The president used a roundtable talk to emphasize a dedication to law and order and call for an end to “dangerous anti-police rhetoric” across the country.
KENOSHA, Wis. (CN) — President Donald Trump and a host of state and federal officials visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, surveying damaged property and celebrating the law enforcement response to ongoing protests sparked after a Black man was shot in the back by police a little over a week ago.
After the president arrived in Kenosha early Tuesday afternoon, he split his roughly three-hour visit between touring damaged and destroyed businesses and gathering with local law enforcement to applaud the combined state and federal response to quell the violent unrest in the small Wisconsin town.
Protests erupted on the night of Aug. 23, hours after Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot in the back seven times by white Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey after also being tased twice. Blake is alive at a Milwaukee hospital but is currently paralyzed from the waist down, and Sheskey has been placed on administrative leave along with at least two other officers involved in the incident, who were responding to reports of a domestic incident at the time of the shooting.
Adding to the turmoil in Kenosha, two people were killed and one was injured in another shooting at a protest on the night of Aug. 25. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, was charged with the murders in Kenosha County the next day.
According to a Tuesday update from the Wisconsin Department of Justice, over 600 hours have been clocked in the investigation into Blake’s shooting, including 88 witness interviews, 28 downloaded videos for review and four search warrants issued. That investigation is being led by the state DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigations, with assistance from the FBI, Wisconsin State Patrol and Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office.
The disparities in public and police response to each shooting has further embroiled Kenosha in a precarious and hyperpolitical tinderbox under intense national scrutiny, and the Wisconsin town of just under 100,000 has been placed at the epicenter of those debates from the vantage of a critical battleground state in a turbulent election year.
The president’s visit on Tuesday drew criticism from local Democratic officials, including Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, Attorney General Josh Kaul and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, all of whom publicly asked Trump not to come to Kenosha.
Protesters both in support of and against the president turned out on Tuesday. Reports from the ground portrayed the opposing groups as being peaceful, if arguing and shouting at each other on occasion.
In a short statement before what the administration called a community safety roundtable, Trump acknowledged that while Evers denied his offer of assistance in the form of federal troops early on, he eventually relented and accepted the help last week, calling the Democratic governor “better than many.”
The roundtable commenced at around 2 p.m. local time at Mary D. Bradford High School. Trump was joined by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth and Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis, as well as GOP U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and Republican Congressman Bryan Steil.
Business owners, some who lost property to fires during protests, and local pastors also took part in the event.
The president held the situation in Kenosha up as “an example of what can happen when you do it right,” and painted the intervention of federal law enforcement as the key to restoring order in Kenosha, which is similar to recent assertions of his that Politifact debunked.
Trump said federal law enforcement were ready and willing to come to not only Kenosha but other cities with violent protests, but that it was only a matter of those states asking for help in dealing with what he termed “domestic terror.”
He used the roundtable to emphasize the need for a dedication to law and order and an end to “dangerous anti-police rhetoric” in the nation at large, saying that “to stop the violence, we must also confront the radical ideologies” that cause the violence.
Recalling the argument that “bad apples” in police departments mar otherwise upstanding law enforcement, Trump offered that sometimes officers “choke” when they have a fraction of a second to make a decision involving the use of force, before complaining that the media only focuses on police violence and never talks about the good things they do.
Trump said that the federal government would provide $42 million to Wisconsin law enforcement in an effort to support public safety statewide, as well as millions to help Kenosha businesses rebuild. Governor Evers on Tuesday also announced the approval of $1 million in no-interest loans for damaged Kenosha businesses.
The president additionally reinforced a larger goal of hiring more police and tough-on-crime prosecutors and “dismantling antifa,” which he called a “very, very bad, very dangerous group of people” that his administration was “doing a big number on.”
He also repeatedly called out Democrat-led cities like New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C, and Portland as places with what he called disastrous responses to civil unrest that should enlist help from the federal government, saying “all of these problems are Democrats, nobody wants to say it.”
“It’s almost as if they don’t want it to end,” Trump said.
Barr joined the president in decrying “violent agitators,” many of whom came to Kenosha from out of town, who resorted to mob violence and destroyed public and private property in a show of “violence for violence’s sake.”
Johnson, a U.S. senator from Oshkosh, heaped praise on Trump for his decisiveness and resolve that stopped the rioting in Kenosha and pointed out that, unlike a vocal few, “the vast majority of Americans are so appreciative of the service and sacrifice” of law enforcement.
Steil, who represents Kenosha County in Congress, said he made the initial call to President Trump asking for federal help in Kenosha after fielding numerous calls from locals scared for their businesses and their safety over the past 10 days.
These people, Steil remarked, “didn’t care if it was a Republican, a Democrat, or the man on the moon,” they just wanted help from someone.
“When the federal government works hand in hand with the state and local government, you can get a lot done,” Steil said.
Both Miskinis and Beth thanked the president for the federal assistance in handling the recent demonstrations, with Beth reiterating that “we’ll take help from whoever will send it our way.”
The two law enforcement officials also indicated Tuesday that they are open to requiring body cameras for their officers. Beth said there is already money in the 2021 budget to get body cameras for the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office.
Trump said multiple times that the circumstances surrounding the protests in Portland could be solved “within an hour” if the city would take the federal government up on its offer of law enforcement and resources.
At one point while illustrating this notion, Trump turned to Barr and said “at some point, Bill, we’ll just have to do it ourselves.”
When a reporter pressed Trump on this comment, the president denied that it was an indication that he would send in federal troops without being asked, but stated that “we’re tired of watching” what is happening in Oregon’s largest city.
Trump also denied that the demonstrations in Kenosha have been largely peaceful and once again blamed the media for their coverage of events.
“It’s not a peaceful protest and you should not call it a peaceful protest,” the president said.
Trump said Tuesday that he has attempted to contact Blake’s family but was displeased with how many lawyers were involved in the call. Rittenhouse was not mentioned during the community safety roundtable.