Donald Trump sidestepped a question on Tuesday about whether systemic racism exists in the United States and is driving a spate of black deaths at the hands of law enforcement after he toured damage in Kenosha, Wisconsin, inflicted when protests there turned violent after Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a police officer.
“You keep getting back to the opposite subject,” the president told reporters following a roundtable event with federal and local officials. “You should talk about the violence we’re seeing in Portland and here and other places.”
Mr Trump has yet to join other senior Republican officials, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who is trying to keep control of that chamber in November’s elections, in clearly stating that systemic racism is a problem and at play in some police-related violence. Like always, he appears fearful of upsetting his conservative voting base as he tries to catch his general election foe, former vice president Joe Biden, in national and key battleground states – like Wisconsin.
“I keep hearing about peaceful protests, but then I come here,” Mr Trump said of Kenosha, “and the town is burned down”.
The president continued on Tuesday to push his contention, backed up by attorney general William Barr, that among otherwise non-violent protesters are an element intent on rioting and causing damage.
“You may have protesters but you have some really bad people too,” the president said after the AG said federal officials saw the same tactics used, prior to a law enforcement crackdown, on the streets of Kenosha following Mr Blake’s shooting.
Mr Trump also contended there is another movement inside Kenosha, presumably composed of his supporters. This faction, he claimed, wants “police to be police”.
Continuing his 2020 election message that even US suburbs are not safe – and somehow blaming Mr Biden even though he has been president for over three years – the president suggested the pro-police group is fearful of being the victims of violent crimes on their own streets.
“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, they want people that are going to keep them safe, where their houses aren’t broken into, where they’re not raped and murdered,” he said.
One of his own supporters, a 17-year-old male, is accused of shooting three protesters after arming himself with an AR-15 assault rifle while in Kenosha. He has been charged as an adult with two counts of first degree homicide and one count of attempted homicide.
“They’re protesters, too, but they don’t walk down the street, up and down the street,” he said. “So, you know, it’s just the way it is.”
Mr Trump went to the Wisconsin city despite the protests of state and local leaders who worried his presence would be too divisive. He appeared to claim that his words and actions – including his pushing of state leaders to use National Forces, which they deployed on Monday, to help keep the peace – had quelled violence there.
“I really came today to thank law enforcement. It’s been incredible,” he said of their collective response in recent days, dubbing it “inspiring”.
But only around 30 per cent of Wisconsin voters approve of his handling of nationwide protests throughout the summer in response to police violence against blacks and other examples cited by black activists of social inequality.
Still, Mr Trump continued his hardline election-year message, threatening again to send National Guard forces into protest- and violence-stricken Portland, Oregon.
“We’re tried of watching it,” he said of violence in Portland, adding of local and state leaders resistance to federal and Guard help: “I don’t know if [it is] political. It’s certainly not common sense ... At some point, we’re going to have to do it.”
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