News El Paso victims refuse to meet Donald Trump during controversial visit
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El Paso victims refuse to meet Donald Trump during controversial visit

Melania and Donald Trump did get to meet victims of the Dayton, Ohio, shooting. Photo: Twitter
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The surviving victims of one of two mass shootings in the US this week have refused to let President Donald Trump see them in hospital.

Tours of Texas and Ohio were meant to reinforce Mr Trump’s calls for unity as he faced fierce criticism over “racist” rhetoric his opponents said fuelled young men’s disturbing acts of violence towards migrant communities.

But instead they appear to have caused division amid the release of controversial videos, and a war of words between the president and state leaders.

The visits quickly got off to a shaky start when the president was confronted by angry protesters telling Mr Trump he had “blood on his hands”.

In hospitals corridors, however, he was greeted by doctors and nurses like a rockstar – posing for selfies, shaking hands and giving a thumbs up as he thanked “some of the greatest people on earth”.

Melania and Donald Trump pose with hospital staff. Photo: Twitter

But in the country forced to reflect on whether a leader’s language inspires hate crimes, not everyone was as enthusiastic.

Perhaps the strongest message came from some of the eight victims still recovering from Saturday’s shooting in El Paso, Texas, when they advised hospital staff they did not want to see the president.

It follows concerns the language in a rant written by the alleged gunman, in which he explained his “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”, echoed Mr Trump’s anti-immigration statements.

“He has used our community as a prop in the past, misrepresented who we are, described us as dangerous city, a place to be feared, described people in my community, Hispanics, immigrants as people to be hated,” Democrat Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, told Al Jazeera. 

In footage taken by El Paso hospital staff in Texas, Mr Trump is seen praising a worker’s Trump socks and bragging about the crowd he pulled during his last visit to the area. He goes on to compare his popularity to that of presidential candidate and El Paso local Beto O’Rourke, labelling him “crazy”.

Mr O’Rourke responded on Twitter: “This community is focused on healing. Not hatred. Not racism. Certainly not crowd sizes.”

Mr Trump appeared to receive a warm welcome from doctors and nurses as he and first lady Melania walked the halls of the University Medical Centre. But he was unable to see recovering shooting victims there.

A hospital spokesman told US media none of the eight patients being treated for injuries had agreed to the meeting.

“This is a very sensitive time in their lives,” Ryan Mielke told the Washington Post.

“Some of them said they didn’t want to meet with the president, some of them didn’t want any visitors.”

Later, alongside a video of his visits, Mr Trump tweeted: “My time spent in Dayton and El Paso with some of the greatest people on earth. Thank you for a job well done!”

Critics on social media were quick to point out the video montage of the Trumps walking off Air Force One, posing for photographs and shaking hands with hospital staff was in stark contrast to the post-tragedy images of other leaders like former presidents George W Bush, Barack Obama and New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

Critics compared Mr Trump to other world leaders’ handling of tragedies.

The president blamed the “fake news” media and political opponents for falsifying any perceived backlash, adding that there was love and respect at the hospitals.

Mr Trump shared photos of victims who shook his hand in Dayton, Ohio, as they recovered from the shooting that killed nine others on Sunday.

Meanwhile, as the political scoring and finger-pointing continued, so did the gun violence. Eight more people died from firearms in the US in the past day.

On Thursday, a former US Olympian was charged with attempted murder after allegedly opening fire at an equestrian centre. 

In a separate case, one would-be gunman in a bulletproof vest was arrested at a Walmart shop in Missouri armed with a rifle.

The Springfield News-Leader reported the man, wearing body armour and military-style clothing, was stopped by an off-duty firefighter. The firefighter used a handgun to hold the man until police arrived, the newspaper said.

Police told the paper the suspect had more than 100 rounds of ammunition.

Last Saturday’s deadly El Paso attack was also at a Walmart.

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