Donald Trump wades into racial tensions with visit to Kenosha
U.S. president praises police, blames Democrats for violence
U.S. President Donald Trump stood at the epicentre of the latest eruption over racial injustice Tuesday and came down squarely on the side of law enforcement, blaming "domestic terror" for the violence in Kenosha, Wis., and making no nod to the underlying cause of anger and protests — the shooting of a yet another Black man by police.
Trump declared the violence "anti-American." He did not mention Jacob Blake, who was badly wounded last week in Kenosha.
Soon after arriving in the city, a visit made over the objections of state and local leaders, Trump toured the charred remains of a block besieged by violence and fire. With the scent of smoke still in the air, he spoke to the owners of a century-old store that had been destroyed and continued to link the violence to the Democrats, blaming those in charge of Kenosha and Wisconsin while raising apocalyptic warnings if their party should capture the White House.
"These are not acts of peaceful protest but, really, domestic terror," Trump said. And he condemned Democrats for not immediately accepting his offer of federal assistance, claiming, "They just don't want us to come.... These governors don't want to call and the mayors don't want to call. They have to ask."
The city has been riven by protests since the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man hit by bullets seven times in the back by police as he was getting into a car while they were trying to arrest him.
On the eve of his visit, Trump defended a teenage supporter accused of fatally shooting two men at a demonstration in Kenosha last week and accused Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden of siding with "anarchists" and "rioters" in the unrest.
WATCH | Trump stokes tensions with visit to Wisconsin:
Speaking later during a roundtable with police and legislators, Trump said he doesn't believe that there's a problem with systemic racism in policing. He repeated his assertion that police are sometimes under tremendous pressure and don't handle it well.
Trump's motorcade passed a mix of supporters, many holding American flags, and protesters, some carrying signs that read "Black Lives Matter." As a massive police presence, complete with several armoured vehicles, secured the area, barricades were set up along several of the city's major thoroughfares to keep onlookers some distance from the passing presidential vehicles.
Offering federal resources to help rebuild the city, Trump toured a high school that had been transformed into a law enforcement command post. He had praise for the response but no words for the underlying cause of the anger — accusations of police violence — and did not initially mention Blake's name. He said he tried to call the man's mother but opted against it after the family asked that a lawyer listen in.
He later added he felt "terribly" for anyone who suffered a loss, but otherwise only noted that the situation was "complicated" and "under investigation." The only words acknowledging the suffering of African Americans came from a pastor who attended the law enforcement roundtable.
Pressed by reporters, Trump repeatedly pivoted away from assessing any sort of structural racism in the nation or its police departments, instead blasting what he saw as anti-police rhetoric.
Biden hits back
Painting a dark portrait of parts of the nation he leads, the president predicted that chaos would descend on cities across the U.S. if voters elect Biden to replace him in November.
But Biden hit back, speaking to donors on a fundraising call after Trump left Kenosha.
"Donald Trump has failed to protect America. So now he's trying to scare the hell out of America," the former vice-president said. "Violence isn't a problem in Donald Trump's eyes. It's a political strategy."
The election is playing out in "anxious times," with "multiple crises," Biden said. He included police violence on the list, along with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout, and said Trump refuses to address any of them honestly.
Trump aides believe that his tough-on-crime stance will help him with voters and that the more the national discourse is about anything other than the coronavirus, the better it is for the president.
Biden said after Trump's Wisconsin visit, "The vast majority of cops are honourable, decent and real. But the idea that he wouldn't even acknowledge the problem — and white nationalists are raising their heads all across the country."
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat who deployed the National Guard to quell demonstrations in response to the Blake shooting, had pleaded with Trump to stay away for fear of straining tensions further.
"I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing. I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together," Evers wrote in a letter to Trump.
Several members of the Kenosha County Board sent their own letter, however, saying Trump's "leadership in this time of crisis is greatly appreciated by those devastated by the violence in Kenosha."
Trump insisted his appearance could "increase enthusiasm" in Wisconsin, perhaps the most hotly contested battleground state in the presidential race, as the White House said he "wants to visit hurting Americans."
'We need justice and relief'
Blake's family held a "community celebration" to correspond with Trump's visit.
"We don't need more pain and division from a president set on advancing his campaign at the expense of our city," Justin Blake, an uncle, said in a statement. "We need justice and relief for our vibrant community."
He said Trump's comments over the last four years have given police officers an incentive to brutalize Black men like his nephew and that he doesn't care about Trump's motivation for visiting Kenosha. Instead, he's focused on getting justice and healing the city.
WATCH | Jacob Blake's uncle says his family wants justice:
The Wisconsin Department of Justice says it has reviewed 28 videos related to the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Only two cellphone videos that captured the Aug. 23 shooting have been widely distributed over social media. The state justice department did not describe what was seen on any of the videos.
Rev. Jesse Jackson said recent remarks by the president have emboldened and inspired militia members and justified the fatal shootings of the two protesters in Kenosha on Aug. 25. He called the president's comments "polarizing."
The NAACP said Tuesday that neither presidential candidate should visit the Wisconsin city as tension simmers. Biden's team has considered a visit to Kenosha and has indicated that a trip to Wisconsin was imminent but has not offered details.