I must confess, I didn’t think the protests over George Floyd’s death would keep going. Usually after a few days, things become quiet … but not this time. Dahlia Lithwick speculates it’s because we’re no longer protesting Trump, we’re protesting the system that gave birth to him (I’m not sure whether I agree). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says black people have simply had enough and “what I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.”
Trump’s initial response, as I blogged about Monday, was bluster and bragging about how he’s protected by strapping young men with “ominous weapons.” Now he’s branded Antifa as a terrorist group and calling for the use of troops on American soil to restore order. This makes no legal sense as Antifa isn’t an organized group, it’s simply a term for “antifascist.” But given Trump and his mob mouthpiece William Barr have little hesitation in shredding the law and the Constitution, would that justify rounding up any left-wing protester on the grounds of “Antifa! Terrorist!” While of course the Klan and other groups that actually do use terrorism will get to keep doing it; Republicans hate cracking down on right-wing terror.
We could easily become a dictatorship now. I have no idea if we will or not, or how I can contribute to preventing it — but SPLC has some suggestions. Trump may be the biggest asset we have: he worships dominating your enemies but that takes more determination and toughness than he has.
Even if we don’t, the excessive police response to even law-abiding peaceful protesters or people providing medical aid is not good. They tolerated white armed gunmen striding into state offices but peaceful protesters over a dead black guy? No way! Plus we have white supremacists aggravating things, posing as Antifa and hoping to trigger a race war (the FBI found Antifa was not involved in last weekend’s violence). Virginia right-wing senator Amanda Chase is encouraging gun owners to fight Antifa. Tom Cotton wants protesters shot in the streets. Rush Limbaugh, of course, blames Floyd’s death on liberals.
As Fred Clark says, “when police act like its their job to punish, the rule of law can no longer be in effect. It gets replaced by the rule of cops.” Or as Britain’s Robert Peel once said, “The police should use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.” Police could be working to minimize violence, but instead “restore order” means assaulting people exercising their right of protest.
Trump himself, despite his recent tweeting, has never been a law and order president. He pardons killers, breaks the law with impunity and encourages cops to do so too. Of course, during Obama’s tenure, Trump claimed violence and protests were proof the president was weak. And if Trump isn’t willing to punch down — you’ll notice he keeps calling on governors and mayors to do it for him — he’s opening the door for other authoritarians. Some cops are ready.
Apparently aware he was not dominating the protesters, Trump staged his church photo op. The religious right loves it, though his court prophets would gush even if they didn’t. But they’d vote for him anyway, and nobody else is impressed. Even on Breitbart and Fox, it wasn’t the top topic (though they were very impressed). And a lot of Christians are disgusted.
Some police seem to be aware they’re part of the problem. And lawmakers are looking to cut off the pipeline that equips police with military gear. Durham’s PD is meeting with protesters (I don’t have the link handy). K-Pop fans are targeting police apps for narking on protesters and flooding them with videos.
I would normally assume this was a one-way turning point. Either we wind up in a Republican, probably theocratic banana republic or things continue as they are. But perhaps this time the turning point offers change both ways: there’s enough anger and determination where we can actually make things better. I’m old and at times cynical, but apparently I can still hope.