KENOSHA, Wis. — A bipartisan group of House lawmakers spoke with residents here on Monday about solutions for rebuilding communities like Kenosha, Wisconsin, which was hit hard by riots two years ago.
The members of the House panel studying economic challenges said their goal is partly to help Kenosha rebrand itself after it became the image of national unrest, following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was left paralyzed in the encounter with a White police officer.
“For many in our nation, they know Kenosha because of those three horrific nights, but in Kenosha, we know that as just one chapter in the book with chapters yet to unfold,” said Rep. Bryan Steil, Wisconsin Republican, whose district includes Kenosha.
Although Kenosha has a population of fewer than 100,000 residents, the destruction from the riots led to property damage as high as $50 million, which included historic community buildings like the 100-year-old Danish Brotherhood Lodge, which was burned down.
On the second night of unrest in Kenosha, Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two men and injured another. He was ultimately acquitted of all charges at his high-profile trial in 2021.
Earlier this month, the Kenosha County executive flipped to Republican for the first time in decades when voters elected Samantha Kerkman in a race described as nonpartisan.
Mr. Steil was joined on Monday by Rep. Gwen Moore, Wisconsin Democrat, and Rep. Jim Himes, Connecticut Democrat, who chairs the committee on economic disparity and fairness in growth.
The lawmakers held a field hearing at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where they listened to community leaders who discussed their innovation and leadership in promoting trade schools and mitigating the racial gap in academic success, while also navigating challenges such as housing affordability and the labor shortage.
The hearing came two years after Kenosha became the national face of unrest, following closely after protests erupted in response to a police officer murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Katherine Marks, community outreach director for Kenosha, said it’s challenging for the city to see images from the riots used as a talking point in politics and media.
“Even today, there’s political ads still depicting Kenosha like the riots are still going on, and I for one am very mad that they still show those images, defining that that’s who we are,” Ms. Marks said. “For the rest of the world, that’s how they see us.”
Ms. Marks said, in reality, the mayor’s office has received calls from other cities like Minneapolis on how Kenosha has quickly recovered from the chaos that left much of the city, including her own neighborhood, ruined.
The city has focused on making progress not just on rebuilding and attracting jobs to the area, but also healing the racial tensions that were left by the Blake shooting.
In two years, Kenosha has spent money and other resources on developing a road map of inclusion and equity, while also offering alternative education programs for young people to explore new opportunities and thrive in the community.
Mr. Himes said though the committee is looking at solving issues, it’s important to note the solutions that have come forward from tough economic situations, citing Kenosha as an example.
He said he hopes to bring back ideas to Capitol Hill from the experiences of people that the lawmakers can share across the country.
“It’s really important for us that we get out of Washington,” Mr. Himes said. “Our most productive days are often when we’re out there and not inside the Beltway, listening to stuff that’s working and not working.”
Mr. Himes has facilitated several bipartisan trips for the committee, including to Silicon Valley in California and Lorain, Ohio, where they sought to revitalize the Rust Belt.
The committee, proposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in December 2020, is made up of eight Democrats and six Republicans.
Members of the committee are expected to produce a report later this year with policy solutions to the country’s leading economic issues.