Trump Lauds Police in Defiant Trip to Protest-Torn Kenosha

Donald Trump lauded police and National Guard members in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, where the shooting of a Black man by police last month has reignited national protests against racial inequality and street violence the president has sought to blame on Democrats.

“I came to thank the law enforcement, the police, they’re incredible and the National Guard has been truly amazing,” Trump said at a Kenosha school set up as a National Guard command center, after visiting a business damaged in protests last week.

Trump’s visit Tuesday — made over the objections of the governor and the city’s mayor — sought again to frame the protests as a matter of law and order, while sidestepping the issues that have spurred the demonstrations in the first place. Trump toured what the White House called “riot” damage on Kenosha’s streets before meeting with police leaders.

Trump won’t meet with the family of Jacob Blake, the Black man police shot seven times in the back, triggering the demonstrations in the southern Wisconsin city. Trump said he was going to speak to Blake’s mother but decided not to because he’d heard there would be lawyers on the phone.

Trump again criticized Democratic city and state leaders that he says refuse to request federal assistance to quell protests.

“This ended within an hour as soon as we announced we were coming and then saw we were here,” Trump said of Kenosha protests, which had experienced violence before Wisconsin’s Democratic govenor, Tony Evers, deployed National Guard units last week.

Trump has seized on protests over police brutality and political violence between his supporters and opponents as a campaign issue as he attempts to chip away at former Vice President Joe Biden’s lead in polls.

He made his “law and order” message a key element of last week’s Republican National Convention, and his campaign aides believe the violence is fueling a rebound in his support and eroding Biden’s lead. The president announced Monday that the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security would mount a joint operation to investigate “left wing” civil unrest in the U.S.

Authorities in Wisconsin have charged an Illinois resident who has expressed support for Trump on social media with homicide in connection with two people who were shot and killed in the Kenosha protests last week. On Monday, the president suggested that the suspect, Kyle Rittenhouse, may have acted in self-defense.

Rittenhouse was in Kenosha as part of a de facto counter-protest militia. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, described him as an “out-of-state armed militant.”

Evers had urged Trump to reconsider the trip.

“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,” he wrote in a letter to the president on Sunday.

White House officials dismissed Evers’s request.

“The president shows up,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday at a briefing for reporters, later adding: “The president wants to visit hurting Americans.”

The racial unrest comes after the coronavirus and its associated economic downturn impacted the Wisconsin border town. There have been nearly 3,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Kenosha with 62 deaths, according to the county’s Division of Health. The regional unemployment rate spiked from 3.6% in March to 14.7% in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, although that fell to 11.2% in June suggesting a modest recovery.

There were more than 51,000 county residents out of work in June, the most since March 2010, up from less than 19,000 at the end of 2019.

Biden plans to soon travel to the state, a key election battleground that Trump won in 2016.

“We are going to go to Wisconsin very soon,” Biden adviser Symone Sanders told MSNBC on Tuesday. “The community is reeling, but I would argue that they have been handling it well.”

Sanders declined to say if Biden would visit Kenosha specifically.

— With assistance by Jennifer Epstein, and Alexandre Tanzi

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