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News Brief: Laura Roars Ashore, Kenosha Protests, Republican Convention

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A lot of people on the Texas-Louisiana coast are waking up this morning to devastation caused by Hurricane Laura, which made landfall early this morning.

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JOHN BEL EDWARDS: You're going to hear the word unsurvivable to describe the storm surge that we are expecting.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

John Bel Edwards is governor of Louisiana, where Laura has now come ashore. It is the storm surge more than the 120 mile per hour winds that forced people to flee. At least half a million were told to evacuate.

MARTIN: NPR's John Burnett joins us now on the line from Beaumont, Texas, where he's covering all this. Hey, John. How's it going where you are?

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel. Well, actually, this storm is hustling right along. I've been up listening to the howling winds and watching the sheets of rain coming in horizontally. And it's really starting to let up now quite a bit. Of course, we're over on the west side of the Sabine River, which separates Louisiana and Texas. And so we didn't get hit near as hard as Louisiana side did. We did lose power about an hour ago.

MARTIN: So let's talk about what Steve referenced. I mean, about a half a million people evacuated ahead of the storm. There are many, though, who did not leave, right? They chose to ride it out. What are they facing in this moment?

BURNETT: Well, you know, that's always happens. I mean, you know, people - they've got their pets. And they've got their property. And they've got their guns. And so they just stay put. And I met quite a few yesterday. And so you know, the question is - you know, we saw a wire report. There were 150 that stayed in that little coastal town of Cameron, La. That's - I just can't imagine - you know, the governor said it was unsurvivable. I'm not sure there's a town there anymore. It's probably become part of the Gulf of Mexico when they're talking about a 20-foot...

MARTIN: Wow.

BURNETT: ...Storm surge. I've been to Cameron before. Ages ago, I did a story on some Cajun alligator hunters down there. And it's laced with oil field canals. And, you know, it will become part of the Gulf. And so I'm very worried about the people down there.

MARTIN: So when you think about the - how far the storm surge could reach, I mean, what are the other communities that are in the path of that?

BURNETT: Well, we don't really know yet. No one has been out. So you know, we heard the storm surge could go 30, 40 miles inland. It's definitely - we didn't get much water here in Beaumont, thankfully, that I'm aware of. But we don't know yet about Lake Charles, which, you know, by its name, there's Calcasieu Lake. And it, you know - the storm water could've surged into the lake. I just don't know yet what the word is there and, you know, how far all this storm water, you know, traveled north.

MARTIN: All right. Well, no doubt. I mean, it's going to be a difficult morning when a lot of people wake up and realize the devastation around them. John, we appreciate you and your reporting. Stay safe there. NPR's John Burnett reporting on Hurricane Laura from Beaumont, Texas. Thanks, John.

BURNETT: You bet. You're welcome.

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MARTIN: All right. Protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake continued for a fourth straight night in Kenosha, Wis.

INSKEEP: People marched in defiance of an emergency curfew that is in place until Sunday. There are now multiple investigations here. Local authorities are examining the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who is still alive but in very serious condition. We now know the officer involved was a seven-year veteran of the force. And the name we've been given is Rusten Sheskey. The FBI has launched a civil rights investigation here. And then there is the investigation of the aftermath. Police arrested a 17-year-old who allegedly shot three protesters and killed two.

MARTIN: We're joined by NPR's David Schaper, who has been covering this. David, good morning. What can you tell us about what transpired last night?

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel. Well, it was overall a pretty peaceful night. Authorities moved up the time of that curfew to 7 p.m. and threatened mass arrests. But many protesters ignored the curfew anyway and were still out and about. Shortly after 7, an armored sheriff's police vehicle moved into this park outside of the courthouse here where most of the protests have been taking place. And the protesters marched towards that armored vehicle. And there was a brief verbal standoff.

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UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Step away from the vehicle. Step away from the vehicle. Last warning - step away from the vehicle.

SCHAPER: Ultimately, people did step away. And I overheard one officer who was not on that loudspeaker say to the protesters, thank you. But this is still a city that is really on edge. The police shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday led long simmering anger and frustration over racial inequalities to boil over. But now this shooting of the protesters Tuesday night by a 17-year-old, allegedly...

MARTIN: Right.

SCHAPER: ...Who had been seen with a group of armed white men who called themselves a local militia, that seems to have really changed the tone here. And some worry it could further inflame racial tensions.

MARTIN: So what do we know about that suspect, the young man who has been arrested for allegedly shooting the protesters?

SCHAPER: He's charged as an adult. He's 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse. He was arrested in his home in nearby Antioch, Ill., yesterday. And there's smartphone videos out there from the scene that show someone who looks an awful lot like Rittenhouse as the apparent shooter. He's seen carrying a semiautomatic rifle and talking on a cellphone and saying, I just killed somebody. That same person is seen in videos shooting the others.

Now, on social media, Rittenhouse shows fervent support for police and Blue Lives Matter. Earlier in his teens, he participated in a public safety cadet program in Chicago's far northern suburbs. His social media profiles show him in a police-like uniform. And he's shown in videos that were shot earlier in the day Tuesday holding that semiautomatic weapon and saying he's part of this local militia that's out to protect businesses from what the group said on its Facebook page was - were evil thugs.

