President Donald Trump defended his decision to visit Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, despite calls from local leaders that he stay away from the state amid fears that the trip will only inflame tensions in the city.
The president said Monday that he would go to the region, even though he was unwelcome, in his latest effort to cast himself as the “law-and-order” president going into the November election. The White House has said he will use the visit to support local law enforcement and “survey” damage after anti-racist demonstrations, but the move mirrors his administration’s efforts to cast such protests as violent riots rather than calls for change.
“The violence is fueled by dangerous rhetoric from far-left politicians that demonize our nation and demonize our police,” Trump said Monday at a press conference, moving to cast his competitor, former Vice President Joe Biden, as a “radical” Democrat. “The violent rioters share Biden’s same talking points, and they share his same agenda for our nation. The rioters and Joe Biden have a side — they’re both on the side of the radical left.”
(Biden has condemned violence at any protests, saying such action will “not bring change” and is “wrong in every way.”)
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) sent Trump a letter on Sunday urging the president to reconsider his visit shortly after it was announced, saying the trip could only “delay our work to overcome division and move forward.”
“Kenosha and communities across Wisconsin are enduring extraordinary grief, grappling with a Black man being shot seven times and the loss of two additional lives on Tuesday night at the hands of an out-of-state armed militant,” Evers wrote to the president. “I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing.”
The city’s Democratic mayor, John Antaramian, also said he wished for Trump “not to be coming at this point in time.”
The White House rejected those pleas, however, saying later Sunday that Trump had been “humbled” by those who had reached out and were “longing for leadership to support local law enforcement and businesses that have been vandalized.”
Trump on Monday said that he believed his visit could “increase enthusiasm, and it could increase love and respect for our country.”
However, the president added that he will not meet with Blake’s family during this visit, saying the man’s relatives wanted to have “lawyers involved” and he “thought it would be better not to do anything.”
“The family’s primary objectives are to support Jacob’s recovery and to ensure justice for him”
Blake was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer in Kenosha on Aug. 23 and is now paralyzed. The violent interaction, captured on a cellphone video, sparked renewed protests in Wisconsin and strengthened calls for an end to police brutality and systemic racism.
Blake’s family, speaking through an attorney, clarified later Monday that Trump had reached out to them through a pastor linked to the man’s mother. The pastor then reached out to the Blake family’s legal team, which requested to listen in on any call with Trump. The president demurred.
“The family’s primary objectives are to support Jacob’s recovery and to ensure justice for him,” the statement said. “If the call had occurred, Ms. Jackson was prepared to ask President Trump to watch the video of Mr. Blake’s shooting and to do what she has asked all of America to do ― examine your heart.”
On Monday, the president defended Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white vigilante accused of fatally shooting two people and wounding a third in Kenosha last week during demonstrations over Blake’s shooting. Rittenhouse, who lives in Illinois, has been charged with several counts, including first-degree intentional homicide.
“He was trying to get away from them, I guess ... and he fell,” Trump claimed, pointing to videos of the shooting. “And then they very violently attacked him. … He was in very big trouble. He probably would’ve been killed, but it’s under investigation.”
Also on Monday, Trump once again defended his support of National Guard troops to help quell demonstrations, particularly those in Wisconsin.
“If I didn’t INSIST on having the National Guard activate and go into Kenosha, Wisconsin, there would be no Kenosha right now,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday morning. “Also, there would have been great death and injury. I want to thank Law Enforcement and the National Guard. I will see you on Tuesday!”
But those claims are exaggerated. Evers had already deployed the National Guard the day after Blake’s shooting and continued to bolster the number of troops as demonstrations continued.