Ferguson and Kenosha: How Obama and Trump responded to civil unrest

Ferguson and Kenosha: How Obama and Trump responded to civil unrest
Both Obama and Trump presidency seen violent protests. Source: Reuters
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Daily US Times: Two police shootings, two very different presidents, two cities. How Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump handled racial tensions and civil unrest. Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Ferguson, Missouri, will both have a place in the history books.

Both cities have seen massive protests – at times violent – against racism and police brutality, both sparked by the shootings of young black men by white members of law enforcement.

These events tested both presidents on issues of race, protests and policing. Here’s how they reacted.

Former president Barack Obama faced some criticism for not visiting Ferguson. Source: Getty Images

What happened in Ferguson and Kenosha?

On 9 August 2014, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer.

The exact details of the incident remain disputed. We know Officer Darren Wilson encountered Mr Brown in the street around midday; the both have been a scuffle – and three minutes later Mr Brown was dead in the street from at least seven gunshot wounds. Mr Wilson said he shot in self-defence.

His death sparked weeks of protests across the US and added momentum to the Black Lives Matter movement.

A 29-year-old Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a police officer during an arrest on 23 August in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as he tried to get into a car where his three children were seated. Mr Blake paralysed from the waist down and is still recovering in hospital.

The incident immediately sparked protests and somewhat violence in Kenosha and elsewhere. The demonstrations at times turned violent in Kenosha – two people were killed during one night of unrest, allegedly by a white pro-police teenager.

What were their first responses?

Five days after Michael Brown was killed, President Barack Obama asked America to “take a step back” and think about how to move forward. Urging calm, Mr Obama said he’d already directed the FBI and justice department to investigate Michael Brown’s death while guiding local law enforcement on handling demonstrations without “unnecessary escalation”.

Obama said there are good people on all sides of this debate. Getty Images

As he highlighted the “heart-breaking” circumstances of the black teen’s death, Mr Obama also emphasised there was “never an excuse for violence against police” or, likewise, “excessive force against peaceful protest”.

Flash-forward to 2020, and another week in late summer.

Five days after the shooting of Jacob Blake, President Donald Trump responded to a reporter’s question about video of the incident by saying: “It was not a good sight, I didn’t like the sight of it, certainly.”

Few days later, the President spoke about “bad apples” and rare mistakes among police in an interview with Fox News, remarking: “Shooting a guy in the back many times – I mean couldn’t you have done something different? Couldn’t you have wrestled him?”

Did they formally address the nation?

We heard from President Obama when a grand jury declined to charge the policeman involved in the shooting on 24 November.

In a statement from the White House, the Democratic President reiterated that now was a time for learning and healing. He acknowledged the country’s “legacy of racial discrimination” but also underscored that “there are good people on all sides of this debate, as well as in both Republican and Democratic parties” who want to see reform.

“Those should be the lessons that we draw from these tragic events,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Trump has not made a formal speech on the Kenosha protests yet.

Protesters and supporters lined the road as President Donald Trump’s motorcade passed on the way to Kenosha. Source: Reuters

In June, he did deliver a speech from the White House after George Floyd’s death set off massive protests across the country, saying America was “rightly sickened and revolted” by the incident while repeating his mantra of law and order.

Did they visit?

Mr Obama never visited Ferguson, though he’d suggested he might go to the place once the situation calmed down. After Attorney General Eric Holder went in his place, some black leaders criticised Mr Obama for handing off his duties as the nation’s first black president.

Mr Trump flew out to Kenosha on September 1 – despite Wisconsin’s governor requesting him to stay away. The president didn’t meet Jacob Blake’s family, saying the family want lawyers present, which Mr Trump found “inappropriate”.

Instead, President Donald Trump spoke to local law enforcement who he said “did such a good job for me”.

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