EL PASO — Aiming to play the traditional role of healer during national tragedy, President Donald Trump paid visits Wednesday to cities reeling from mass shootings that left 31 dead and dozens more wounded. But his divisive words preceded him, large protests greeted him and biting political attacks soon followed.
The president and first lady Melania Trump flew to El Paso late in the day after visiting the Dayton, Ohio, hospital where many of the victims of Sunday’s attack in that city were treated. For most of the day, the president was kept out of view of the reporters traveling with him, but the White House said the couple met with hospital staff and first responders and spent time with wounded survivors and their families.
Trump told them he was “with them,” said press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “Everybody received him very warmly. Everybody was very, very excited to see him.” Trump said the same about his reception in the few moments he spoke with the media at a 911 call center in El Paso.
But outside Dayton’s Miami Valley Hospital, at least 200 protesters gathered, blaming Trump’s incendiary rhetoric for inflaming political and racial tensions in the country and demanding action on gun control. Some said Trump was not welcome in their city. There were Trump supporters, as well.
In El Paso, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke spoke to several hundred people at a separate gathering. O’Rourke, a potential Democratic 2020 presidential rival, has blistered Trump as a racist instigator but also told those in his audience the open way the people of his home town treat each other could be “the example to the United States of America."
Emotions are still raw in both cities in the aftermath of the weekend shootings. Critics contend Trump's own words have contributed to a combustible climate that has spawned death and other violence.
The vitriol continued Wednesday.
Trump's motorcade passed El Paso protesters holding "Racist Go Home" signs. And Trump spent part of his flight between Ohio and Texas airing his grievances on Twitter, berating Democratic lawmakers, O'Rourke and the press. It was a remarkable split-screen appearance for TV viewers, with White House images of handshakes and selfies juxtaposed with angry tweets.
Trump and the White House have forcefully disputed the idea that he bears some responsibility for the nation's divisions. And he continued to do so Wednesday.
"My critics are political people," Trump said as he left the White House, noting the apparent political leanings of the shooter in the Dayton killings. He also defended his rhetoric on issues including immigration, claiming instead that he "brings people together."
Some 85% of U.S. adults believe the tone and nature of political debate has become more negative, with a majority saying Trump has changed things for the worse, according to recent Pew Research Center polling. And more than three quarters, 78%, say that elected officials who use heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups make violence against those people more likely.
In Dayton, raw anger and pain were on display as protesters chanted "Ban those guns" and "Do something!" during Trump's visit.
Holding a sign that said "Not Welcome Here," Lynnell Graham said she thinks Trump's response to the shootings has been insincere.
"To me he comes off as fake," she said.
Dorothee Bouquet, stood in the bright sun with her 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, tucked in a stroller. She told them they were going to a protest "to tell grownups to make better rules."
But in El Paso, where more protests awaited, Raul Melendez, whose father-in-law, David Johnson, was killed in Saturday's shooting, said the most appropriate thing Trump could do was to meet with relatives of the victims.
"It shows that he actually cares, if he talks to individual families," said Melendez, who credits Johnson with helping his 9-year-old daughter survive the attack by pushing her under a counter. Melendez, an Army veteran and the son of Mexican immigrants, said he holds only the shooter responsible for the attack.
"That person had the intent to hurt people, he already had it," he said. "No one's words would have triggered that."
Local Democratic lawmakers who'd expressed concern about the visit said Trump had nonetheless hit the right notes Wednesday.
"He was comforting. He did the right things and Melania did the right things. It's his job to comfort people," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, who nonetheless said he was "very concerned about a president that divides in his rhetoric and plays to race in his rhetoric."
"I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton," added Mayor Nan Whaley, who said she was glad Trump had not stopped at the site of the shooting.
"A lot of the time his talk can be very divisive, and that's the last thing we need in Dayton," she said.
Grisham, responding on Twitter from aboard Air Force One, said it was "genuinely sad" to see the lawmakers "immediately hold such a dishonest press conference in the name of partisan politics."
Despite protests in both cities, the White House insisted Trump had received positive receptions. One aide tweeted that Trump was a "rock star" at the Dayton hospital.
The White House did not allow reporters and photographers to watch as he talked with wounded victims, medical staff and law enforcement officers there, but then quickly published its own photos on social media and released a video of his visit.
There was discord in El Paso, too. Rep. Veronica Escobar, the Democratic congresswoman who represents the city, declined to meet with Trump. "I refuse to be a prop," she said in an interview on CNN.
Visits to the sites of mass shootings have become a regular pilgrimage for recent presidents, but Trump, who has sometimes struggled to project empathy during moments of national tragedy, has stirred unusual backlash.
Though he has been able to summon soothing words and connect one-on-one with victims, he often quickly lapses into divisive tweets and statements — just recently painting immigrants as "invaders," suggesting four Democratic congresswoman of color should "go back" to their home countries even though they're U.S. citizens and deriding majority-black Baltimore as a rat-infested hell-hole.
As the presidential motorcade rolled up to a 911 center in El Paso, it passed a sign aimed at Trump that said "Racist go home."
Elsewhere in the city, O'Rourke told several hundred people that his hometown "bore the brunt" of hatred from the shooting but could also hold an answer to the strife.
On the eve of his trip, Trump lashed out at O'Rourke, saying he "should respect the victims & law enforcement - & be quiet!"
On his flight between one scene of tragedy and the second, Trump said he tuned in as another 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, excoriated him in a speech that slammed him as incapable of offering the moral leadership that has defined the presidency for generations and "fueling a literal carnage" in America.
