Edward-Isaac Dovere: When the news came that Jacob Blake was shot, you posted something very simple: “You’ve got to be kidding me.” That is not shock that this happened in America. It seems like you were just exasperated.
Mandela Barnes: Completely exasperated. I had just got done reading a book by the lake, sitting outside having a great day, getting ready to go into the week. And then I look online—you know, opening Twitter is always a mistake—but I open Twitter and see Kenosha trending, saw the video and I honestly thought, You have got to be kidding. This did not just happen. After months of the largest movement for racial justice in this nation’s history. People in all corners of Wisconsin have been showing up, marching, holding demonstrations small and large.
The audacity that I saw in that video, for an officer to shoot a person in the back seven times. After all of this. After all the marches. After all the demonstrations. After all the protests. Everybody seemingly coming together to acknowledge that this is a crisis that we face and have faced for some time, that this could still happen.
Dovere: What was your reaction when you saw the video of Kyle Rittenhouse walking by the police with his gun?
Barnes: Oh man, that was another “You have got to be kidding me” moment. Because that’s the dichotomy that we’re talking about. It’s the reason why people show up to march. That this armed person who shot three people, killed two, is able to just walk the street. Police didn’t even give him a second look.
It begs the question—and it’s a very rhetorical question: What are police officers actually threatened by? What threatens them in actuality? Is it a person who is walking the street who claims to be some sort of militia member with a long-rifle assault-style weapon? Or is it somebody who is unarmed and Black? Who is more frightening to you?
Dovere: You said you didn’t want President Donald Trump to come to Kenosha like he did at the beginning of the week. Why not?
Barnes: Donald Trump has yet to condemn the killings of two people in our streets. We see this young man, who was transported across state lines by his own mother, killed two people in cold blood on our city streets, severely injured another … has not been rebuked once by our president. Yet the actions of this man have essentially been celebrated by the same president. You can’t sit here and talk about “lawlessness” and “mobs” coming in, and try to create division and scare people, when the actual guy that killed somebody is on your side.
Dovere: Joe Biden also came this week. Both of them said it’s not about politics, but of course they are both candidates for president who made special trips to Kenosha. Isn’t that about politics?
Barnes: It is beyond politics, but it takes political leadership to fix this sort of moment. And if you have a person who is in power right now who is only making things worse, whether it’s by his incendiary remarks, his statements about the protests in general … and showing this total disconnect from reality, then yes, it does matter. It matters who is in leadership. It matters who we elect. And Joe Biden’s trip is a little bit different.