TRUMP DE­NOUNCES DE­STRUC­TION, DODGES RACISM IN KENOSHA

Prez sur­veys dam­age, pledges $5M to aid busi­nesses and law en­force­ment — but avoids talk of po­lice shoot­ing of Ja­cob Blake that trig­gered un­rest

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - LYNN SWEET | @lynnsweet lsweet@suntimes.com

KENOSHA, Wis. — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sup­port­ers gath­ered around Kenosha on Tues­day — in front of what now is an auto grave­yard af­ter a used car deal­er­ship was torched dur­ing the ri­ots, and near the rub­ble of what had been the oldest cam­era shop in Wis­con­sin and in the streets near Civic Cen­ter Park.

His trip to this trou­bled city hug­ging Lake Michi­gan sparked a de facto turnout rally in this key swing state.

It took no sleuthing to de­ter­mine these folks — a few hun­dred sprin­kled around the area Trump would visit — were Trump back­ers. They showed up wear­ing Trump T-shirts and hats.

There are 62 days be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and Trump is in­creas­ingly slam­ming Demo­cratic ri­val Joe Bi­den as soft on law and or­der.

Kenosha is grap­pling with protests that turned vi­o­lent in the wake of a white po­lice of­fi­cer shoot­ing Ja­cob Blake, a Black man, mul­ti­ple times in the back.

There have been vi­o­lent de­mon­stra­tions in Port­land al­most ev­ery night since the end of May, when George Floyd, an­other Black man, died when a white Min­neapo­lis po­lice of­fi­cer pinned him down with a knee to his neck.

Ore­gon is seen as a lock for Bi­den, so there has not been, nor likely to be, a Trump stop. Trump and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence are lav­ish­ing at­ten­tion on Wis­con­sin, which they nar­rowly won — by only 22,000 votes — in 2016. Pence will make an­other visit on La­bor Day, to La Crosse.

A short time be­fore Trump ar­rived to in­spect the ru­ins of Rode’s cam­era store, I swung by to see the dam­age. Planted in the de­bris — that’s all that was left of a busi­ness that had been op­er­at­ing since 1911 — was a sign sar­don­ically not­ing, “Gone in a flash.” The words were painted over a draw­ing of an old flash cam­era — one that used bulbs, if you’re old enough to re­mem­ber.

Around the cor­ner from Rode’s, I talked with Kenosha res­i­dent Tris­tine Flem­ing, a home school­ing mom. She wore a Trump-Pence 2020 tank top. She was guess­ing that Trump might stop around there be­cause of all the wreck­age.

“It’s just been re­ally dev­as­tat­ing in this area,” she said. I asked her about Trump’s visit. “In my mind, I think he just re­ally wants to get a feel, as a busi­ness­man, like what is the dam­age done? What is the cost of this? What has hap­pened to these com­mu­ni­ties and the busi­ness own­ers?”

There is ev­ery­thing right about be­ing con­cerned about and want­ing to help busi­nesses re­cover.

But there is ev­ery­thing wrong with Trump’s racially coded lan­guage. His fear mon­ger­ing aimed at the sub­ur­ban fe­male vote. His re­fusal to ac­knowl­edge the in­ci­dents trig­ger­ing protests in Kenosha and other cities seen by so many as race re­lated.

At a round­table dis­cus­sion in Kenosha, Trump was asked about the Evanston-raised Blake, who was shot seven times in the back dur­ing an ar­rest, and if he be­lieved “that there is a need for struc­tural change.”

Trump de­clined to ac­knowl­edge sys­temic racism as a ma­jor prob­lem. What peo­ple want, said Trump, is “law and or­der. That’s the change they want. They want law and or­der. They want the po­lice to be po­lice.”

That is, to keep them “safe, where their houses aren’t bro­ken into, where they’re not raped and mur­dered. That’s what they want.”

I started my day in Kenosha on 40th Street and 28th Av­enue, the block where Ja­cob Blake was shot.

The Blake fam­ily and oth­ers would be gath­er­ing there later.

Gre­gory Bennett Jr. is a pro­ba­tion and pa­role agent for the state of Wis­con­sin — and a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer — who has worked to keep the peace on Kenosha streets for years. Stand­ing a few build­ings down from where Blake was shot, I asked Bennett for his anal­y­sis of Trump’s visit.

“I never re­ally en­ter­tained ig­no­rance. I don’t en­ter­tain him. I think his visit is ba­si­cally a strate­gic move,” Bennett said.

He added: “He should be unit­ing peo­ple, not di­vid­ing them.”

I asked Bennett if Trump had the po­ten­tial to unite. “His visit alone isn’t any­thing to­ward our com­mu­nity or to our cul­ture.”

Trump is not do­ing the work, said Bennett, nod­ding at a col­league cut­ting the grass in an un­kempt empty lot. “It’s us.”

MAN­DEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tours taonuarrse­an­darme agdead­m­dau­greindg last bwy­eeckiv’sil un­rest iin Kenosha,, Wis­con­sin, on Tues­day.

Rode’s cam­era store, which had been op­er­at­ing since 1911, was de­stroyed dur­ing the civil un­rest fol­low­ing the shoot­ing of Ja­cob Blake.

Gre­gory Bennett Jr. is a pro­ba­tion and pa­role agent for the state of Wis­con­sin and a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer.

LYNN SWEET/SUN-TIMES PHO­TOS

Trump sup­porter Tris­tine Flem­ing.

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