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News Brief: Deadly Protest, Police Reform, Politics And Protests

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's start with the facts of a shooting in Portland, Ore.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That shooting was an escalation after months of protests against police brutality. Local groups organized a caravan of pickup trucks. They're opposed to these protests. Many of the trucks flew Trump flags. And they had planned a route around the city, but some of them drove downtown. And that is when and where gunfire erupted.

INSKEEP: One person was killed, and the leader of a far-right group called Patriot Prayer says the person killed was a member. Oregon Public Broadcasting's Conrad Wilson is covering the story. Conrad, good morning.

CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Really emotional situation, I know, but what facts are confirmed?

WILSON: Well, it's not clear whether the shooting was directly tied to conflicts between those in the caravan and racial justice protesters. There is eyewitness video shot from a distance that appears to capture the shooting, but it doesn't make clear who fired the two shots and for what reason. The man who was killed has not been named by authorities, but the leader of the regional far-right group Patriot Prayer did tell The Associated Press that the man who was killed was a good friend and a supporter.

INSKEEP: OK. So we know that much, and we just want to be clear, people get upset, want you to be upset, you listening. We're going to be as factual as we can. What do we know about this caravan?

WILSON: It was just huge. I mean, it stretched out for miles, hundreds and hundreds of vehicles, many decked out in signs and flags supporting President Trump. Some sprayed mace from the backs of the trucks at racial justice protesters. There were also a few instances where they drove trucks through counter-protesters. A few fights broke out, too. But, really, for the most part, things were relatively peaceful on Saturday until about 8:45 in the evening when shots rang out in downtown, and police later confirmed that a man was killed.

INSKEEP: OK. And, again, we don't have a lot of confirmation from authorities. But this group, Patriot Prayer, says the person killed was one of ours, so to speak. What is Patriot Prayer?

WILSON: Yeah. You know, since 2016, there have been these far-right organizations that have held rallies in Portland. Counter-Demonstrators, left-wing groups like antifa, have turned out. And for years, we've sort of seen these political rallies culminate and end in violence. Patriot Prayer is based in the Portland area. They talk about fighting corruption, big government and civic groups that gain - that seek to gain power, as they describe, through division and deception. They began in 2016, and they've rallied for President Trump. Their leader, Joey Gibson, is facing a felony riot charge stemming from a case last year.

And another national group we've seen over the years is the Proud Boys, a self-described Western chauvinist group that is more widely known. They've also engaged in violence at protests here in Portland. Most recently, the weekend before last, there was an open brawl between pro-Trump, pro-police demonstrators, many of whom were armed, and antifascist counter-protesters in downtown Portland. And it's important to note that that brawling went on - I mean, it just went wild for a couple of hours without any response from Portland police. So going into this weekend, people were on edge.

INSKEEP: And then we had the events of this weekend. We want to note briefly that President Trump leaped on this. He attacked the mayor in an early morning tweet. He also threw in attacks on Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, who, just as a matter of fact-checking, we'll note were not in Portland at the time. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has responded. Let's listen.

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TED WHEELER: You've tried to divide us more than any other figure in modern history. And now you want me to stop the violence that you helped create.

INSKEEP: So there is a national debate here. We're going to hear more about that in a moment. But what, Conrad, is the local debate right now?

WILSON: Well, understandably, many people here are unhappy. Just before the news conference, some groups called on the mayor and the police chief to resign. There have been a constituency of people that have repeated that throughout, really, these 90 days - 90-plus days of protests. You know, they say that the police chief and the mayor let the protests get out of control during the last several weeks, which created an environment where the shooting could take place.

INSKEEP: Conrad, thanks for the update and for the facts.

WILSON: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Conrad Wilson of Oregon Public Broadcasting.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Let's go to another state that's facing protests - Wisconsin. Lawmakers will meet in the capital, Madison, today for a special legislative session on police reform.

KING: Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called that session. He's responding, of course, to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. Here's Blake's dad talking at a rally this weekend.

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JACOB BLAKE SR: We're going to the top, y'all. We're going to make legislation happen because that's the only thing that they recognize.

INSKEEP: Let's go to Laurel White, the state Capitol reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio. Good morning to you.

LAUREL WHITE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What does Gov. Tony Evers want the legislature to do?

WHITE: The governor unveiled nine bills that have to do with police training and requirements earlier this summer in response to Black Lives Matter protests in Wisconsin. So he's really hoping that the legislature takes up all of those bills today. They would do a wide variety of things. So they include bans on chokeholds, on no-knock warrants, things we've obviously heard a lot about this summer. They would also set a statewide standard for police use of force, annual training requirements for officers and a statewide database to track use-of-force incidents.

