By John Eligon
Kenosha, Wisconsin – Gerald Holmes, a Kenosha forklift operator, was so passionate about the importance of the elections four years ago that he drove people without transportation to the polls. However, this year, Holmes says he doesn’t even plan to vote.
The result in 2016, when Wisconsin helped cement President Donald Trump’s victory despite losing the popular vote and reports of Russian interference, left Holmes, 54, deeply disheartened.RELATED
“What good is going out to vote?” He asked. “That is not going to change anything.”
As demonstrations have been staged across the country this summer over the death of George Floyd and the police’s treatment of black citizens, activists and Democratic leaders have pleaded with protesters to invest their energy in the November elections.
On Tuesday, a block party honoring Jacob Blake, a black Kenosha resident who was paralyzed after he was shot in the back by a white police officer, included voter registration booths near where the shooting occurred. In addition, Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, was scheduled to visit Kenosha on Thursday, two days after Trump appeared in the city after rioting over the shooting.
Yet people like Holmes reflect the challenges Democrats face in trying to turn people’s anger over police violence into votes. In interviews with more than a dozen black residents in the Kenosha area, many said they were outraged by the Blake shooting, but some said they had been discouraged and did not trust the political system. The shooting was further proof, some residents said, that, after decades of promises from politicians, little has been done to alleviate gross racial disparities or stop police abuses, leaving them seeing little value in an election. plus.
“Let’s say I went out to vote and I voted for Biden,” said Michael Lindsey, a friend of Blake’s who protested for several nights after the shooting. “That is not going to change police brutality. It also won’t change the way the police treat African Americans compared to Caucasians. “
Lindsey, 29, who lives just outside Kenosha, said she had never voted in a presidential election and would not vote this year, as much as she despises Trump and is sick of feeling like she has to live in fear of the cop because he’s black.
Many factors have affected the vote. The state’s high incarceration rate for black citizens, one of the highest in the country, deprives many African-Americans of their right to vote. Wisconsin’s voter identification law and other stringent regulations, such as reducing the early voting period and expanding residency requirements compared to 2016, also present major obstacles.
In addition, there are other challenges. Some residents said they were disheartened by Biden’s previous support for strict anti-crime legislation that devastated many black families. Some said they had a hard time knowing if he would be better than Trump on issues of police racism.
“People feel disinterested,” said Corey Prince, a community organizer. “They feel deprived of their rights. They feel dissuaded from voting ”.
This represents a problem for Democrats, who saw Trump win the state by less than 23,000 votes four years ago; turnout among the state’s black population, the vast majority of whom vote Democratic, fell by almost 20 percentage points from the previous presidential election. However, two years ago, black voter turnout increased during the midterm elections, helping Democrats unseat Scott Walker, the Republican incumbent governor.
Community leaders are underscoring the importance of not only the presidential election, but also local contests, said Diamond Hartwell, a Kenosha native and human rights activist. However, during communication efforts with voters, he said he often heard this phrase: “It doesn’t matter who’s ruling.”
He claimed activists were increasing their efforts to educate people about the importance of voting and how to vote amid the series of rules for registering and obtaining proper identification – rules that many on the left say suppress participation by groups. minority.
During the block party this week near the intersection where Blake was shot, James Hall, acting president of the Racine-Kenosha Urban League, supervised a voter registration table. Hall said older black residents were the most determined to vote, but younger ones were hard to convince, especially those in their 20s and 30s. Even the immediate anger and frustration over the Kenosha shooting does not guarantee that more people will vote, he said.
“This discontent will give them energy, but will that translate into votes?” Asked Hall. “I doubt it”.
Nearly 12 percent of Kenosha’s 100,000 residents are black. The incarceration rate for African-Americans in Kenosha is roughly 80 percent higher than in Milwaukee, which has the third highest rate among large metropolitan areas, according to research by Marc V. Levine, founding director of the Center for Economic Development of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Black Kenosha residents are twelve times more likely to be jailed than their white neighbors.
Skepticism around the criminal justice record of Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, is widespread, Hall said. “They have a history of passing bills or working with the system to incarcerate our people,” he said. “Our people know it, and that makes them unattractive. They haven’t brought anything to the platform to say, ‘Hey, we know we made mistakes in the past, but this is what we’re going to do to fix them.’
Biden and Harris have expressed regret for some of their past positions on criminal justice issues and have described those decisions as products of the politics of the time. Both have since voiced support for measures they say will reduce incarceration, such as decriminalizing marijuana, promoting rehabilitation treatment as a penalty for non-violent drug offenses, and ending mandatory minimum sentences.
Gathered at the entrance to a plank house in the Kenosha neighborhood one recent afternoon, a group of men spoke of their skepticism about this fall’s vote.
Mike Davis, 42, said the current turmoil around the police increased his desire to see Trump out of the presidency. But then think about what happened in 2016.
“He’s losing in the polls, everyone says he’s not going to make it, but somehow he did it last time,” Davis said. “And I feel like he’s going to do it again. It will be a waste of time ”.
Ideas like that shouldn’t be spoken out loud, said his friend, Jamaal Crawford.
“If you believe that, don’t spread it, because it will cause others not to vote,” said Crawford, 37.
Crawford said he believed it was important to vote and did not want others to feel dissuaded.
He last voted many years ago because, for the last ten years or so, he has been incarcerated or under some form of state supervision, he said. In Wisconsin, people with criminal records can vote if they have served their sentences and are no longer on probation or probation.
Crawford, a cook who was laid off because of the pandemic, said he would be able to sign up now, though he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go through the process. Still, he said, it is a pivotal moment given the challenges of police violence.
“Some people are just tired,” he said. “They think it is a waste of time. However, even if it is, we must continue wasting time until it stops being a waste of time.