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Hostility as Trump visits gun victims

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-08-08 22:49

US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump speak Wednesday to first responders as they visit the El Paso Regional Communications Center in Texas after meeting with people affected by Saturday’s mass shooting in the city. [Photo/Agencies]

US President Donald Trump met Wednesday with elected officials, first responders and victims of the deadly mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, as protesters called out his rhetoric on immigration, which they blamed for stoking racial animosity.

The president traveled to Dayton first, visiting Miami Valley Hospital. He went room to room to meet shooting victims who were treated after gunman Connor Betts carried out a massacre that killed nine people and injured 27 others at a bar early Sunday. Betts was killed by responding police.

Trump offered condolences and thanked first responders, but he stayed out of public sight. He later described his visit as "warm and wonderful" and released pictures and video with nurses, doctors and patients. Trump was later scheduled to travel to El Paso.

Around 200 protesters were outside the Ohio hospital, The Associated Press reported. Others lined the streets in the Oregon District near the bar where the shooting took place.

Protesters held anti-Trump signs that read: "We can end gun violence" and "No gun no trigger", and "Not welcome here". They also yelled "Do something!", which has become a rallying cry.

Police stood in front of Trump supporters who were standing alongside protesters holding blue banners with the words "Trump 2020" along with "Keep America Great." Another woman held a sign that read "I support you Trump 2020". Others chanted "USA!" repeatedly at protesters.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, said she spoke with Trump after he stepped off Air Force One about "red flag" laws, referring to legislation that would prohibit firearms possession by people who display signs of being a threat.

"I think he heard me," she said. "We spoke directly about common sense gun legislation," she told reporters at the hospital. "I think it was a good decision for him not to stop in the Oregon District."

US Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, said he urged Trump to call Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back from recess and asked Trump to pledge to sign a background-check bill.

"We can't get anything done in the Senate because Mitch McConnell and President Trump are in bed with the gun lobby," Brown said.

He added that Trump was received warmly by victims at the hospital. Brown also said Trump wanted to give police he met with an award.

"I said, 'Respectfully, Mr. President, the most important thing you can do for these police officers is take these assault weapons off the streets.' I'm very concerned about a president that divides using racist rhetoric."

Trump later took to Twitter to criticize Whaley and Brown:

"Just left Dayton, Ohio, where I met with the Victims & families, Law Enforcement, Medical Staff & First Responders. It was a warm & wonderful visit. Tremendous enthusiasm & even Love.

"Then I saw failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod Brown & Mayor Whaley totally misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital. Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud.

"It bore no resemblance to what took place with those incredible people that I was so lucky to meet and spend time with. They were all amazing!"

Lynell Graham, an Ohio resident, turned up to protest, telling CNN: "I did not think that this is a place where Trump should come for a photo op on dead people. He's not sincere on gun reform. … We did not want him here! We will keep standing up against his hateful rhetoric."

Betts, 24, was killed by police within a minute after he started shooting. The murders sent shockwaves across the country, as just 13 hours earlier on Saturday in El Paso, 22 people were killed at a Walmart. Patrick Crusius, 21, is charged with the shootings and faces a potential death penalty.

Wednesday afternoon, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump took Air Force Once to El Paso, where protesters and Trump supporters wearing red MAGA hats stood outside the Walmart where the shooting took place.

The two sides briefly clashed, according to news media. Anti-Trump protests also took place in Washington Park. Other people had signs urging him to "stop attacking Mexicans".

Trump headed to University Medical Center of El Paso to meet with more than two dozen people injured in the gun violence and with members of law enforcement.

US Representative Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat whose district includes El Paso, declined a White House invitation to meet Trump.

"The president can have a country divided by hate and racism or embrace every human being with the dignity they deserve," she told CNN.

An open letter to Trump on Wednesday in the El Paso Times described the border city as having "a deep tradition of racial harmony" whose people came together after the tragedy. It admonished Trump for calling El Paso one of the country's most dangerous cities in his February State of the Union address.

"He's going to make war between us. Racism is starting to pop up more and more. Mexican people are fed up. He's going to create chaos around here," said Fernando Montoya, 45, who joined the protesters at the park.

"This is not a political visit," El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told reporters. "He is president of the United States. So in that capacity, I will fulfill my obligations as mayor of El Paso to meet with the president and discuss whatever our needs are in this community."

Reuters contributed to this story.

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