Trump surveys damage in Kenosha, visiting over objections of local leaders

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump walks towards the media to speak before boarding Air Force One for a trip to Kenosha, Wis., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Trump is visiting Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, despite objections from local leaders who have raised concerns that the president’s appearance may further escalate tensions in the city, which has been roiled by the shooting of a Black man by police and the deaths of two people by a suspected vigilante shooter at a subsequent demonstration.

Under heavy security, the president surveyed property damaged in the protests upon arriving in Kenosha, alongside Attorney General William Barr and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. Mr. Trump told reporters that “we’re going to get it fixed up,” referring to the damaged property. Mr. Trump is also participating in a roundtable on safety and visiting an “emergency operations center” at a local high school, according to the White House. 

“We have to condemn the dangerous anti-police rhetoric,” Mr. Trump said. He said police officers involved in high-profile cases of misconduct are often “under tremendous pressure” and have “a quarter of a second to make a decision.”

“And if they make the wrong decision, one way or another, they’re either dead or they’re in big trouble,” the president added. “And people have to understand that. They choke sometimes.” 

Mr. Trump also acknowledged that some local officials urged him to postpone his visit.

“Some people thought it would be a good thing for me to come, a bad thing, I just wanted to come. I really came today to thank law enforcement,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump repeatedly refused to answer a question about whether there is a problem with systemic racism in the country, denying that many of the nationwide protests against racial violence have been peaceful.

“You just keep getting back to the opposite subject. We should talk about the kind of violence that we’ve seen in Portland and here and other places. It’s tremendous violence,” Mr. Trump said, referring to recent unrest in Portland, Oregon. He also said that people who aren’t protesting “want to see law and order.”

“You don’t see them marching and you don’t see them on the streets. But what they want is — they want great police force,” Mr. Trump said.

The president is not scheduled to meet with the family of Jacob Blake, the man shot in the back seven times by a Wisconsin police officer on August 23. The 29-year-old father of six remains hospitalized and is paralyzed from his injuries, his family lawyers have said. The president claimed on Monday that he is not visiting Blake’s family because they wanted to involve their legal team, which he said was “inappropriate.”

“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 did just give my best regards,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. 

U.S. President Trump visits site of protests against police brutality and racial injustice in Kenosha, Wisconsin
President Trump views property damage to a business during a visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on September 1, 2020.LEAH MILLIS / REUTERS

Members of Blake’s family appeared at a community rally coinciding with Mr. Trump’s visit, calling for justice at the site of the shooting. “We want to shine a light on this and on Jacob’s family’s call for justice. We will be having a community clean up, free food, free haircuts, and more,” the rally organizer said. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a leader of the civil rights movement for decades, attended the event.

Mr. Trump said at the roundtable on Monday that he felt “terribly” for Blake and his family.

“I feel terribly for anybody that goes through that,” Mr. Trump said.

In an interview with Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham that aired Monday evening, Mr. Trump compared police officers shooting people in custody to golfers who “miss a three-foot putt.”

“They choke. Just like in a golf tournament, they miss a three-foot putt,” Mr. Trump said.

The president also told Ingraham that he was heading to Kenosha to defend and thank the police and see the buildings damaged by protests that have turned violent.

“You also have bad police, but you also, the vast, not only the vast majority, thousands and thousands of great acts and one bad one and you make the evening news for weeks,” Mr. Trump said. 

The president on Monday declined to denounce Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old White gunman charged with killing two people last week during a tumultuous night of protests. Mr. Trump suggested to reporters that Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense, and “probably would have been killed” had he not fatally shot two protesters. When asked if he agreed with armed vigilantes taking to the streets, Mr. Trump said he would “like to see law enforcement take care of everything.”

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, asked Mr. Trump to “reconsider” his visit to Kenosha in a letter on Sunday.

“I, along with other community leaders who have reached out, are concerned about what your presence will mean for Kenosha and our state,” Evers wrote. “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.” 

Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, also a Democrat, told CNN on Monday that Mr. Trump’s visit comes at “the wrong time.”

“Our community has gone through a great deal and there is no time right now for politics to be played. We would prefer the President had waited at least another week or so before coming to visit,” Antaramian said.

Wisconsin, which Mr. Trump narrowly won in 2016, is also a critical swing state in the upcoming election. A CBS News poll in August showed Joe Biden leading in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Biden delivered a speech on Monday condemning the violence across American cities and blaming Mr. Trump for fanning the flames.

“Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames, rather than fighting the flames,” Biden said. “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected?

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