KENOSHA, Wis. (CBS) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday repeatedly tried to take credit for “immediately” ending the violence in Kenosha following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, by sending in the National Guard, even though looting and shootings continued after the first troops were deployed last week.
“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’ve been Kenosha — a city that would’ve been burnt to the ground by now,” the president said.
Mr. Trump also said his administration will provide $1 million to the Kenosha Police Department, $4 million to support small businesses damaged during the civil unrest of the past week, and $42 million to support public safety statewide in Wisconsin – including funding for additional prosecutors, and assistance for victims of crime.
The president visited Kenosha on Tuesday to thank local law enforcement officials for their response to the civil unrest over the past nine days, and to visit businesses damaged by looting and fires.
“It’s been an incredible coming together of a lot of great people, especially law enforcement and the [National] Guard,” President Trump said during his visit.
The president repeatedly claimed that violence in Kenosha ended right away after he announced he was sending in the National Guard last Wednesday.
“This ended within an hour, as soon as we announced we were coming, and then they saw we were here. This ended immediately, and it should be that way all over,” he said.
However, Gov. Tony Evers first deployed 250 National Guard members to Kenosha on Aug. 24, the day after Blake was shot, and looting and other violence continued for at least two more nights, including the night of Aug. 25, when 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two people during protests in Kenosha, and wounded a third.
Rittenhouse has been charged as an adult with two counts of first degree homicide and one count of attempted homicide. Mr. Trump has declined to denounce Rittenhouse, instead suggesting he was acting in self-defense, saying the teen “probably would have been killed” if he hadn’t opened fire.
President Trump said the National Guard response in Kenosha should serve as an example to other cities that have been dealing with looting and other violent unrest in recent months, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and more recently the shooting of Jacob Blake.
“Chicago could use a hand, New York could use a hand. Although I’ll tell you, if you let New York’s finest, and Chicago Police Department, they do a great job, but they’re not allowed to do their work. A lot of times they’re not allowed to do the work, and they could do it themselves, but you have to be decisive, and you have to be tough, and you have to be strong, and you have to be willing to bring people in,” he said.
Without evidence, the president claimed there have been more than 1,000 arrests in Chicago in the first month after he deployed hundreds of federal agents to fight crime as part of “Operation Legend” in late July.
“We went to Chicago very recently. Obviously, that’s been a disaster, Chicago, total disaster, with again radical left Democrat,” he said. “It’s all Democrat. Everything is Democrat. All of these problems are Democrat cities. We don’t want to say it, but it is.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who earlier had threatened to go to court to block President Trump from deploying unnamed federal agents in Chicago without her permission, said at the time of the president’s announcement in July that she supported the expansion of Operation Legend, noting the additional agents coming to the city would be overseen by U.S. Attorney John Lausch, a friend of hers for more than 20 years. Lightfoot herself is a former federal prosecutor.
Two weeks ago, Lausch’s office announced there had been a total of 61 people charged in 49 cases as part of Operation Legend in Chicago – far fewer than the number of arrests Trump claimed on Tuesday. Those cases included more than 30 defendants facing gun charges, and more than 25 facing a drug trafficking charge, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Although President Trump visited with local police and business owners during his visit to Kenosha, he did not meet with Blake’s family.
“I was going to speak to the mother yesterday. I hear she’s a very fine woman. I was going to speak to her, but then I heard there were a lot of lawyers on the phone. I said I have enough lawyers in my life, I don’t need to get involved with that,” he said.
However, Blake’s family has said they never had any contact with the president or the White House.
“Whatever they’re talking about is a ruse, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing today, so they can’t take over the narrative. We’re going to keep things on Jacob Blake getting justice, and healing little Jake,” Blake’s uncle, Justin, said shortly before the president’s arrival in Wisconsin.
Asked if there’s anything he would have wanted to say to Mr. Trump if the president did visit with the family, Justin Blake said, “We don’t have any words for the orange man.”
“All I ask is that he keep his disrespect, his foul language away from our family. We need a president that’s going to unite our country, and take us in a different direction,” he added.
Blake’s family has said he remains paralyzed from the waist down after a Kenosha police officer shot him in the back seven times on Aug. 23. They said they are praying for a full recovery, and that his condition is improving.
“He’s starting to slowly but surely get his vibrance back. He’s able to reach out and hold and touch his mother, and talk to his father. He’s still in severe pain, and still paralyzed from the waist down, after being shot seven times in the back,” Blake’s uncle said. “Who could survive that? And that he has his personality coming back, that’s the start of his recovery.”
Justin Blake also repeated the family’s demand that the officer who shot his nephew – identified as Officer Rusten Sheskey – be indicted on criminal charges.
“We want an indictment immediately. It shouldn’t take this long. Our family’s pressing for indictment, and we’re not leaving the Kenosha area until we get it,” he said.
President Trump has declined to say if he believed police were justified in shooting Jacob Blake.
“I think it’s probably better off if that’s handled locally right now. It’s under investigation as you know, so I think it’s much better,” the president said Tuesday.
However, Mr. Trump said he feels “terribly for anybody that goes through that.”
Before meeting with local law enforcement officials and several Republican elected leaders on Tuesday, the president also toured some of the damage in Kenosha from the civil unrest after Blake was shot.
The president claimed “violent mobs” damaged or destroyed at least 25 businesses, burned down public buildings, and threw bricks at police officers.
“These are not acts of peaceful protest, but really domestic terror,” he said.
The president visited at least one store that had been burned down, and which remains under heavy security, with armored personnel carriers and police in camouflage and carrying automatic rifles blocking the street.
President Trump promised to provide assistance to the owners of damaged businesses.
”We’re going to help them, we’re going to help them a lot,” he said. “We’ll help you rebuild.”
Meantime, the president has repeatedly shrugged off activists’ calls for an end to systemic racism and systemic abuse of Black and Brown communities by police, saying he doesn’t believe there is a systemic problem at all.
“We have to condemn the dangerous anti-police rhetoric. It’s getting more and more. It’s very unfair. You have some bad apples, we all know that, and those will be taken care of through the system, and nobody’s going to be easy on them, either,” he said.
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth, who was among the law enforcement officials who met with the president on Tuesday, also glossed over the fact looting and other violent unrest continued in Kenosha for at least two nights after the first National Guard members arrived.
“When this started Sunday night, we knew it was going to get worse, but we really didn’t know how bad, and there’s no way one – or in our case, two – agencies can work together to fight what happened,” Beth said. “When we put out the call initially to the state and local law enforcement here, it was a tremendous response, but it still wasn’t enough on Monday night. The National Guard started coming on Monday night, and started helping us, and their numbers kept growing.”