US President Donald Trump stood at the epicenter 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, Wisconsin and making no nod to the underlying cause of anger and protests — the shooting of yet another Black man by police.
President Donald Trump talks to business owners as he visits an area damaged during demonstrations after a police officer shot Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, US, September 1, 2020. /AP
"These are not acts of peaceful protest but, really, domestic terror," said Trump. And he condemned Democratic officials for not immediately accepting his offer of federal enforcement assistance, claiming, "They just don't want us to come."
Trump declared the violence "anti-American." He did not mention Jacob Blake, who was left paralyzed after being shot in the back seven times by an officer 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.
Kenosha has been engulfed in protests since the August 23 shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man hit seven times in the back by police as he was getting into a car while they were trying to arrest him.
There was an estimated two million US dollars in damage to city property, and Kenosha's mayor has said he is seeking 30 million from the state to help rebuild.
Trump announced Tuesday that his administration was making five million dollars available to the city and sending more than 42 million dollars to the state, with most of the funding aimed at bolstering law enforcement, he said.
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 Democrat Joe Biden of siding with "anarchists" and "rioters" in the unrest.
"I'm there for law enforcement and for the National Guard because they've done a great job in Kenosha. They put out the flame immediately," said Trump as he boarded Air Force One.
But Wisconsin's Democratic governor, Tony Evers who deployed the National Guard to quell demonstrations in response to the Blake shooting, pleaded with Trump to stay away for fear of straining tensions further.
"I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing," Evers wrote in a letter to Trump. "I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together."
Biden has assailed Trump over the deadly protests that have sprung up on his watch. But Trump, claiming the mantle of the "law and order" Republican candidate, is offering himself as the leader best positioned to keep Americans safe.
He insisted his appearance in Kenosha 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." The White House said Trump was not going to meet with Blake's family. Blake's family planned a Tuesday "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."
Biden hit back, after Trump's Kenosha visit, speaking to donors on a fundraising call. "Donald Trump has failed to protect America. So now he's trying to scare the hell out of America," Biden said. "Violence isn't a problem in Donald Trump's eyes. It's a political strategy."
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 honorable, 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."
(With input from AP)