Tuesday 17 September 2019

Large protests as Trump visits cities shaken by shootings

Anger aimed at US president as action demanded on gun control - but he defends rhetoric on immigration

Poignant: An Oregon resident stands at a memorial for those killed during the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio. Photo: Bryan Woolston/Reuters
Poignant: An Oregon resident stands at a memorial for those killed during the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio. Photo: Bryan Woolston/Reuters

Jill Colvin

Aiming to play the traditional role of healer during national tragedy, President Donald Trump paid visits to two cities reeling from mass shootings that left 31 dead and dozens more wounded - but his divisive words preceded him, large protests greeted him and biting political attacks followed.

The president and first lady Melania Trump flew to El Paso after visiting the Dayton hospital where many of the victims of Sunday's attack in that city were treated.

The president was kept out of view of reporters travelling with him, but White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the couple met with hospital staff and first responders and spent time with wounded survivors and their families.

Mr Trump told them he was "with them," she said. "Everybody received him very warmly. Everybody was very, very excited to see him."

But outside Miami Valley Hospital, at least 200 protesters gathered, blaming Mr Trump's incendiary rhetoric for inflaming political and racial tensions in the country and demanding action on gun control. Some said Mr Trump was not welcome. There were Trump supporters as well.

Emotions are still raw in the aftermath of the Sunday shooting rampage that left 10 dead, including the gunman, in the city's Oregon entertainment district. Critics contend Mr Trump's own words have contributed to a combustible climate which has spawned violence in cities including El Paso, where another shooter killed 22 people.

Donald Trump: President tried to console some of the gun victims. Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters
Donald Trump: President tried to console some of the gun victims. Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters

And the vitriol continued yesterday. Mr Trump spent part of his flight between Ohio and Texas airing his grievances on Twitter, berating Democratic lawmakers, a potential 2020 rival and the press. It was a remarkable split-screen appearance for TV viewers, with White House images of handshakes and selfies juxtaposed with angry tweets.

Mr Trump and the White House have forcefully disputed the idea he bears some responsibility for the nation's divisions. And he continued to do so as he left for the trip.

"My critics are political people," Mr Trump said, noting the apparent political leanings of the shooter in the Dayton killings. He also defended his rhetoric on issues including immigration, claiming instead he "brings people together".

Some 85pc of US adults believe the tone and nature of political debate has become more negative, with a majority saying Mr Trump has changed things for the worse, according to recent Pew Research Centre polling. And more than three-quarters, 78pc, say that elected officials who use heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups make violence against those people more likely.

In Dayton, raw anger and pain were on display as protesters chanted "Ban those guns" and "Do something!" during Mr Trump's visit.

Holding a sign that said "Not Welcome Here," Lynnell Graham said she thinks Mr Trump's response to the shootings has been insincere.

"To me he comes off as fake," she said.

Dorothee Bouquet, with her five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son, told them they were going to a protest "to tell grown-ups to make better rules".

But in El Paso, where more protests awaited, Raul Melendez, whose father-in-law David Johnson was killed in Saturday's shooting, said the most appropriate thing Mr Trump could do was to meet with relatives of the victims.

"It shows he actually cares, if he talks to individual families," said Mr Melendez, who credits Mr Johnson with helping his nine-year-old daughter survive the attack by pushing her under a counter. Mr Melendez, an Army veteran and the son of Mexican immigrants, said he holds only the shooter responsible for the attack.

"That person had the intent to hurt people, he already had it," he said. "No one's words would have triggered that."

Local Democratic lawmakers who expressed concern about the visit said Mr Trump had nonetheless hit the right note.

"He was comforting. He did the right things and Melania did the right things. It's his job to comfort people," said Senator Sharrod Brown, who nonetheless said he was "very concerned about a president that divides in his rhetoric and plays to race in his rhetoric".

"I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton," added Mayor Nan Whaley, who said she was glad Mr Trump had not stopped at the site of the shooting. "A lot of the time his talk can be very divisive, and that's the last thing we need in Dayton," she said.

Ms Grisham, responding on Twitter from aboard Air Force One, sad it was "genuinely sad" to see lawmakers "immediately hold such a dishonest press conference in the name of partisan politics."

The discord continued in El Paso, where Veronica Escobar, the Democratic congresswoman who represents the city, declined to meet Mr Trump. "I refuse to be a prop," she said.

Irish Independent

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