MARTIN: So let's focus on Jacob Blake. This is the man who's now paralyzed after being shot seven times by police. This is what demonstrators are protesting right now in Kenosha. What are the developments in the investigation into that shooting?

SCHAPER: Well, last night, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul identified the officer who shot Jacob Blake as Rusten Sheskey. He's been on the Kenosha Police Force, as Steve mentioned earlier, for seven years. He was responding with other officers to a domestic call. And they tried to arrest Blake. They don't actually say why he was trying to be - they were being arrested. They first tried to use a taser on him, but it failed to subdue him. As Blake walked around the vehicle, opening the driver-side door and reaching down, Kaul says that Sheskey tried to pull Blake back by his shirt and then fired seven times into his back. Investigators did recover a knife on the scene. But it's not clear if officers knew there was a knife there.

MARTIN: So there's been all kinds of reaction to Jacob Blake's shooting not just in Kenosha, but throughout the sports world, actually. We're going to play some tape from the Milwaukee Bucks. Their players gave a statement following their decision to boycott their playoff game last night.

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GEORGE HILL: We're calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable. For this to occur, it is imperative for the Wisconsin state legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.

MARTIN: So, David, I mean, this isn't the only team that's speaking up in this moment, right?

SCHAPER: Well, it's not. You know, the Bucks played just up the road here - from here in Milwaukee. And one of their players, Sterling Brown, who was one of those reading that statement, was actually beaten and tasered by Milwaukee police officers two years ago after he parked improperly at a Walgreens. So that's kind of motivated them to get involved here. And the rest of the NBA has now followed suit, postponing all of Wednesday night's playoff games.

Players met Wednesday to discuss whether or not to cancel the playoffs altogether, which would be a really huge problem for the NBA season. They're scheduled to go into October. Then the WNBA followed suit here in Milwaukee. The Brewers called off their games, their baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds. Two other baseball games were canceled or postponed. And in the games that were played, some individual players sat out. And others took a knee during the national anthem. So quite a widespread reaction throughout the world of sports.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's David Schaper on this story. Thank you, David. We appreciate it.

SCHAPER: Thanks for having me.

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MARTIN: All right. Night 3 of the Republican convention and the message, again, was about law and order.

INSKEEP: In an election that has been seen as a referendum on the president, Vice President Pence last night framed a choice.

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MIKE PENCE: Last week, Joe Biden said democracy's on the ballot. And the truth is our economic recovery is on the ballot. Law and order are on the ballot.

INSKEEP: The vice president's speech at the Republican convention came against a backdrop of multiple crises - the pandemic, the recession and renewed protests over police brutality, not to mention a major hurricane.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us this morning. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So tonight, we hear from President Trump. He'll give his address formally accepting the nomination. What did his vice president do to set the stage from him last night?

KEITH: Well, so far, the dynamics of the race have been guided by what people think about President Trump. And they want to make this more about former Vice President Joe Biden. So Pence called him a Trojan horse of the radical left - that's something you've heard a lot in this convention - saying that, quote, "you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America," then saying President Trump stands for law and order. You know, these are attacks we've seen on Biden frequently. And they haven't yet gained traction. But this is the biggest stage yet for that kind of message. Pence also delivered a line that sums up the campaign's pitch for Trump's second term. He said make America great again, again.

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PENCE: Because of the strong foundation that President Trump poured in our first three years, we've already gained back 9.3 million jobs in the last three months alone.

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PENCE: And we're not just opening up America again, we're opening up America's schools.

KEITH: And even though there have been those job gains, the unemployment rate is still over 10%. And as for those school reopenings, it has not gone without a hitch. And many schools are opening all virtual.

MARTIN: Right. So Steve mentioned this. I mean, there are obviously all these crises happening at the same time that the convention is happening - among them, the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., and the ensuing demonstrations, also this hurricane that was approaching the Gulf Coast last night. Did Pence talk about either of those two issues?

KEITH: Yeah. He added those items to his remarks. He said that the administration is engaged and ready to coordinate a response to Hurricane Laura. On the protests, he focused on law and order. He said the violence must stop. And he also criticized Biden for saying that there's systemic racism in America. And I think that this is something that we might hear more of from President Trump.

MARTIN: So tonight, he gives his speech. What are you looking for from President Trump?

KEITH: You know, there have been a lot of messages this week trying to soften the president's image, showing him as caring and not that bombastic tweeter that we've all seen for the last 3 1/2 years. A lot of speakers last night were saying things about how he's really nice in private. One thing to look for tonight is, what will he present? Will he present himself as bombastic? Or will he present himself with that softer side image?

MARTIN: NPR's Tamara Keith for us. Thank you so much, Tamara. We appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome.

MARTIN: And NPR's coverage of the Republican National Convention continues tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Visit npr.org. Or you can ask your smart speaker to play NPR or your local station by name to join us live. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.