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Trump visits Kenosha, calls violence 'domestic terrorism'

KENOSHA — President Donald Trump stood at the epicenter of the latest eruption over racial injustice Tuesday and came down squarely on the side of law enforcement, blaming “domestic terror” for the violence in Kenosha and making no nod to the underlying cause of anger and protests — the shooting of yet another Black man by police.

Trump declared the violence “anti-American.” He did not mention Jacob Blake, who was badly wounded last week in Kenosha.

Soon after arriving in the city, a visit made over the objections of state and local leaders, Trump toured the charred remains of a block besieged by violence and fire. With the scent of smoke still in the air, he spoke to the owners of a century-old store that had been destroyed and continued to link the violence to the Democrats, blaming those in charge of Kenosha and Wisconsin while raising apocalyptic warnings if their party should capture the White House.

“These are not acts of peaceful protest but, really, domestic terror,” said Trump. And he condemned Democratic officials for not immediately accepting his offer of federal enforcement assistance, claiming, “They just don’t want us to come.”

The city has been the scene of protests since the Aug. 23 shooting of Blake, who was hit seven times in the back by police as he tried to get into a car while they were trying to arrest him. Protests have been concentrated in a small area of Kenosha. While there were more than 30 fires set in the first three nights, the situation has calmed since then.

Trump’s motorcade passed throngs of demonstrators, some holding American flags in support of the president, others jeering while carrying signs that read Black Lives Matter.

A massive police presence, complete with several armored vehicles, secured the area, and barricades were set up along several of the city’s major thoroughfares to keep onlookers at a distance from the passing presidential vehicles.

Offering federal resources to help rebuild the city, Trump toured a high school that had been transformed into a law enforcement command post. He said he tried to call Blake’s mother but opted against it after the family asked that a lawyer listen in.

He later added he felt “terribly” for anyone who suffered a loss, but otherwise only noted that the situation was “complicated” and “under investigation.” The only words acknowledging the suffering of African Americans came from a pastor who attended the law enforcement roundtable.

Pressed by reporters, Trump repeatedly pivoted away from assessing any sort of structural racism in the nation or its police departments, instead blasting what he saw as anti-police rhetoric. Painting a dark portrait of parts of the nation he leads, the president predicted that chaos would descend on cities across America if voters elect Democrat Joe Biden to replace him in November.

Biden hit back, speaking to donors on a fundraising call after Trump left Kenosha.

“Donald Trump has failed to protect America. So now he’s trying to scare the hell out of America,” Biden said. “Violence isn’t a problem in Donald Trump’s eyes. It’s a political strategy.”

The election is playing out in “anxious times,” with “multiple crises,” Biden said. He included police violence in the list, along with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout, and said Trump refuses to address any of them honestly.

Trump aides believe that his tough-on-crime stance will help him with voters and that the more the national discourse is about anything other than the coronavirus, the better it is for the president.

Biden said after Trump’s Wisconsin visit, “The vast majority of cops are honorable, decent and real. But the idea that he wouldn’t even acknowledge the problem – and white nationalists are raising their heads all across the country.”

Trump condemned unrest in Portland, Oregon, too, where a supporter was shot and killed recently — and an increase in shootings in cities including Chicago and New York — and tried to take credit for stopping the violence in Kenosha with the National Guard. But it was Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who deployed the Guard to quell demonstrations in response to the Blake shooting, and he had pleaded with Trump to stay away for fear of straining tensions further.

“I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing,” Evers wrote in a letter to Trump. “I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”

Biden has assailed Trump as an instigator of the deadly protests that have sprung up on his watch. On the eve of his visit, Trump defended a teenager accused of fatally shooting two men at a demonstration in Kenosha last week though he did not mention the young man Tuesday.

Claiming the mantle of the “law and order” Republican candidate, Trump insists that he, not Biden, is the leader best positioned to keep Americans safe. He said his appearance in Kenosha would “increase enthusiasm” in Wisconsin, perhaps the most hotly contested battleground state in the presidential race.

Blake’s family held a Tuesday “community celebration” at a distance from Trump’s visit.

“We don’t need more pain and division from a president set on advancing his campaign at the expense of our city,” Justin Blake, an uncle, said in a statement. “We need justice and relief for our vibrant community.”

The NAACP said Tuesday neither candidate should visit the Wisconsin city as tension simmers. Biden’s team has considered a visit to Kenosha and had previously indicated that a trip to Wisconsin was imminent but has not offered details.

Protests in Kenosha began the night of Blake’s shooting, Aug. 23 and were concentrated in the blocks around the county courthouse downtown. There was an estimated $2 million in damage to city property, and Kenosha’s mayor has said he is seeking $30 million from the state to help rebuild.

