Trump heads uninvited to Kenosha to push law and order message
US President Donald Trump was headed Tuesday to Kenosha, the Wisconsin city at the center of a raging national debate over racism and public safety, despite pleas from local leaders to stay away and accusations that he is fanning tensions to boost his re-election.
The trip to a pivotal state in Trump’s bid to overcome Democrat Joe Biden for a second term on November 3 came hours after police shot dead a black man in Los Angeles, raising fears of new unrest.
Trump has been hoping for months to shift the election from a verdict on his widely panned handling of the coronavirus pandemic to what he sees as politically far more comfortable territory of law and order.
And in Kenosha, which has been in upheaval since police shot and badly injured 29-year-old Jacob Blake in front of his three small sons, the Republican has found his mark.
He has confirmed he will not be meeting with the Blake family during the high-profile visit. Instead, he will confer with law enforcement officials and view damage from street violence that erupted after the August 23 shooting — hammering home his message that protesters are largely criminals and police need greater support.
A microcosm of the racial and ideological tensions of the Trump era, Kenosha has seen Black Lives Matter protests, riots, and the arrival of armed, white vigilantes, culminating in an incident in which a 17-year-old militia enthusiast, Kyle Rittenhouse, allegedly shot dead two people at the protest and badly injured another.
Democrats and police reform advocates see Kenosha as a symbol of institutional racism leading to deadly encounters between officers and black suspects.
They see Rittenhouse, a Trump supporter, as emblematic of right-wing militias that are increasingly brazen about brandishing weaponry in political settings and attempting to act as amateur law enforcers.
Trump, however, is making clear he comes with a different priority: countering what he has repeatedly described as the “anarchy” in Democratic-led cities.
Trump said Monday he would be going “to see the people that did such a good job for me,” referring to law enforcement units that quelled the violent protests.
More controversially, Trump has also refused to condemn the growing presence of armed vigilantes and militias on the streets, calling the alleged killings by Rittenhouse “an interesting situation.”
Trump accuses Biden of weakness on the spate of violent protests in cities like Kenosha and Portland, seeking to paint the Democrat as incapable of controlling the party’s left wing.
On Monday, Biden shot back, accusing Trump of provoking violence for political gain.
“Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames rather than fighting the flames,” Biden said.
Although Biden has talked by telephone with the Blake family, Trump also ruled this out, saying the relatives wanted a family lawyer to be in on the call, which he called “inappropriate.”
Trump said he had instead had a “great talk” with “the pastor,” whom he called “a wonderful man.”
Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr, said Trump’s comment mystified him.
“We don’t have a family pastor,” he told CNN. “I don’t know who he talked to, I don’t care.”
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has asked Trump not to visit, citing fear of greater tensions.
And Kenosha’s Democratic Mayor John Antaramian said over the weekend it was not a good time for the president to visit.
“Realistically, from our perspective, our preference would have been for him not to be coming at this point in time,” he told NPR radio.
Trump said Monday his trip “could increase love and respect for our country.”
Blake Sr. said his family had received threats and had to move from one hotel to another.
“We don’t want their location known because we see some sick things happening in Kenosha, and the worst thing can be for this family to suffer any more physical violence with what they’re dealing with,” family attorney Ben Crump told CNN.
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