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Joe Biden accused President Trump of playing a role in the unrest by refusing to acknowledge racial injustice during a speech delivered in Pittsburgh.

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will travel Thursday to Kenosha, Wisconsin, a city thrust into the national spotlight after a police shooting of a Black man triggered a wave of violent unrest that has become the latest flashpoint on racial injustice and public safety ahead of the 2020 election. 

Biden’s visit to the key battleground state comes two days after President Donald Trump traveled to Kenosha to tour burned-out buildings damaged in protests that turned into deadly clashes over the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot seven times in back by police and remains hospitalized. As violence erupted, two protesters were killed and police have charged Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, in their shooting deaths. 

The dueling trips by Biden and Trump frame a debate about racial injustice and law and order in the final stretch of a tightening race ahead of the Nov. 3 election. The president has sought to use Kenosha and other demonstrations that gripped the country since the May 25 police shooting of George Floyd to promote his “law-and-order” campaign message, while Biden has accused Trump of using the unrest to stoke division and stymie racial progress.

“I’m not going to do anything other than meet with community leaders, as well as business people and other folks in law enforcement, to start to talk about what has to be done,” Biden told reporters Wednesday after a speech in his hometown on Wilmington, Delaware. “I’m not going to tell Kenosha what to do, but what we’ll do together.”

Biden spoke to Blake’s relatives by phone last week. Biden and his wife, Jill, plan to meet Thursday with Jacob Blake Sr. and members of the Blake family, according to a Biden campaign official.

During Trump’s visit, the president praised members of law enforcement, condemned the protests and subsequent violence as “domestic terrorism” and blamed local Democratic officials for the unrest that he said will overtake the country should Biden win the White House.

He did not mention Blake, who remains paralyzed in a local hospital, and declined to meet with members of his family because he felt their request to involve their legal team was “inappropriate.”

More: Trump claims credit for bringing calm to Kenosha in visit criticized as politicizing unrest

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President Donald Trump dove into the latest eruption in the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice on Tuesday, visiting the “destruction” left by rioters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and declaring it was enabled by Democratic leaders. (Sept. 1)

AP Domestic

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers had discouraged Trump from visiting Tuesday, and the local head of the NAACP said no politicians should visit because tensions were running high.

But Biden said he’s spoken to city leaders and the governor’s staff in planning the visit, with a goal of bringing factions of the community together.

“There’s been overwhelming requests that I do come,” Biden said. “What we want to do is we’ve got to heal. We got to put things together, bring people together.”

The former vice president said he’s received advice from lawmakers in Congress encouraging him to go.

“My purpose in going is to do just that, to be a positive influence on what’s going on, talk about what needs be done and try to see if there is the beginning of a mechanism to bring folks together,” Biden said in Wilmington. “I’ve spent my whole life, including in this city where you are right now, bringing people together.”

This will be Biden’s first visit to the battleground state as the Democratic presidential nominee. He accepted his party’s nomination from Wilmington, instead of Milwaukee, where the Democratic convention had been scheduled, because officials switched to a mostly virtual format due to coronavirus concerns. 

More: A visual timeline of violence in Kenosha after police shooting of Jacob Blake

Both candidates are eyeing the key swing state of Wisconsin, which Trump narrowly carried in 2016, as one of a handful of battleground states that could determine the election outcome. A new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll released Wednesday showed the race tightening, with Biden leading Trump 50%-43%, narrowing a 12-percentage-point edge the former vice president held in June. 

Republicans and Trump have hammered Biden and Democrats for not campaigning in Wisconsin, comparing the decision to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s absence during the 2016 general election. Trump has traveled to Wisconsin twice over the last month while several of his surrogates have flooded the Midwest state in recent weeks.

In a campaign phone call with reporters on Wednesday, the Trump campaign’s communications director Tim Murtaugh blasted Biden for flying to Wisconsin when he declined to do so two weeks ago to accept his party’s nomination.

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17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse is being charged as an adult for shooting three people, two of them fatally, during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

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Trump has slammed Biden for failing to denounce the violent protests. But Biden criticized violent protesters repeatedly and again on Wednesday, while supporting peaceful protests for racial justice.

“Protesting is a right and free speech is a right, but to engage in violence – burning, looting and the rest – in the name of protesting is wrong and persons should be held accountable for their actions,” Biden said. “This president keeps throwing gasoline on the fire everyplace he goes.”

To drive his point, Biden launched a one-week, $45 million ad this week to push back on Trump’s attacks and condemn the violence that has flared across the country. The ad airs in nine states, including Wisconsin.

“I want to make it absolutely clear,” Biden said in the ad over images of violent clashes. “Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. And those who do it should be prosecuted.”

Murtaugh shrugged off the Biden campaign’s big ad spend, arguing that Biden is using it to try “to dissuade Americans from thinking that he is weak and afraid to stand up to the leftist mob.” 

“That is exactly the decision-making that we would see emanating from the White House because it is this kind of left-wing thinking that has prevailed over Joe Biden throughout the course of this campaign,” he said.

More: Destroyed Kenosha store’s owners refused to be part of Trump ‘circus,’ president met with building owner instead

But Biden faces a tightrope in Kenosha, supporting the rights of peaceful protesters without alienating police responding to violence. 

The former vice president said his administration would set up a police commission in the White House with members of law enforcement and community leaders to resolve concerns from each side.

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Biden said Wednesday that police officers who shot Blake in Kenosha, or Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death by police in Louisville, should face charges.

“I think we should let the judicial system work its way,” Biden said. “I do think there’s a minimum need to be charged – the officers – and as well as Breonna Taylor.”

Ari Fleischer, a former White House spokesman for President George W. Bush, questioned why Biden said wait for the judicial system while also calling for charges against the officer.

“Which is it Joe?” Fleischer asked. “Wait for the judicial system or charge the officer?”

Contributing: Molly Beck, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel; David Jackson, USA TODAY

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