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Kenosha Mayor Does Not Want President Trump To Visit 'At This Point In Time'

Aug 30, 2020

President Trump will travel to Kenosha, Wis. on Tuesday to survey the damage from last week's protests in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake. But the city's Democratic mayor, John Antaramian, would rather he didn't.

"Realistically, from our perspective, our preference would have been for him not to be coming at this point in time," Antaramian told NPR's Weekend Edition on Sunday. "All presidents are always welcome and campaign issues are always going on. But it would have been, I think, better had he waited to have for another time to come."

The White House announced late Saturday that Trump will visit Kenosha this week, as he leans into a law and order message that has emerged as a dominant theme of his reelection bid. The president has decried the violence in Kenosha, alluding to it at last week's Republican National Convention to accuse his November rival, Joe Biden, of failing to address "rioters and criminals spreading mayhem in Democrat-run cities."

The president's rhetoric has been denounced by Democrats, including Wisconsin's Democratic lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, who told CNN on Sunday the state did not need a visit from the president.

"I don't know how given any of the previous statements that the president made, that he intends to come here to be helpful, and we absolutely don't need that right now," Barnes said.

California Democratic congresswoman Karen Bass said on Sunday that Trump's plan to visit Kenosha has "one purpose and one purpose only and that's to agitate things."

Speaking to NPR, Antaramian said the situation in Kenosha was "not the situation, I think, that people perceive — that the people in Kenosha are rioting ... they are protesting and absolutely have every right to protest." He said the city supports peaceful protest, but not the "damage and destruction."

"Peaceful protests are not a problem," Antaramian said. "Our biggest problem really did come from people coming from outside the area and causing a great deal of damage and destruction," he said.

Antaramian said that overnight, protests in Kenosha had been very peaceful, with a prayer vigil led by Blake's family just a week after he was shot seven times in front of his three children by a police officer. Blake was left paralyzed from the waist down, sparking the protests.

The demonstrations turned deadly on Tuesday, when a 17-year-old from Illinois allegedly shot and killed two protesters and injured a third. The teen, Kyle Rittenhouse, was arrested Wednesday and now faces six criminal counts, including homicide.

In a video recorded before the shootings, a person who appears to be Rittenhouse described himself as part of a local militia whose job was to protect Kenosha businesses. In the aftermath of the shooting, police in Kenosha have faced criticism for not stopping Rittenhouse sooner.

"The police chief does have my confidence," Antaramian said. "But I think the other part of it is, is that you have to remember at the time that this was going on, officers were responding to shots fired all over the area. And I don't believe they understood at the time what was happening with actually someone down at the moment."

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

More people in the streets of Kenosha this weekend - this time, a march led by members of Jacob Blake's family. Blake is in the hospital. His family says he's paralyzed. Kenosha police Officer Rusten Sheskey, responding to a domestic dispute Sunday, shot Blake seven times in the back. Yesterday's demonstration called for racial justice and an end to police brutality. We're joined now by Kenosha's mayor, John Antaramian.

Mayor, good morning. Thank you for coming on the program.

JOHN ANTARAMIAN: Good morning. Not a problem. Glad to be here.

ELLIOTT: There have been protesters in Kenosha's streets every night since the shooting, with violence and widespread damage earlier in the week, including two people killed by an armed civilian. Now President Trump is saying he is on his way there this week. How are you preparing for a presidential visit? And will that kind of attention be good or bad for Kenosha?

ANTARAMIAN: Well, realistically, from our perspective, our preference would've been for him not to be coming at this point in time. All presidents are always welcome, and campaign issues are always going on. But it would've been, I think, better had he waited for another time to come.

ELLIOTT: How were things overnight there?

ANTARAMIAN: Actually very peaceful. The Blake family was - had the vigil. They basically talked - the majority of them talking about peaceful protesting, which is exactly what they should be doing and exactly what the city of Kenosha appreciates happening. Peaceful protests are not a problem. Our biggest problem really did come from people coming from outside the area and causing a great deal of damage and destruction.

There is always a need for dialogue in these situations, and the community needs to have a very heart-to-heart talk with itself as to some of the issues that we do face. But it's not the situation I think that people perceive that the people in Kenosha are rioting and doing that. They are protesting and absolutely have every right to protest, and we support their ability to protest. We don't support the damage and destruction that people are doing. As I said, the majority of that, from what we've seen, has come from the outside. And so that is very discouraging.

Now the real issue is, how do we heal? How do we create the situation where we get an honest dialogue? I always tell people - my father used to always say, people always talk. The real issue is, is anyone listening? And I think that really is the key for us - is that we need to start listening to people and dealing with the issues that they see. And therefore, we will be a better community from it. We will come back from this stronger, and we will rebuild. And we will have a better conversation as to what we need to do. So that's...

ELLIOTT: I want to ask you now, if I could, a little bit about your police chief, Daniel Miskinis. He's been fielding some tough questions about why his officers didn't do anything to stop that armed civilian, Kyle Rittenhouse, after two protesters were shot dead and another wounded. He's been steadfast this week that his officers behaved properly, even as recently as Friday's press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

DANIEL MISKINIS: There was nothing to suggest that this person was involved in any criminal behavior. He continued. He made contact near the officer's door. And you can hear on the recording I heard that the officers were telling him to get out of the road. Clearly, they're not seeing him as a suspect or a threat of any kind.

ELLIOTT: Briefly - we have about 30 seconds left - is that how you understand the situation? And does the police chief have your confidence?

ANTARAMIAN: The police chief does have my confidence, and this is an issue that will be reviewed and looked at as to how this all occurred. But I think the other part of it is that you have to remember at the time that this was going on, officers were responding to shots fired all over the area. And I don't believe they understood at the time what was happening with actually someone down at the moment. So they were trying to do what they need to do.

However, I don't - you know, I was not there, and I'm not going to just sit here and say if we should've done it differently or not. We will look into the issue, and we will make a determination and make sure that whatever occurred was done correctly, number one, and number two, that if things like this happen, we need to make sure that they don't happen again.

ELLIOTT: Thank you so much. That's Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian.

Thank you for being with us.

ANTARAMIAN: Sure. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.