President Donald Trump has criticised local leaders in Kenosha during a trip to Wisconsin, as the US continues to struggle with racial tensions.
The city has been plagued by protests since the August 23 shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man hit seven times in the back by police as he was getting into a car while they were trying to arrest him.
On the eve of his visit, President Trump defended a teenage supporter accused of fatally shooting two men at a demonstration in Kenosha last week and accused Democrat Joe Biden of siding with “anarchists” and “rioters” in the unrest.
“I’m there for law enforcement and for the National Guard because they’ve done a great job in Kenosha. They put out the flame immediately,” said President Trump as he boarded Air Force One.
Upon his arrival in the Midwest, his motorcade passed a mix of supporters, many holding American flags, and protesters, some carrying signs that read Black Lives Matter.
As police stood by, barricades were set up along several of the city’s major streets in an effort to keep onlookers some distance from the passing presidential vehicles.
Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers who deployed the National Guard to quell demonstrations in response to the Blake shooting, had pleaded with President Trump to stay away for fear of straining tensions further.
“I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing,” Mr Evers wrote in a letter to President Trump.
“I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”
Mr Biden has attacked President Trump over the deadly protests that have sprung up on his watch.
But President Trump, claiming the mantle of the “law and order” Republican candidate, is offering himself as the leader best positioned to keep Americans safe.
He insisted his appearance in Kenosha would “increase enthusiasm” in Wisconsin, perhaps the most hotly contested battleground state in the presidential race, as the White House said he “wants to visit hurting Americans”.
The White House said President Trump was not going to meet with Mr Blake’s family. Mr Blake’s family planned a Tuesday “community celebration” to correspond with the president’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 that neither candidate should visit the Wisconsin city as tension simmers. Mr Biden’s team has considered a visit to Kenosha and has indicated that a trip to Wisconsin was imminent, but has not offered details.
Mr Biden, in his most direct attacks yet, accused President Trump earlier on Monday of causing the divisions that have ignited the violence.
He delivered an uncharacteristically blistering speech in Pittsburgh and distanced himself from radical forces involved in altercations.
President Trump, for his part, reiterated that he blames radical troublemakers stirred up and backed by Mr Biden.
But when he was asked about one of his own supporters who was charged with killing two men during the mayhem in Kenosha, he declined to denounce the killings and suggested that the 17-year-old suspect, Kyle Rittenhouse, was acting in self-defence.
After a confrontation in which he fatally shot one man, police say, Rittenhouse fell while being chased by people trying to disarm him. A second person was shot and killed.
“That was an interesting situation,” President Trump said Monday during a news conference. “He was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like, and he fell. And then they very violently attacked him. … He was in very big trouble. He would have been — he probably would’ve been killed.”
Protests in Kenosha began the night of Mr Blake’s shooting, August 23 and were concentrated in the blocks around the county courthouse downtown. The first three nights, more than 30 fires were set and numerous businesses were vandalised.
The violence reached its peak the night of August 25, two days after Mr Blake was shot, when police said a 17-year-old armed with an illegal semi-automatic rifle shot and killed two protesters in the streets.
Since then marches organised both by backers of police and Mr Blake’s family have all been peaceful with no vandalism or destruction to public property.