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Opinion Kenosha speaker who ‘was told to go off this paper’ says it came from her group, not the Biden campaign

Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks Thursday at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., after a week of unrest in the city following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
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This column initially misidentified the person who called Porche Bennett to speak at Grace Lutheran Church. It should have said Tim Mahone of the Mary Lou and Arthur F. Mahone Fund introduced her. The column has been updated.

When Porche Bennett was called to the microphone at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., by Tim Mahone, chairman of the Mary Lou and Arthur F. Mahone Fund, she had a piece of paper in her hand. It was something she was supposed to read to former vice president Joe Biden. The Democratic presidential nominee was there to hear from a community rocked by the shooting of Jacob Blake, the Black man shot seven times in the back by police, and the violence that accompanied some of the peaceful protests. But Bennett couldn’t do it.

“I’m just going to be honest, Mr. Biden. I was told to go off this paper, but I can’t,” Bennett said through a mask, the straps clinging to her orange head wrap. “You need the truth. And I’m part of the truth.” For nearly five minutes, the organizer with Black Lives Activists Kenosha (BLAK) shared her pain and the pain of her community in a speech that was as eloquent as it was heartbreaking.

Such a moment was tailor-made for Biden. It plays right into his primary strength, empathy. But Biden’s critics leaped at Bennett, saying that she was “told to go off this paper” as some sort of sign that she slipped the control of the Biden campaign. Quite the contrary. The paper, Bennett told me in a phone conversation, came from BLAK.

Black Lives Matter and ‘antifa’ are not the same thing

Addressing the Democratic nominee, Bennett said her community was “heavily angry” to the point of protest so that their voices could be heard. She made it clear that there was a difference between protesters and rioters. She was speaking for and representing the former. And then Bennett spoke for herself:

“I’m only 31, and I’ve seen enough within these last two years to say I’m tired. I’m a mother. My oldest is 13. My twins are nine. I do this because I want their future to be better than what I have right now because my present is not good,” Bennett told Biden. “But I speak because I want the truth heard, and I speak for the people in this city because I live in this city and I’m out here with these people. A lot of people won’t tell the truth. But I’m telling the truth. It’s not what a lot of people think it is for us. We want the same exact rights as others. We want to be treated just like everyone else.”

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“That piece of paper is from my organization. It was just little specific demands that we wanted put out there. But I felt like much more was needed to be said,” Bennett explained to me about why she went rogue. (A list of BLAK’s demands online include the arrest of the four officers present at Blake’s shooting, the termination of the police chief and the creation of a citizens review board with subpoena power.) “So, I didn’t go off our demands strictly on the paper. I spoke straight from my heart. ... I felt like he needed to hear more of what was from our hearts.”

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