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Trump's Reaction To Unrest May Have Repercussions For Presidential Election

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

George Floyd's killing and President Trump's response have sparked strong reactions across this country. And that could have repercussions for the presidential election. NPR's Asma Khalid reports from a swing county in the swing state of Wisconsin.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Just about an hour north of Chicago, there's a county that hugs Lake Michigan. It's called Kenosha, and it voted for Donald Trump in 2016. It was the first time it had gone Republican in decades. That still frustrates McKenzy Castillo (ph). I met her hanging out with friends on the beach. They're all 21 and disgusted by the president's response to Floyd's death.

MCKENZY CASTILLO: He isn't approaching this situation like a president should as in keeping peace with everyone. He's just making people more angry.

KHALID: Her friend Amanda Pacheco (ph) says it feels like the president has focused more on looting than the issue of racism.

AMANDA PACHECO: Either way, even when Colin Kaepernick took a knee, the most peaceful thing ever - it was just a knee - people got so mad at that.

KHALID: Neither of them intends to vote for Trump, but they're not thrilled with the alternative. The question is whether this moment convinces voters who want to get rid of Trump to line up behind Joe Biden. It's a question not just limited to young liberal voters. In a grocery store parking lot, I met Wendy Schoenke.

WENDY SCHOENKE: Racism in the United States is awful. And it's not gotten any better since the days of Martin Luther King.

KHALID: She considers herself an independent who does not like Trump's tweets.

SCHOENKE: You know, I voted for President Obama. You know, I liked what he had to say. You know, Joe Biden was right underneath them. Will I go that way? I'm not sure.

KHALID: What gives you pause about him?

SCHOENKE: I don't know. I don't think he's been out there enough speaking. You know, I saw him a couple times this past week because of everything going on, but I feel let's not wait for something to happen to be out there.

KHALID: In more than a dozen interviews, both Republicans and Democrats condemned Floyd's killing, but how they perceived the president's response largely fell along predictable political lines. Erin Decker is the chair of the local GOP.

ERIN DECKER: I think he's done a good job. He came out and supported the protests, admonished the rioters and the looters.

KHALID: But I asked her what about when the Trump administration forcefully cleared out peaceful protesters near the White House, she said she didn't know the specifics of that incident. But...

DECKER: You can't allow the people that have infiltrated the peaceful protests to turn it into riots and looting.

KHALID: And so she says maybe the president had to act preemptively. Other Republicans I interviewed also praised Trump's message of law and order. They also acknowledged the role of racism. Zach Rodriguez is a Republican. He's 22 years old and a local county official. He says he watched the full George Floyd video, and it was disgusting.

ZACH RODRIGUEZ: You know, in the past, we saw a lot of Black Lives Matter versus all lives matter. And in this case, I think it's really starting to hit home, especially in the Republican Party. Black lives do matter.

KHALID: Recent polling shows that a majority of Americans believe the police use a disproportionate amount of force against black people. It's a big shift from previous polls, and in large part, it's due to the changing attitudes of white people. The other day, I went to a local park where hundreds of people, many of them white, knelt for nine minutes in memory of how Floyd was killed.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) I can't.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) I can't.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) I can't.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) I can't.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) I can't.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Breathe.

KHALID: Lydia Spottswood (ph) was there wearing a baseball cap that read make racism wrong again.

LYDIA SPOTTSWOOD: I think people are tired of the meanness, the sheer vicious mendacity of the Trump regime.

KHALID: That's what she thinks because she's a Democrat. We're just months away from a presidential election, though, and as I scanned the crowd, I noticed there were no signs or pictures praising Biden. There were, however, harsh messages for the president, even one with profanity. Asma Khalid, NPR News, Kenosha, Wis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.