Trump heads uninvited to Kenosha in law and order push

New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Sep 01, 2020, 11:00 PM IST


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Trump, however, comes with a different priority: countering what he has repeatedly described as the "anarchy" in Democratic-led cities.

President Donald Trump headed Tuesday to Kenosha, the Wisconsin city at the center of a raging US debate over racism, despite pleas to stay away and claims he is dangerously fanning tensions as a reelection ploy.

The trip to a pivotal state in Trump's bid to overcome Democrat Joe Biden for a second term on November 3 came hours after police shot dead a black man in Los Angeles, raising fears of new unrest.

Trump has been hoping for months to shift the election from a verdict on his widely panned handling of the coronavirus pandemic to what he sees as far more comfortable territory of law and order.

And in Kenosha, in upheaval since a white police officer shot 29-year-old African American Jacob Blake in front of his three young sons, the Republican has found his mark.

Meeting the Blake family during his high-profile visit was not on his public itinerary but just before leaving Washington he suggested it was possible.

"I don't know yet. We'll see," he said when asked. "We'll be making that determination."

The president is due to confer with law enforcement officials and view damage from street violence that erupted after the August 23 shooting -- hammering home his message that protesters are largely "thugs" and criminals and police need greater support.

A microcosm of the racial and ideological tensions of the Trump era, Kenosha has seen Black Lives Matter protests, riots, and the arrival of armed, white vigilantes, culminating in an incident last week in which a 17-year-old militia enthusiast, Kyle Rittenhouse, allegedly shot dead two people at the protest and badly injured another.

Police and the National Guard erected metal barricades along Trump's expected motorcade route in Kenosha, as crowds lined the sidewalks -- Trump supporters on one side and Black Lives Matter protesters on the other, yelling at one another across the street.

Democrats and police reform advocates see Kenosha as a symbol of institutional racism. 

They see Rittenhouse, a Trump supporter, as emblematic of right-wing militias that are increasingly brazen about brandishing weaponry in political settings and attempting to act as amateur law enforcers. 

Trump, however, comes with a different priority: countering what he has repeatedly described as the "anarchy" in Democratic-led cities.

Trump said Monday he would be going "to see the people that did such a good job for me," referring to law enforcement units that quelled the violent protests.

More controversially, Trump has refused to condemn the growing presence of armed vigilantes and militias on the streets, calling the alleged killings by Rittenhouse "an interesting situation."

Trump accuses Biden of weakness on the spate of violent protests in cities like Kenosha and Portland, seeking to paint the Democrat as incapable of controlling the party's left wing.

On Monday night the president floated a baseless theory on Fox News, saying without evidence there were "people in the dark shadows" who are behind Biden's campaign. 

The comment seemed to take even pro-Trump interviewer Laura Ingraham by surprise: "That sounds like a conspiracy theory," she told him.

Biden has shot back at Trump, accusing him of provoking violence for political gain.

"Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames rather than fighting the flames," he charged on Monday.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers had asked Trump not to visit Kenosha, for fear it would fan tensions.

And the city's Democratic Mayor John Antaramian said over the weekend it was not a good time for the president to visit.

"Realistically, from our perspective, our preference would have been for him not to be coming at this point in time," he told National Public Radio.

Trump has declared his trip "could increase love and respect for our country."

Local resident Nicole Populorum sat on her front porch near the city courthouse Tuesday, watching the police close nearby streets.

Populorum -- who took the day off work because she didn't know if she'd be able to get home -- took issue with Trump's statement that he saved Kenosha from burning down by deploying the National Guard.

"The community came together, so for him to say if it wasn't for him there would be no Kenosha is ignorant and insulting," she said.