.
I fear the possibility of another round of violence when the investigation is complete and the verdict is handed down.
The vast majority of people in Kenosha are not racist or inclined to violence. They want healing! I ran on to some people from a church group from Milwaukee in the uptown area as they handed out beverages to volunteers, residents, and business owners cleaning up. They gave me hope. I chatted with some of the artists painting the miles of plywood on boarded-up businesses, turning them into messages of love, hope, and beauty. They gave me hope.
But my strongest impression which I saw about three or four times, were these words painted on the plywood, “Children Upstairs.” My immediate emotion reflex was “My God, “as my eyes filled with tears. My 8-year old great grandson who lives in Kenosha left a note for rioters should they break in. “Please don’t burn this house down, a cat lives here.”
Violence will not fix this! Hate will not fix it! More protests will not fix it! Slogans will not fix it! More police will not fix it! It’s going to take some work, some working together. It’s going to take a lot of personal responsibility to do whatever we can, rather than just pointing the finger of blame at others. It is going to take getting to know “them.”
It’s going to take love. By the way, why does that very statement sound so bizarre? It is our one relational command prescribed by the greatest lover of all time.