The violence reached its peak the night of Aug. 25, two days after Blake was shot, when police said the 17-year-old armed with an illegal semi-automatic rifle shot and killed two protesters in the streets. Since then marches organized both by backers of police and Blake’s family have all been peaceful with no vandalism or destruction to public property.

Biden, all the while, has tried to refocus the race on what has been its defining theme — Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left more than 180,000 Americans dead — after a multi-day onslaught by the president’s team to make the campaign about the violence rattling American cities.

Biden’s wife, Jill, on Tuesday kicked off a multi-week, 10-city tour of schools disrupted by the pandemic in eight battleground states, drawing a direct line from the empty classrooms to the administration’s failures combating COVID-19.

During her tour of a Wilmington, Delaware, school, she spoke with teachers and administrators about doubts that in-person learning will actually resume anytime soon and the challenges — including obtaining new small desks and protective equipment to make sure classrooms can handle social distancing — if they do. She said feelings about heading back to school “have turned from excitement into anxiety, and the playgrounds are still.”

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EC students return to classrooms for the first time since March

EAU CLAIRE — For the first time since March, DeLong Middle School students hopped off their school buses Tuesday morning and headed into their classrooms.

Tuesday, the Eau Claire school district’s first day of classes for some students, felt differently than it has any other year, school administrators and staffers said.

DeLong would normally direct about 1,000 students to their classrooms on the first day of school, said Teri Piper Thompson, DeLong partnership coordinator.

On Tuesday it welcomed around 400 in person, due to classes being split into two separate cohorts and roughly 20% of Eau Claire district students choosing the all-virtual option, Thompson said.

As students exited buses, all wore masks, with signs and staffers directing them to socially distance as best they could.

Though classrooms won’t be as full this year, teachers and staffers are delighted to see their students again, Thompson said: “We’re so excited to have them back with us.”

It marks the first week of the school district’s reopening plan. Students have been split into cohorts to make class sizes smaller and allow for desks to be spaced apart; most K-12 students will only attend face-to-face classes a maximum of two days per week.

Tuesday was the first day of school for Cohort A of the district’s middle and high schools. Cohort B students will begin in-person classes on Thursday, and virtual-only students will begin on Sept. 8.

For elementary school students, Cohort A and the virtual-only students will begin classes on Sept. 8. Cohort B students, as well as first- and second-grade students, are set to start in-person classes on Thursday.

Eau Claire school board president Tim Nordin and Eau Claire schools superintendent Michael Johnson thanked teachers and staff Monday in a video welcoming the new school year.

“You can tell just by looking at us that we’re heading into a school year like no other,” Nordin said in the video, both school officials wearing masks.

“The most important thing is that we’re doing this together for the betterment of our kids, our colleagues and our families,” Johnson said.

DHS board approves initial 2021 budget

EAU CLAIRE — The Eau Claire County Department of Human Services Board on Tuesday approved a preliminary 2021 budget for 3% less than this year's budget.

A 3% reduction in tax levy for DHS would result in $8.59 million from tax levy in 2021 compared to this year's levy amount of $8.86 million. That 3% decrease means next year's overall budget would total about $35.43 million compared to this year's budget of $32.2 million.

Supervisor and DHS board member Katherine Schneider made the proposal, saying she wants the department to have flexibility to determine where to make reductions that equal 3%.

The DHS Board unanimously approved the budget during a joint meeting with the Finance and Budget Committee. The Finance and Budget Committee did not vote Tuesday on the budget proposal.

The proposed budget still needs approval from County Administrator Kathryn Schauf, the Finance and Budget Committee and the County Board before being finalized in November.

2020 budget

For this year’s budget, DHS Director Diane Cable said the department has losses of $509,000 through June. In response, DHS is planning eight actions for the rest of the year that it projects will result in zero losses. Actions include $200,000 in savings from mandatory county furloughs; $87,000 in savings from keeping vacant positions open; $85,000 in increased revenues from the Northwest Juvenile Detention Center; and $42,000 in savings from DHS voluntary furloughs.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Schneider asked where overages usually occur in the department. Cable said losses historically have occurred in alternate care, adult placements and institutional placements. This year, DHS has seen fewer overages in alternate care and more demands in adult placements and hospitalizations. Cable said the department has faced more mental health and substance abuse issues this year, which have led to more adult placements.

Cable called it a “really challenging time” right now for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said crisis calls, particularly those related to increased anxiety, increased for the department this summer,

The next DHS Board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 28.