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President Trump to visit Kenosha as local officials ask him to stay away

President Trump on Aug. 31 refused to criticize people involved in recent deadly clashes in Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wis. (Video: The Washington Post)
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KENOSHA, Wis. — Jacob Blake's family planned a Sunday barbecue on the block where the 29-year-old was shot in the back seven times by a police officer, with plans for licensed therapists to provide services to community members.

But when the White House announced that President Trump would come to this lakeside city Tuesday, Blake's family moved their event to coincide with Trump's visit.

"He has a way of taking the focus off things that should be focused on, so we moved it," Blake's uncle, Justin Blake, said of the president through tears. "Our president hasn't been a unifier. He's been more of an instigator and stirred up a lot of stuff going on."

Trump will bring his campaign message of law and order to Kenosha on Tuesday, meeting with members of law enforcement and touring businesses damaged during riots. But when Trump arrives in this pivotal battleground state, he will probably find a chilly reception from state and local leaders, who reiterated on Monday that they wish he would have just stayed away.

At a press conference, Kenosha, Wis. Mayor John Antaramian (D) says the "timing was wrong" in response to President Trump's planned visit to the city. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)

"You have a community that's in the process of trying to heal," Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian said at a news briefing Monday. "There's so many things that have gone on in this community. It just seemed to me, and I think others, that it would be better for us to be able to pull together, let the community get together, and actually heal."

At a news conference Monday, Trump said he did not consider the requests not to come here. When asked if his visit could exacerbate tensions, Trump said, "Well, it could also increase enthusiasm and it could increase love and respect for our country. And that's why I'm going."

Trump's visit comes as Kenosha is still grappling with the aftermath of the damaging unrest that erupted after Rusten Sheskey, a city police officer, shot Blake, a Black man, in the back on Aug. 23.

Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser says that the president's Aug. 31 tweet, saying "there would be no Kenosha," without his intervention, is "false." (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty/The Washington Post)

Officials have still only released few details of the shooting, which is being investigated by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

But the shooting led to days of vandalism and violence, culminating in last Tuesday's fatal shooting amid the unrest.

Two people were killed and a third seriously injured. Officials have charged 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse with six counts — including two homicide charges. Rittenhouse's attorneys have argued he acted in self-defense. Trump declined to condemn Rittenhouse's actions Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear whether Trump's visits will spark fresh protests here. Several local activists said no large protests were planned because they did not want to draw more attention to Trump's visit.

In a private meeting Monday afternoon organized by BLAK, a local activist group, and attended by about two dozen community leaders, the Rev. Jesse Jackson also urged them to avoid becoming a "prop" in Trump's visit.

"Trump is coming to town to use us in a prop in his commercial to scare White people to get votes," Jackson said. "He wants to see us and the red caps on two opposite sides. Let Trump swing in the wind. Tomorrow is a big day. We'll have a new president in 60 days, and we intend to put Wisconsin in the victory column."

Isaac Wallner, the founder of the Human First Project, which formed after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody to press for police accountability in Kenosha, said his group has nothing planned.

"I was going to organize a protest, but then I thought it was best that we just ignore him," Wallner said. "He wants to see both sides fight and get into it. He wants to get to Wisconsin and say, 'See, these Democrats fought us.' "

In recent days, as protests against Blake's shooting spread across the nation, Trump has repeatedly referred to demonstrators as "rioters," "anarchists," "agitators" and "looters," while attempting to blame Democratic mayors and governors and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for the unrest.

In a speech Monday in Pittsburgh, Biden fired back at Trump, accusing him of being a threat to the safety of all Americans by stoking racial divisions in a bid to boost his reelection campaign.

"I look at this violence and I see lives and communities and the dreams of small businesses being destroyed," Biden said. "Donald Trump looks at this violence and he sees a political lifeline."

In his speech, Biden mentioned he spoke to Blake's family last week. The White House said Trump is not scheduled to meet with Blake's family. At a news conference Monday, Trump said he spoke with a family pastor, but did not speak to Blake's family because they wanted a lawyer to be present on the call. Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Blake's family, said in a statement that Trump spoke with the pastor of Blake's mother, Julia Jackson, but did not want to have a call if her legal team was monitoring.

According to two local police officials, Trump is expected to visit a section of the city's multicultural Uptown neighborhood, where last Monday night's rioting and looting was centered.

Over the weekend, White House staff and Secret Service agents were spotted scouting out heavily damaged properties in the neighborhood, including the Danish Brotherhood, a fraternal organization.

A 71-year-old member of the fraternity was assaulted while defending the building with a fire extinguisher on Aug. 24. The victim's friend said he was hospitalized with a broken jaw.

In the community surrounding the rubble, reactions to Trump's expected visit were mixed.

Dave Montgomery, pastor of the Kingdom Word Global Impact Ministries near the Danish Brotherhood chapter, said he would wait to hear Trump's message before deciding whether his visit will be beneficial to the city.

"We hope that it doesn't stir up any more negative in the community," said Montgomery, who is Black. "We've taken a hit already. We hope he has a message that's really serious about unity and being strategic about helping Kenosha. I'm praying that's his message. If not, that's a problem. Does money find its way back here to help rebuild what was lost."

Kevin Mathewson, 36, a former city alderman who urged people to arm themselves to defend property in Kenosha the night that two people died, said that he welcomed Trump's appearance in Kenosha and that most of his friends and family on both sides of the political divide do as well.

"In this case I think he saved the day for us," Mathewson said of Trump. "All our leaders failed here and people felt like they had to defend themselves."

Shad DeLacy, 43, manager of S.J. Crystals Men's Shop in Kenosha, said he could see no benefit of Trump coming to Kenosha.

"I don't know if him coming here is going to help anybody, to be honest with you. Kenosha needs a break," DeLacy said. "We straight-up need a break."

"It's too late for a unifying message, for him to give us any comforting words," DeLacy added. "I don't see him coming here and putting people at ease."

On Sunday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) expressed similar concerns in a pointed letter to the White House.

"I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing," Evers wrote. "I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together."

Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser, who joined Antaramian in opposing Trump's visit, said Monday he would hold the same view if Biden sought to visit the city this week. Kreuser said both candidates should wait until at least later in the week or the weekend before visiting the city.

"Things have been relatively calm, so let's just hope it stays that way," Kreuser said.

The aftermath of recent protests come as Wisconsin is also expected to be a key battleground in the November presidential election.

Four years ago, Wisconsin shocked many political observers by narrowly supporting Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton, even after the state twice voted for Democrat Barack Obama for president.

Kenosha County, which is located about 50 miles north of Chicago and home to about 170,000 residents, is one of the Wisconsin counties that Trump picked up in 2016.

Trump carried Kenosha County by less than one-third of a percentage point.

Michael E. Kraft, a political science and public affairs professor at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, said it's too early to tell whether the protests in Kenosha will help or hinder Trump's reelection campaign in the state.

"Trump has had pretty stubbornly high unfavorability ratings and people around here have been generally sympathetic with" the Black Lives Matter movement, Kraft said. "But that only goes so far, and I do think if violence breaks out again, and there more looting and fires, and people react more against the police, that could turn things around" in favor of Trump.

But Kraft notes that Evers remains popular in the state. A Marquette University Law School poll in early August showed 57 percent of voters approve of the job the governor is doing, and Kraft believes it's risky for Trump to dismiss Evers's recommendation that he hold off on visiting Kenosha.

"I think the governor really just wants to resolve the issue peacefully, quietly," Kraft said. "And now he faces the question, will a president visiting the city, in the heat of a campaign, find it in his interest to urge people to stand their ground?"