Trump to deliver ‘law and order’ message in Kenosha
President Trump will travel to Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday as he seeks to elevate the issue of social unrest, and at times violent demonstrations in American cities, on the campaign trail amid broader protests against racial injustice.
The president’s visit comes after the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake, though his focus in recent days has been squarely on the resulting turmoil that has included deadly shootings in Kenosha and Portland, Ore. Trump has blamed local Democratic leaders for failing to crack down even as those same politicians point the finger at the president for sowing division and beg him not to visit their cities.
Trump is expected to meet with law enforcement and survey the damage from the violent protests, according to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. He is not slated to meet with Blake’s family.
“I think highlighting that the federal government has done a lot in the way of using law and order to create peace, but showing up for hurting Americans is the primary concern,” McEnany told reporters when asked what Trump hoped to achieve with his visit.
A white police officer shot Blake — a 29-year-old Black man — seven times in the back, with authorities later saying they tried unsuccessfully to subdue him with a Taser before shooting. The incident set off another wave of protests against police shootings of African Americans, but the demonstrations grew violent at times, with agitators setting fire to businesses and destroying property.
The violence culminated on Aug. 25 when two protesters were shot and killed. Police have since charged an Illinois teenager in connection with the shooting. Local officials said tensions appear to be cooling in the city of 100,000, but they expressed concerns that Trump’s visit could reignite those tensions.
“I just think people are afraid in this area, and they’re not used to violence,” said state Sen. Bob Wirch (D), who represents the city in the state legislature.
The last few nights have been calm, Wirch said, “but now people are afraid that there may be more violence in conjunction with the visit of the president.” Protesters are expected to greet Trump in Kenosha, though it’s unclear how many will show up. A heavy law enforcement presence persists in the city, Wirch added.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D), in a letter to Trump on Sunday, urged the president to stay away from Kenosha. He cited concerns that Trump’s visit will require the redirection of public safety resources and stir further division.
“I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing,” Evers wrote. “I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”
Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian (D) offered a similar message, telling NPR that it was not appropriate for Trump to visit “at this point in time.”
Trump shrugged off those concerns, however, telling reporters at a press conference Monday that his visit “could also increase enthusiasm and it could also increase love and respect for our country.” He also defended the actions of the teenager, Kyle Rittenhouse, accused of killing two protesters, suggesting he was acting in self defense.
Trump has not commented extensively on Blake’s shooting, aside from remarks he made to a New Hampshire outlet on Friday indicating he was bothered by the video of the incident. He didn’t directly answer a question about whether he believed the officer responsible for shooting Blake should face criminal charges. The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
“I’m looking into it very strongly. I’ll be getting reports, and I’ll certainly let you know pretty soon,” Trump told WMUR following a campaign rally in Manchester. “It was not a good sight. I didn’t like the sight of it, certainly, and I think most people would agree with that.”
Trump told reporters Monday that he would not meet with Blake’s family during the trip because they wanted to have “lawyers involved,” which he said would be inappropriate. He said that he spoke to the family’s pastor, who he called a “wonderful man.”
“They wanted me to speak but they wanted to have lawyers involved and I thought that was inappropriate so I didn’t do that,” Trump said. “I may at some point do that, but they did have a lawyer that wanted to be on the phone and I said, no that’s inappropriate, but I just gave my best regards.”
The president has largely focused on the violent aspects of protests that have gripped the country since the May 25 police shooting of George Floyd, demanding that local leaders crack down on unruly demonstrations and demanding “law and order.” Last week, Trump said he was sending federal agents to Kenosha, and he has since claimed credit for the ease in violence.
The violence in Kenosha comes as other cities across the country have grappled with social unrest amid protests against racial injustice.
Portland has seen night after night of protests for three months. Trump has repeatedly criticized the state’s Democratic leaders for failing to quell the violence and destruction that have accompanied the demonstrations. Tensions ran high between Trump and officials in Oregon earlier this summer when the Department of Homeland Security dispatched agents to Portland to protect a federal courthouse.
Conditions in Portland worsened over the weekend, when Trump supporters clashed with counterprotesters, leaving one person shot and killed. The victim was wearing a hat bearing the insignia for Patriot Prayer, a far-right group based in the Pacific Northwest.
Trump has for weeks made the protests a central campaign issue, shifting attention away from the coronavirus pandemic by highlighting instances of violence and blaming Democrats. His support for law enforcement has been a recurring theme in recent campaign events, and his advisers have attempted to tie Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to the more unruly aspects of the demonstrations despite the former vice president’s condemnation of violence.
Biden used a televised address in Pittsburgh on Monday to skewer Trump over his recent rhetoric, accusing the president of exacerbating unrest by refusing to acknowledge the country has a racial injustice problem. He also sought to forcefully refute the assertion that America would be less safe if he were elected and condemned the recent destruction and violence.
“These are not images of some imagined Joe Biden America in the future. These are images of Donald Trump’s America, today,” Biden said.
Wisconsin is a key swing state, and Biden holds a slight lead there, according to recent polling. A CNBC-Change Research poll released this month found Biden leading Trump 49 percent to 44 percent in the Badger State.
Trump’s campaign has sought to highlight his recent travel to Wisconsin and other states, trying to draw a contrast with Biden, who paused campaigning due to the coronavirus but resumed campaign travel this week with the speech in Pittsburgh. Trump also traveled to Wisconsin the week of the Democratic National Convention.
Responding to a question about whether politics factored into the decision to visit Kenosha, McEnany told reporters that “the president is showing up to see hurting Americans.”
Joe Zepecki, a Democratic strategist in Wisconsin, called Trump’s upcoming trip a “transparent play for votes around one of the uglier divisive issues of this nation’s history” and argued it wouldn’t have an impact with swing voters.
“I think he will fire up his base, I think he will fire up our base, and I think voters who don’t belong to a political tribe will just roll their eyes and say, here he goes again,” Zepecki said.
Updated at 8:51 p.m.
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