Repairing ruins in Kenosha


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 1st day of September, 2020. Thank you for listening to today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: repairing ruins.

Protesters took to the streets in Kenosha, Wisconsin, earlier this month following a police shooting captured on video. Protests quickly turned into riots. Three nights of destruction followed, capped by another shooting.

REICHARD: The violence seemed to dissipate after that, and an uneasy calm settled over the city.

WORLD’s Anna Johansen visited Kenosha late last week to find out how people who live there are working to clean up the mess.

ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: There used to be a camera shop at this intersection. 22nd Avenue and Roosevelt Road. Now, that shop is a pile of rubble. There are a few blackened walls left standing, the windows all blown out. A heap of splintered wood and rebar and shattered concrete that’s taller than me. A charred mattress lies flopped on top of it all.

JOHANSEN: Oh, this road is closed. Alrighty then. There are concrete barriers in front of it.

Farther east, in the downtown business district, there isn’t any glass visible. Every building has its windows boarded up. The plywood sheets are painted with pleas for mercy like, “Kids live upstairs,” and “Family-owned business.”

VOLUNTEER COORDINATOR: So we are telling people to go from about where we are here, up to 22nd Avenue.

Community organizers are handing out cleaning supplies from tents set up on the sidewalk.

VOLUNTEER COORDINATOR: Let me get you another pair of gloves in here and a couple extra things and we’ll be good.

Kim got here around 8 a.m. She’s a local resident who’s spent the past three days helping with cleanup.

KIM: I think the first day, it was like raining and we were cleaning metal signs, graffiti off metal signs.

Today, she’s scrubbing graffiti off the smooth stone walls of the Post Office. She’s armed with a wire bristle brush and spray-on spray-paint remover. She says a lot of people have stopped by to see what she’s up to: It looks like she’s making graffiti instead of scrubbing it off. 

AUDIO: [SOUND OF SPRAYING]

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if she’s making any progress. 

KIM: I don’t like this cleaner. This is definitely not on the top of my graffiti cleaner list.

One block over, Dale and Michael are priming a sheet of plywood so other artists can come along and turn it into a mural. Dale lives just down the street.

DALE: The whole city feels unsafe. 

His cousin texted and asked if he wanted to get out of town for a few days, but he said no. He says if he left, he’d feel like the bad guys won. Michael chimes in too.

MICHAEL: We tough it out with our community. This is home. So we gotta be here to wake up and clean it up.

AUDIO: [GUY SINGING]

There are different groups of volunteers milling around, painting, chatting. A barefoot guitarist sings Bon Jovi on one street corner. A couple of vendors have set up tents with muffins and smoothies. Artists and volunteers are painting the plywood sheets with bright hearts and flowers and peace signs and butterflies. I ask Michael about the goal of the artwork.

MICHAEL: Love. We’re spreading love. You know, it’s the sun on a dark, cloudy day. So people walk through, get a little enlightenment, you know.

Pastor Matt Henry lives just a few blocks over. He’s been here for almost 25 years.

MATT HENRY: So all these houses except for this corner are all gang houses. 

The furniture store on the corner is completely demolished. There aren’t any murals or cleanup crews here. A few days before a police officer shot Jacob Blake, a young black gang member was shot and killed on this street. There weren’t any protests or calls for change after that shooting.

HENRY: Nobody knows his name. No protests. No posturing.

The streets are quiet today, but Henry still hasn’t relaxed. As a former LA police officer, he knows how quickly things can go bad. He sent his wife to stay with relatives outside the city early in the week.

HENRY: I think since Sunday, I’ve had maybe 9, 10 hours of sleep. I’m sitting right there with all the lights off with my scanner on and my live stream going and my gun sitting right next to me and my car’s backed into my driveway so that if I have to leave, I have to leave.

The first night of riots, he watched buildings burn a block away and listened to cars exploding in the auto lot down the street. When two people were shot, Henry heard the gunfire from his house. 

After that night, though, things got quiet in the city.

HENRY: I think the soul got taken out of it with the shootings.

He says a lot of Kenosha residents are still frustrated with how state and city leaders have handled the unrest. They felt like the government abandoned them. To Henry, everything seems to have come two or three days too late: the extra National Guard troops, the crackdowns and arrests. 

Henry says politicians are using the unrest as a platform for grandstanding, not to achieve meaningful change. 

AUDIO: [SOUND PRESS CONFERENCE SPEAKER, APPLAUSE]

We walked down the street to the site of the shootings and found a swarm of media and politicians holding a press conference. That was frustrating for Henry.

HENRY: I just don’t have time for the posturing. It’s empty.

He says press conferences and painting murals and even one-night prayer gatherings won’t fix anything if everyone just goes right back to what they were doing before. Things didn’t get to this point overnight and they won’t be fixed overnight.

HENRY: I think we have to realize that the ruins are there, metaphorically and now literally. And the only way to repair them is to regenerate households that are then being equipped to live out that Biblical worldview.

Henry is encouraged by ordinary Christians living well and living out the gospel in their communities. That’s not gonna go viral on Facebook. But, he says, that’s the command.

HENRY: We should never be surprised by evil, but we also know that in Christ, we’re called to be lights in a very dark society. Just keep being faithful.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen in Kenosha, Wisconsin.


(Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP) This Aug. 28, 2020 aerial photo shows damage to businesses in Kenosha, Wis. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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