Washington (AFP) -
US President Donald Trump on Tuesday was taking his law-and-order re-election mantra to flashpoint Kenosha, scene of America's latest police shooting of a black man, brushing off warnings that he was not welcome there.
As he visits the key electoral swing state of Wisconsin, Trump has said he has no plans to meet or speak to the family of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, who was shot in the back repeatedly as his three small sons watched from a car.
Instead, Trump will confer with law enforcement officials and view damage from violence that erupted there after Blake's shooting by a white police officer on August 23.
It left Blake paralyzed from the waist down and the city in turmoil.
A microcosm of the racial and ideological tensions of the Trump era, Kenosha has seen Black Lives Matter protests, riots, and the arrival of armed, white vigilantes, culminating in an incident in which a 17-year-old militia enthusiast, Kyle Rittenhouse, allegedly shot dead two people at the protest and badly injured another.
Democrats and police reform advocates see Kenosha as a symbol of institutional racism leading to deadly encounters between officers and black suspects.
They see Rittenhouse, a Trump supporter, as emblematic of right-wing militias that are increasingly brazen about brandishing weaponry in political settings and attempting to act as amateur law enforcers.
Trump, however, is making clear he comes with a different priority: countering what he has repeatedly described as the 'anarchy' in Democratic-led cities.
He will 'meet with local law enforcement and some business owners and he'll survey the damage' from the unrest, spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Monday.
Trump described his desire 'to see the people that did such a good job for me,' referring to law enforcement units that quelled the rioting.
Trump also declined to condemn the killings that Rittenhouse, who was in the streets with a rifle, is suspected of.
Trump called this 'an interesting situation' and said the teenager seen in video footage of the killings -- allegedly Rittenhouse -- was reacting because he was attacked.
Although his Democratic challenger Joe Biden has talked by telephone with the Blake family, Trump also ruled this out, saying the relatives wanted a family lawyer to be in on the call.
'That's inappropriate,' he said, without explaining further.
Trump said he had instead had a 'great talk' with 'the pastor,' whom he called 'a wonderful man.'
Blake's father, Jacob Blake Sr, said Trump's comment mystified him.
'We don't have a family pastor,' he told CNN. 'I don't know who he talked to, I don't care.'
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has asked Trump not to visit, citing fear of greater tensions.
Kenosha's Democratic Mayor John Antaramian said over the weekend it was not a good time for the president to visit.
'Realistically, from our perspective, our preference would have been for him not to be coming at this point in time,' he told National Public Radio.
Trump said Monday his trip 'could increase love and respect for our country.'
Blake Sr. said his family had received threats and had to move from one hotel to another.
'We don't want their location known because we see some sick things happening in Kenosha, and the worst thing can be for this family to suffer any more physical violence with what they're dealing with,' family attorney Ben Crump said.
'Their hotel rooms are getting calls with threats. We've got to protect against that, because that is not acceptable,' Crump told CNN.
Emerging from months of Covid-19 travel restrictions, Biden finds himself suddenly on the defensive. He is being mocked by Trump as weak in the face of events combining leftist anti-racism protests, riots, deadly shootings and right-wing vigilante actions in Kenosha and in Portland, Oregon.
With Trump exalting in the shift of debate from his widely panned handling of the coronavirus pandemic to his favored theme of crime, Biden risks losing the momentum that has put him ahead in the polls for the November 3 vote.
But the 77-year-old Democrat punched back in a speech Monday, branding Trump's presidency 'a toxic presence in our nation.'
'Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames rather than fighting the flames,' Biden said.
'The incumbent president is incapable of telling us the truth, incapable of facing the facts and incapable of healing.'