Donald Trump has been urged to abandon his planned visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, by the state’s governor, who said he was concerned the president’s arrival would “only hinder our healing”.
The city south of Milwaukee has been the scene of a new wave of Black Lives Matter demonstrations and violent clashes since 23 August when a white police officer shot black 29-year-old Jacob Blake seven times in the back, leaving him paralysed.
The unrest, which has seen hundreds of National Guardsmen called in and an emergency curfew implemented, turned deadly on Tuesday when three protesters were shot by a vigilante gunman, two of whom died of their injuries.
Seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse has since been charged with the killings of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum.
White House deputy national press secretary Judd Deere nevertheless trailed a presidential visit from Air Force One on Saturday but the announcement received a swift written response from Wisconsin governor Tony Evers, warning against it.
“I, along with other community leaders who have reached out, are concerned about what your presence will mean for Kenosha and our state,” Mr Evers wrote on Sunday.
“I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing. I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”
“It is our job as elected officials to lead by example and to be a calming presence for the people we know are hurting, mourning, and trying to cope with trauma. Now is not the time for divisiveness,” he continued.
“Now is not the time for elected officials to ignore armed militants and out-of-state instigators who want to contribute to our anguish.”
The governor argued that a visit from the president would mean redirecting resources to accommodate his security detail “at a time when it is critical that we continue to remain focused on keeping the people of Kenosha safe and supporting the community’s response”.
Mr Evers’s forceful letter echoed comments made earlier on Sunday by the state’s lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes.
“You look at the incendiary remarks that the president has made, they centred an entire convention around creating more animosity and creating more division around what is going on in Kenosha,” Mr Barnes told John King on CNN’s Inside Politics.
“So, 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.”
Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, has explicitly blamed Mr Trump for inciting the violence seen in the streets of Kenosha – and other American cities before it – as police reform advocates clash with law enforcement and right-wing agitators.
”How could they not be feeding on violence when the man in the White House is steadily drumming it up?” he said on ABC News, adding that the Blake family does not want “anything to do with” the president.
While Mr Trump lashed out at “rioting, looting, arson and violence” in “Democratic-run cities” during his acceptance speech as the Republican Party’s political nominee on Thursday, his challenger, Joe Biden, accused him on Sunday of “fanning the flames of hate and division in our society” and challenged him to condemn the unrest.