Trump declared the speech "Sooo Boring!" and warned that "The LameStream Media will die in the ratings and clicks" if Biden wins.
Trump seemed focused on politics through the day. He mentioned the crowd at his earlier rally in El Paso. When a reporter asked what he saw during the day, he answered with claims about how he was received respectfully in both cities. Then on the flight home he unleashed another political tweet:
"The Dems new weapon is actually their old weapon, one which they never cease to use when they are down, or run out of facts, RACISM! They are truly disgusting!"
Associated Press writer John Seewer contributed to this report. Colvin reported from Washington.
WINONA — Employees of Winona Independent School District spent a day in training to ensure their schools will be safer than ever this fall.
Superintendent Cody Mize said every employee in the district spent Wednesday getting up to date on school safety plans, their partnerships with local law enforcement and learning first aid techniques.
UT Health East Texas partnered with the district to teach employees CPR, how to use an automated external defibrillator and how to apply a tourniquet.
Sean Tenison, who led the hands-only CPR and Stop the Bleed presentations for UT Health, encouraged attendees to find a song with 100 beats per minute to help them gauge how quickly to do compressions. He joked that “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees is an old standby, but the “Baby Shark” song will work as well.
District nurse Toni Harp said that employees being able to render immediate aid while first responders are en route could save lives of not just students and teachers, but also family members at district events.
“You never really know when an emergency will take place,” Harp said. “It’s always good to be prepared.”
The employees practiced on dozens of medical mannequins outside of the Winona High School auditorium.
They also rotated out to tables set up with simulated limbs that had stab, cut and bullet wounds, which they applied a tourniquet to.
The process started with learning to first make eye contact with another bystander and tell them to call 911, rather than just yelling it out. Next teachers located where the bleeding was coming from, in this case on one of the simulated wounds, and applied pressure with bandages and assessed whether to apply a tourniquet.
The Stop the Bleed campaign is a nationwide initiative to provide bystanders of emergency situations with the tools and knowledge to stop life threatening bleeding, according to the organization’s website.
UT Health East Texas will be providing CPR and Stop the Bleed training at schools and churches in the area.
They will next train Bullard ISD employees and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 17 will teach a class at Christ Episcopal Church, 118 S. Bois D’Arc Ave.
City Council districts in Tyler could be different come 2021, thanks to a redistricting process scheduled to start after the upcoming U.S. Census.
A new district to better serve Hispanic residents, redrawn districts in the southern part of the city and other setups for the City Council could all be on the table.
City Attorney Deborah Pullam gave a presentation on the issue Monday at the City Council retreat held at Marvin United Methodist Church.
Pullam told the City Council that the city manager’s office, the city attorney’s office and a consulting firm would be available to them, but “it is the council who is responsible for doing the redistricting plan.”
The consulting firm will be Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP, city manager Ed Broussard said. The firm has offices in Austin, Houston and El Paso, according to its website.
“Based upon kind of the directions that the council wants to do, (they use a) technical, as far as, just data-driven format, to draw and redraw maps to satisfy what you then as the council want to see,” Broussard said.
Councilman Don Warren, who represents a district with a significant Hispanic population, said there has been talk about creating a district that would better represent Tyler’s Hispanic population.
Currently no members of the City Council identify as Hispanic. Historically, there has only been one person with a Hispanic surname to sit on the City Council, Gus Ramirez.
The idea is similar to an initiative in the 1960s and 1970s to create City Council districts to ensure African-American Tylerites had sufficient representation in city government. The districts, often called west and northwest and currently represented by Broderick McGee and Shirley McKellar, came out of that process.
Warren’s district in the northeastern section of Tyler includes most properties north of Fifth Street and east of Beckham Avenue, plus some neighborhoods near Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church on Old Omen Road.
In May, Warren said his district is 45 percent Anglo, 35 percent Hispanic and 18 percent African American.
“How does that occur when you’ve got six districts,” Warren asked Pullam of creating a Hispanic district. “Do you create a seventh?”
Pullam said: “You can.”
Broussard said: “You’d have to create a seventh and an eighth.”
The City Council has six members and the mayor acts as the seventh, at-large member. The setup creates an odd number of votes on city issues, so votes usually can’t tie.
“You’d want to, in order to have an odd number to carry votes,” Pullam added. “You could create seven and just create a mess for yourselves.”
She said city councils have drawn districts for different communities of interest — such as races, ethnic groups, senior citizens and families — in various ways. She said the first step is getting the data from the U.S. Census analyzed and mapped.
“If you get enough numbers that indicate that there may be enough Hispanics and Latinos in the city that they can carry one, two districts, then you have to consider that in terms of drawing the lines,” Pullam said.
She said districts would need to be roughly the same size in terms of population, and there’s a specific percentage of variation legally permitted. To draw them to serve communities of interest, the data would usually come from the voting-age population, she said.
Pullam outlined ways that districts should not be drawn because they would skirt federal voting laws and gave an overview of court decisions that have affected Texas.
The method referred to as “cracking” puts people of an ethnic group across several different districts, therefore illegally weakening their vote, she said. “Packing” puts as many people as possible in one district, lowering their influence in other districts.
She said the U.S Department of Justice, which has historically monitored districts, no longer needs to review plans, because of recent federal court decisions lifting the state of Texas from federal review.
She said the legal rationale for the decision was that affected communities now have more organizations representing their interests and resources to be able to mount a legal challenge if they wanted.
Broussard told the City Council it’s important for them to encourage every household and every person in their district to fill out the U.S. Census survey come 2020.
“This is where it kind of hits home,” he said.
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