Trump condemns racism after US mass shootings

US President Donald Trump (PTI Photo)

US President Donald Trump on Monday told a nation mourning the death of 31 people in two-weekend mass shootings that he rejected racism and white supremacist ideology, moving to blunt criticism that his anti-immigrant rhetoric fuels violence.

As flags flew at half mast at the White House and across the country and the death toll edged up by two, Trump made an unusually direct condemnation of racists as he took on the role of consoler in chief.

But as the country tried to digest weekend shootings that left 22 dead at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas and another nine outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio, Trump offered little in the way of new ideas for a country awash with guns and painfully accustomed to mass shootings.

"Our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy," Trump said.

He stressed that mental illness was the main culprit fueling mass shootings in America, as opposed to the ready availability of firearms or extremist thinking, as argued by gun control advocates.

At the sites of America's latest massacres -- numbers 250 and 251 so far this year -- people came to honour the dead.

Makeshift memorials with candles, flowers, heart-shaped balloons and posters with messages of condolence sprang up outside the Walmart in Texas and the Dayton bar.

"You are loved," read an inscription on a small yellow cardboard heart placed outside the Ned Peppers Bar.

Outside the Walmart store that was attacked Saturday, people paused to pay their respects at the memorial. Balloons shaped like stars -- Texas is the Lone Star State -- fluttered in the morning breeze.

One poster read: "A date never to forget: August 3, 2019."

In his brief address, Trump made no mention of two ideas he had tweeted hours earlier: tightening background checks for gun buyers and linking gun control reform to changes in immigration law.

The president did say he supported "red flag" laws allowing authorities to confiscate weapons from people believed to present grave risks.

Many people were grateful that even more were not killed in Ohio.

In Texas, 25 people were wounded, and another 26 were hurt in Ohio, where the shooter was killed in roughly 30 seconds by police who were patrolling nearby.

Two of those wounded in Texas died Monday.

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl told a news conference Sunday that the quick police response was crucial, preventing the shooter from entering a bar where "there would have been... catastrophic injury and loss of life."

Biehl said the shooter wore a mask and a bullet-proof vest and was armed with an assault rifle fitted with a 100-round drum magazine.

Police named the gunman as a 24-year-old white man called Connor Betts and said his sister was among those killed. She had gone with him to the scene of the shootings.

Police said Monday they had no evidence so far that race played a part in the Dayton shooting.

In Texas, police said the suspect surrendered on a sidewalk near the scene of the massacre. He was described in media reports as a 21-year-old white man named Patrick Crusius.

He was believed to have posted online a manifesto denouncing a "Hispanic invasion" of Texas. El Paso, on the border with Mexico, is majority Latino. 

Seven of those killed in the El Paso shooting were Mexican, the country's foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said Sunday.

The manifesto posted shortly before the shooting also praises the killing of 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March.

Police said the suspected shooter has been charged with capital murder and could face the death penalty, and a federal official said investigators are treating the El Paso shooting as a case of domestic terrorism.

Despite a string of horrific mass shootings in the US, where gun culture is deep-rooted, efforts to strengthen firearms regulations remain divisive.

The latest two shootings capped a particularly bloody week for gun violence: three people died in a shooting at a food festival last Sunday in California, and two more Tuesday in a shooting in a Walmart in Mississippi.

On Twitter Saturday, Trump described the El Paso attack as "an act of cowardice."

But critics said the president's habit of speaking in derogatory terms about immigrants is pushing hatred of foreigners into the political mainstream and encouraging white supremacism.

"To pretend that his administration and the hateful rhetoric it spreads doesn't play a role in the kind of violence that we saw yesterday in El Paso is ignorant at best and irresponsible at worst," said the Southern Poverty Law Center, a major civil rights group.

It cited Trump actions like calling Mexican migrants rapists and drug dealers and doing nothing when a crowd at a Trump rally chanted "send her back" in reference to a Somali-born congresswoman.



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