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Kenoshians face 'wake-up call' after tumultuous, painful week of violence

WorldAug 30, 2020 01:36PM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. People protest after a Black man identified as Jacob Blake was shot several times by police in Kenosha 2/2

By Brendan O'Brien

KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) - Five decades after he came with his migrant-worker family from Texas to Kenosha, Wisconsin to pick cucumbers and potatoes in the fields outside of town, Tony Garcia is a prominent community member who has sat on the several local boards.

So last week when people destroyed businesses during anti-racism protests in Kenosha's Uptown neighborhood where Garcia grew up and owns commercial property, the 63-year-old became especially infuriated as he watched the chaos.

"This is the American dream and from one night to another, it was shattered," said Garcia, a member of the Kenosha Unified School District Board, as he sat in front of his boarded up buildings that survived the violence. "This is a wake-up call."

Garcia was one of about two dozen Kenosha residents who expressed their dismay in Reuters interviews over riots and destruction of several businesses following the shooting by a white police officer that left a Black man, Jacob Blake, paralyzed and the shooting of three demonstrators - two fatally - by a white teenager armed with an assault rifle.

Days after the shootings, a tense calm loomed over the tight-knit city of 100,000 people and tree-lined streets on the shores of Lake Michigan. Residents mowed their lawns, grocery shopped and launched their boats out onto the bright blue lake waters as National Guard troops guarded government buildings and police blocked one of the main thoroughfares in Kenosha.

A 7 p.m. curfew left the city of quaint taverns deserted before sunset.

"It's a quiet town. I just can't believe it's happened here," Tony Sorrentino, a 31-year-old fleet manager, said as he mowed his lawn. "It's been rough."

Kenosha is the latest U.S. city where protests against racism and excessive use of force by police at times degenerated into violence this summer since the death in May of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

In addition to police reforms, the mostly white Midwestern community needs to address the fundamental disadvantages Black people face in Kenosha, according to Verona King, a former president of the local NAACP chapter, who remains active in the organization.

While about 13% of whites live in poverty in Kenosha, more than a third of Black residents are impoverished. Kenosha also lacks racial equality in housing, health care, education and within the justice system, King said.

"We want to address the systemic racism that is running rampant in all of these areas," she said.

CAR-BUILDING TOWN

Rioters came to Kenosha from other places, said retired resident Vickie Kwasny as she wiped tears from her face.

"We are not the last community that this will happen to," Kwasny said while looking over a dozens of torched cars in a parking lot near her home. "I hope we can heal. We have a lot of cleaning up to do."

Kenosha was known for generations as a car-building town. It was the home of Kenosha Engine, an automotive plant that operated for a more than a century until it was closed by Chrysler in 2010, leaving 5,000 people out of work.

Over the last decade, Kenosha has bounced back. Now a nearby Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) facility along with the headquarters of Uline and Snap-on (NYSE:SNA) are some of the city's largest employers as Kenosha's unemployment rate hovered around 4% before the novel coronavirus pandemic sent it soaring above 10%.

"It's also been a hot-ass summer. Everything just came together in one swoop at the exact wrong time. It's a lot to take," said Ben Trecroci, 43, who helps run his family's real estate company.

The violence has not swayed life-long resident Chenesse Brown, a 31-year-old teacher, who handed out water and snacks as she held her two-month old godson during a march on Saturday.

"This morning ... everything caught up to me and I just sat on the foot of my bed and cried. Because this is not the Kenosha that we know," she said. "It's surreal, overwhelming and saddening, but then I come out and see this and it reminds that ... we have our faith and our hope."

About 1,000 people joined a mile-long march https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-race-usa/anti-racism-protesters-rally-in-kenosha-watched-by-national-guard-reinforcements-idUSKBN25P0K9, chanting "Black Lives Matter" and "No Justice, No Peace" as residents hoped calm would hold for a fourth night.

Kenoshians face 'wake-up call' after tumultuous, painful week of violence
 

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Comments (8)
Otto Gonzalez
Otto Gonzalez Aug 30, 2020 9:50PM ET
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Peaceful protesters? .. democrats love this destruction..just makes a better election for Trump..keep it up folks.. you getting 4 more years..
Pratt Man
Pratt Man Aug 30, 2020 5:48PM ET
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it was all white kids starting fires and Trump supporters shooting people. and not a peep from our president
IceIce Baby
IceIceBaby Aug 30, 2020 4:28PM ET
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So US has imported slaves but forgot to integrate them after freeing them? Or freeing them was just a matter of cost allocation, a kind of "from now I don't feed you, do whatever you want"?
Clint Williams
Clint Williams Aug 30, 2020 2:43PM ET
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If you never Experience racism oppression, apartheid philosophy, hatred because of your skin color, pulled over by police because your in a A neighborhood that some people think you don’t belong in because of your skin color, If you think that there is no racism in America, well then you’ll never understand...
Dustin Whitsett
Goin_Broke Aug 30, 2020 2:43PM ET
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Doesn't give anyone the right to loot,riot, steal or destroy private property.
john richards
john richards Aug 30, 2020 2:43PM ET
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The blacks and everyone else in the history of earth have never enjoyed more freedom, less oppression and more economic opportunity than in the modern USA.
john richards
john richards Aug 30, 2020 2:43PM ET
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William Smith  Overtly explicitly racist sexist supporting laws based on race and gender.
Jim Robertson
Jim Robertson Aug 30, 2020 2:43PM ET
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I was pulled over because I was white who had to drive through a so called high drug area to get to work. Good thing i didn't have a warrant, or i would have ran.
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun Aug 30, 2020 11:03AM ET
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Marjors, gov etc r scared to arrest those rioters because they dont want to be view as ‘racist’. Just lets innocence people property burnt.
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun Aug 30, 2020 11:01AM ET
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These dirts r bussed from town to town to burn n loot. They will continue to do that until either all get arrested or Trump is gone.
Jeffrey Mills
Jeffrey Mills Aug 30, 2020 8:55AM ET
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EVERY life matters...equally
Plopseven Schwartz
Plopseven Schwartz Aug 30, 2020 8:55AM ET
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You really don’t get how equality works, do you? Saying “Black Lives Matter” does not mean all lived don’t matter. Saying “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” are purposefully antagonistic denials of the fact that black lives do, in fact, matter. You can’t take off black skin; you can take off a police uniform. Blue Lives Matter is so tone deaf.
Plopseven Schwartz
Plopseven Schwartz Aug 30, 2020 8:55AM ET
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Saying “I love you” doesn’t mean “I hate everyone else.” Examine your logic, please. This nation needs healing, not more division.
Plopseven Schwartz
Plopseven Schwartz Aug 30, 2020 8:55AM ET
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Keep downvoting me, you fascists.
Andrew carson
Andrew carson Aug 30, 2020 7:54AM ET
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This is racism not anti-racism.
 
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