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Kenosha looks to love for recovery from riots and destruction

One of the new street murals in Kenosha, Wisconsin, photographed on August 27, 2020
One of the new street murals in Kenosha, Wisconsin, photographed on August 27, 2020 Kerem Yucel AFP
3 min
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Kenosha (United States) (AFP)

Messages calling for love and unity have bloomed on boarded-up storefronts in Kenosha, the small lakefront city in the US state of Wisconsin where anti-racism protests this week degenerated into deadly clashes.

On Thursday, dozens of amateur and professional artists painted uplifting messages such as "Believe there is good in the world" and "Do small things with great love" in the city center, where most businesses are protected by sheets of chipboard.

It's only a short distance from the site of the violent protests, triggered by the latest incident of police violence against an African American.

Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back at close range on Sunday by white officer Rusten Sheskey, who was trying to apprehend the 29-year-old father.

Anger spread quickly and turned into nightly clashes between protesters and police. Tensions peaked when a white 17-year-old opened fire on three protesters, killing two on Tuesday evening.

The Kenosha Creative Center has been organizing the street art initiative, and supplying paint and brushes.

"The motto is 'Love is the answer,'" said Pamela Thomey, a board member of the center.

"We don't want political messages because it is divisive. We want to keep it in a positive way, it helps with the healing process of the city," she said.

- 'Uplifting visual' -

Dirk Ingram painted an angel with multicolored wings on the facade of his massage studio.

"We had a horrific visual of a man shot several times, then we saw business being burned. I wanted to create a more uplifting visual," he said, holding a can of spray paint.

"People (are) coming down on their own, the same way they came with brooms to clean the area after the first riots," he added.

One street over, 50-year-old Carey Fonk and her teenage daughter were putting the finishing touches on their work, with the message, "May your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears," surrounded by red hearts.

Fonk, who lives in Kenosha, said tensions have been higher in the city since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I saw the tensions growing since the beginning of the pandemic and the quarantine. Economic devastation, anxiety rising," she said.

Robinz, an artist from Texas, worked on a huge painting composed of bright colors and the slogan, "If love does not solve our problem, nothing will."

"I feel that I'm connected to a moment. We are all doing different paintings, but it's community work," he said.

Tamara Vollmer, who lives 15 minutes away, wanted to "bring some color back to this community."

"It's the first help towards healing, it's going to be a long road," she said.

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