INSKEEP: But how likely is it that the Republican legislature is going to take up these proposals from a Democratic governor?

WHITE: So if they do take them up or some variation of the bills - there has been some indication that Republicans support the chokehold ban, for example - it's not going to be today, and it's probably not going to be anytime soon. The leader of the state Senate actually confirmed late last week that the Senate is going to convene in a ceremonial way today. They're going to gavel in, but no lawmakers are going to be present. And, of course, because of that, there will be no debate, no votes. Both the leader in the Senate and the Assembly say they want to take their time and look at proposals.

INSKEEP: Well, what proposals will Republicans have when they get around to it?

WHITE: We hadn't gotten a lot of details until late last week, but we did get some from the Senate majority leader on Friday. And he said that he wants to see a bill looped into this package that would actually increase penalties on violence against police officers in Wisconsin. There's also a Republican bill that would penalize local governments for shifting money away from law enforcement to other local government programs. That's something that we've become familiar with as defund the police this summer. So that would create a penalty for that.

INSKEEP: What kind of public pressure, if any, is on the legislature?

WHITE: So outside of lawmakers, the Milwaukee Bucks actually called out the legislature in a pretty big way, refusing to take the court for a crucial playoff game. And they got a lot of attention for that. Within the realm of politics and at the Capitol, the governor is obviously very frustrated. Democratic lawmakers are very frustrated. And they've been open about that. A Democratic state senator from Milwaukee actually released a statement saying that Republicans are, quote, "sitting idly by and watching the state burn."

INSKEEP: Laurel White of Wisconsin Public Radio, thanks.

WHITE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Now, the protests in Portland and Kenosha over police brutality and racial injustice could play a role in the presidential election.

KING: In fact, President Trump is campaigning on them.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In the strongest possible terms, the Republican Party condemns the rioting, looting, arson and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities all, like Kenosha, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago and New York and many others.

KING: Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Joe Biden released a statement on Sunday. In it, he warns that America will remain divided under Trump.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is on the line once again. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How is the president using these issues?

LIASSON: It's a big part of his law and order message that dominated last week's Republican convention. The line you heard from speaker after speaker was you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America. And in Kenosha, of course, he's focusing on these protests rather than on the shooting of a Black man that set them off. He was very active on Twitter yesterday, close to 90 tweets between 6 and 8 a.m. This is after the person was fatally shot in Portland. He's been retweeting approvingly about his supporters who headed into Portland in a caravan, calling them patriots. He's called Black Lives Matter supporters thugs. Of course, this isn't a new theme for the president. Remember back in 2016, he would say when there were scuffles between protesters and supporters at his rallies, I want to punch that protester in the face or I'll pay the legal bills if you rough him up or in the old days, he'd be carried out on a stretcher. But now the violence is getting worse, and the Trump team clearly thinks this plays to his advantage.

INSKEEP: Mara, I want to just go back to that phrase, you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America. And just note, Joe Biden is not president and all these things are happening. Donald Trump is president. How is the president making the case, first, that the president has something to do with these local incidents and, second, that somehow Joe Biden is responsible and he, the president, is not responsible?

LIASSON: Right. So they show these images of violence that's happening during the Trump presidency and say this is what will happen if Joe Biden is president. It's a contradictory message. He says, I alone can fix it, also not my responsibility. His campaign says these are Democrat-run cities. You just heard him say that. Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, tried to explain this in a very us-versus-them way yesterday on "Meet The Press." Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

MARK MEADOWS: Most of Donald Trump's America is peaceful. It is a Democrat-led city in Portland that we're talking about this morning who just yesterday denied help once again from the federal government.

LIASSON: And that's true. As you heard, Portland mayor said no thanks to Trump's offer to send in federal law enforcement agencies, saying that when he did that last month, he made the situation worse.

INSKEEP: Is there any evidence this is working for the president?

LIASSON: Well, we're waiting to see polls, but the Trump campaign clearly thinks it is. They think voters are basically shifting on this issue, becoming more concerned about riots than racial justice. There are some polls that show support for Black Lives Matter plummeting. Trump himself will go to Kenosha tomorrow. Biden is pushing back forcefully. He hopes that when suburban voters look at the chaos, they'll see Trump as part of the cause, not the solution, and they'll see Biden as the bring us together candidate.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks, as always.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.