Amid tensions in Kenosha, Trump tours damaged businesses, meets with law enforcement

Earlier, Trump compared police who shoot people to golfers who 'choke.'

September 01, 2020, 5:21 PM

President Donald Trump toured damaged businesses and met with law enforcement in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday after claiming that the city would have been "burned to the ground by now" had he not intervened, echoing what he says repeatedly on the campaign trail.

During a roundtable with local officials, police and business representatives, the president did not once mention Jacob Blake, the Black man whose shooting -- seven times in the back by police last month -- set off a combination of peaceful demonstrations, property destruction and the killing of two protesters.

During his visit to Kenosha, Trump did not meet Blake's family, members of which held their own event in the city. Trump said he had refused to speak with the family after they insisted their lawyers be involved; a lawyer for the family said that was standard practice, considering the fact that there were investigations into what had occurred.

Earlier Tuesday, the president stopped at a Kenosha store that had burned down and promised to help the owners. A reporter traveling with the president noted the presence of "heavy security," including "armored personnel carriers and police in camouflage and carrying automatic rifles blocking the street.”

"These gentlemen did a fantastic job," he said, pointing to nearby members of law enforcement.

"We’ll help you rebuild,” Trump said. “This is a great area, a great state." Wisconsin is a state potentially key to Trump’s reelection.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump tours an area affected by civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Sept. 1, 2020.
President Donald Trump tours an area affected by civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Sept. 1, 2020.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

At the roundtable, a reporter asked what Trump's message to the Blake family would be.

“I feel terribly for anybody that goes through that," Trump said, saying he had heard Blake's mother was "a fine woman" and noting the shooting was being investigated.

“I hope they come up with the right answer,” he said. “It’s a complicated subject, to be honest with you.”

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks to officials during a roundtable discussion on community safety at Mary D. Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisc., Sept. 1, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks to officials during a roundtable discussion on community safety at Mary D. Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisc., Sept. 1, 2020.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Blake's shooting punctuated continuing, nationwide protests over police brutality and racism against Black Americans, but Trump refused to engage on the matter Tuesday.

When a reporter asked if he believed systemic racism was a problem in the United States, Trump replied: “Well, you know, you just keep getting back to the opposite subject. We should talk about the kind of violence that we've seen in Portland and here and other places. It's tremendous violence. You always get to the other side."

"These are not acts of peaceful protest but really domestic terror," Trump said earlier in his remarks.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks to officials during a roundtable discussion on community safety, at Mary D. Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisc., Sept. 1, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks to officials during a roundtable discussion on community safety, with U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf watching, at Mary D. Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisc., Sept. 1, 2020.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

But in fact, there have been days of peaceful protests in Kenosha amid the acts of violence and property destruction. Trump claimed the "the town has burned down," which is not true.

Attorney General Bill Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf accompanied the president on his trip to Kenosha. The president was greeted by a mix of supporters and protesters lining the route from the airport to the business and then onto a local high school hosting an emergency operations center, according to the pool.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump views property damage during a visit in the aftermath of recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Sept. 1, 2020.
President Donald Trump views property damage during a visit in the aftermath of recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Sept. 1, 2020.
Leah Millis/Reuters

He headed to Kenosha after drawing a comparison between police officers who shoot people in the back to golfers who “choke” and miss a three-foot putt.

“They choke. Just like in a golf tournament, they miss a three-foot putt,” Trump told Fox News host Laura Ingraham in an interview that aired Monday -- appearing to mitigate an officer's actions.

The president’s visit to Kenosha comes after the community has been rocked by protests and unrest after a White police officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back seven times.

Without directly mentioning the incident involving Blake, the president offered a defense of police as being "under siege."

"They do 10,000 great acts, which is what they do, and one bad apple -- or a choker -- you know, a choker. They choke. Shooting the guy in the back many times. I mean, couldn’t you have done something different? Couldn’t you have wrestled him? You know, I mean, in the meantime, he might have been going for a weapon, and, you know, there’s a whole big thing there, but they choke," Trump said.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump boards Air Force One as he departs Washington on travel to Illinois and Wisconsin at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Sept. 1, 2020.
President Donald Trump boards Air Force One as he departs Washington on travel to Illinois and Wisconsin at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Sept. 1, 2020.
Leah Millis/Reuters

The president also offered a defense for the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse, who is accused of allegedly killing two people during protests in Kenosha. Investigators are looking at social media postings under his name in which the poster expressed support for Trump.

“That was an interesting situation,” the president said at a press conference Monday when asked about the case of Rittenhouse. “You saw the same tape as I saw. And he was trying to get away from them, I guess; it looks like. And he fell, and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we’re looking at right now and it’s under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been -- I -- he probably would have been killed."

Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden later issued a statement blasting the president for not condemning Rittenhouse.

“Tonight, the President declined to rebuke violence. He wouldn't even repudiate one of his supporters who is charged with murder because of his attacks on others. He is too weak, too scared of the hatred he has stirred to put an end to it,” Biden said.

Trump’s trip to Kenosha was in defiance of Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, and Kenosha’s Democratic Mayor John Antaramian, who had both urged the president to reconsider visiting while the community continues to work to heal and law enforcement is already stretched thin without the added demands of a presidential visit.

But President Trump rebuffed the notion that his visit could further escalate tensions in the community and contended that it could actually “increase enthusiasm and it could increase love and respect for our country.”

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks as he departs Washington on travel to Illinois and Wisconsin at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Sept. 1, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks as he departs Washington on travel to Illinois and Wisconsin at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Sept. 1, 2020.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Though Tuesday’s visit is an official trip, Wisconsin is considered a battleground state in the election, now just about two months away. When asked whether the president’s visit had anything to do with politics, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president is “showing up to see hurting Americans.”

As Trump departed Washington for Wisconsin Tuesday, he said that "we are going to really say 'hello' to law enforcement and the National Guard."

"One of the reasons I'm making the trip today and going to Wisconsin is we've had such a big success in shutting down what would be, right now, a city -- that would have been Kenosha -- a city that would have been burned to the ground by now," Trump said of the trip's purpose.

The president has not spoken to Blake’s family and said, when asked Tuesday, that it was still to be determined whether or not he will actually meet the family during his visit: "I don't know yet. We'll see. We’ll be making that determination. I don't know yet."

Trump previously signaled on Monday that he hadn't connected with the Blake family directly yet because they wanted lawyers to listen in on the conversation, which he thought would be “inappropriate.” The president did speak by phone to Blake’s mother’s pastor and said “I think we had a great talk.”

ABC News' Ben Gittleson contributed reporting.

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