Surprise Win for Black Lives Matters

Leave it to the President to draw the battle lines in black and white. Black Lives Matter versus Trump’s frightening twitter promise to “assume control.” He added, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you.”

Stop the police killings, permit the police killings, the President’s choices are simpleminded, even preposterous. Governments promote domestic tranquility and should not satisfy a fantasy about obey or be killed. Fanning the flames of conflict is beyond the pale, but within days, panicked Democratic mayors and governors had put the police in riot gear. Looting mattered more than the deaths of black people. Trump repudiated the protestors chief goal-making black lives matter.

A NY Times columnist with a growing reputation concluded the “militaristic posture” made matters worse. It provoked and increased the likelihood demonstrators would go off the rails and start breaking things. Jamall Borrell reminded us attacking protesters “does more to inflame and agitate, than it does to calm the situation.” Unasked was the question rattling thinking observers did the President see this conflict as a positive feature or a defect? The President was looking for trouble and Democratic political leaders looked trapped.

The reign of error never happened. The provocation failed. The left won a stunning victory with demonstrators winning the battle for public opinion. Mayors threw in the towel cancelling curfews; politicians adopted the Black Lives Matter program. Including the most basic one, demanding the U.S. cut spending on police and prisons so schools, health and social services can expand. A radical change in Democratic party policy is possible.

New York State overturned a 40-year-old policy of secrecy that was dear to police unions. Democrats voted for the public against labor; it’s the kind of change that makes everyone ask is this a new era with new rules? Police officers’ disciplinary records will become public record.

When an incident grabs the public’s attention, we can learn is this a first offense or one of a string. Everyone is betting the police like the Catholic Church kept bad actors on the job long after their faults are apparent.

This result is unexpected and may herald a reformed Democratic Party. When the looting started, politicians feared the protestors message would be stifled. In the media, criminal Blacks would replace outraged Blacks. The misbehavior of a few would overshadow the disciplined protests. In a grievous error, curfews were imposed. During this Presidential election year Democratic leaders declared their voters to be criminals if they were on the streets after 8 PM. An order, that the protestors would disobey, and the resulting conflict could split the Democratic Party making Trump’s reelection possible.

The police like the President were aggressive. They didn’t shoot looters; they shot pepper spray, tear gas and other projectiles justified because the weapons injure but are not lethal. A witless distinction devised by those who enforce a might makes right discipline. Pepper spray is neither reasonable nor an act of mercy when applied to peaceful demonstrators.The police turned into morons for Trump.

The crowds shouting “no justice, no peace” or walking hands held high chanting “don’t shoot” were on the TV screen and social media. These demonstrations of people from all races were huge and tracked Bernie Sanders supporters. They might not have voted, but they turned up when it mattered after the killing of an unarmed man. 140 cities had them. The local had gone national. George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis could have been a local City story, but thanks to the organizing of Black Lives Matter, the nation recognized police departments murder black people. Eric Garner Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray Breonna Taylor, and Laquan McDonald to name just a few. We know the names, because of Black Lives Matter. The slogan makes the rights and the wrongs of the issue crystal clear. And it persuades people of all races. It is a slogan about identity politics that makes our common humanity most important.

Imposing curfews and putting police into riot gear could have been a catastrophic error especially by Democratic politicians. They were accepting the cynical view right or wrong mattered less than the supposed political truth Democrats must be against looters. The media’s penchant for “if it bleeds, it leads stories” meant disorder would be the story. Burnt vehicles and stolen merchandise must be protected by batons and projectiles. Damn the constitutional rights of a multi-racial coalition calling for a stop to police killings.

A political coalition that wants unity must vigorously support black lives matter. Political allies must protect their partners from assassination; that is asking the barest minimum. Black white and brown must stop their local police departments from battering their citizens. By giving into Donald Trump, Democrats were on the verge of a crisis that could cost them the election.

The popularity of Black Lives Mattered was generally recognized. At the end of May the Sunday Times published an article about Citibank and other giant corporations hitch hiking on the popularity of the Black Lives Matter slogan.

Retired Marine General James Mattis dissed the President. The former Secretary of Defense’s words were measured but their meaning biting. He had the telling advantage of being right. The man, who Donald Trump appointed Secretary of Defense, ignored his old boss the President directing his advice to the American people-don’t be fooled by this looting nonsense.

The unity of “civil society” is not threatened by marauding youth, the General wrote in The Atlantic but by this President who undermines unity. His policies can be squelched if “civil society” unites and uses its resources to tell the truth. This unity will stop Donald Trump who seeks to divide Americans, and the damage to the United States from his actions is way more serious than an outbreak of property damage.

General Mattis’s warning graced the front page of newspaper and was a teaser for TV news casts across the nation. It was saturation coverage and journalism “We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers,” he advised. “The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values.

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the constitution,” Mattis wrote. “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens – much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

The General is crystal clear: if you follow Trump’s advice to exaggerate the dangers of looters in order to justify the claim that an insurrection existed disunity would follow. The popular storm could conceivably paralyze government.

This is high stakes politics. Siding with the President could be disastrous. The armed force would be called upon “to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens.” This would tear a gap in the fabric of society creating conflict with Americans over what is plainly a matter of conscience. “The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values.” The protestors deserve respect.

The path to civic unity, the General insisted, lay with supporting black lives matters. An opinion that gained added weight because the military and the left of the Democratic Party are traditional opponents. The left wants to raid the Military Industrial Complex budget to build schools, hospitals and housing. The General insisted look at the big picture, that’s Donald Trump, first he must go.

The effect was immediate during the day cable tv commentators paid new attention to the lawful protesters. The crackdown wasn’t inflaming the streets, inciting riots or turning the demonstrators into bad guys.

Instead the police brandishing shields and firing pepper spray became the lawless element. They arrested thousands who stood with arms upraised chanting don’t shoot. District attorneys refused to prosecute the cases “in the interests of justice.”

The police are humiliated; their traditional political power sidelined. The crowd control methods from the 1960s became the police riots of 2020. They confronted criticism with violence; their commitment to law and democracy was feeble at best.

It’s a stunning victory for the left. They immediately turned this new strength into hardball demanding police budgets be cut and school budgets improved. A historic demand of the left without advanced warning became a political reality-on everyone’s agenda. This demand was picking up some real political support. Public Health officials were quick to remind their media outlets their budgets have been cut even though police manhandle mental patients daily under conditions that make human rights advocates squirm.

The demand has legs because tax collections by local governments has plummeted during the covid-19 lock down. These governments must cut budgets. The police make a perfect target.

In one of its most public and heated controversies Democratic Party unity was preserved. Fatal conflicts between the Sanders Democrats and those claiming the mantle of pragmatic realists was averted. Events minimized an initial decision to align with the President unleashing get tough policies. In the end the blame fell on the police.

What remains concerning is why the Democratic leadership got stampeded into making a traditional law and order response. Why did it take a disaffected member of the Trump team to remind the media, the public and the Democrats that Donald Trump must go is the problem? The streets were speaking the truth; the protestors were calling on America’s conscience to honor its own ideals.

It is on this basis that General Mattis and presumably the leaders of the Atlantic posted the reminder that unity is the responsibility of everybody in society and only then can we be assured of defeating Trump. Clearly understood was that meant shutdown police killings. Undoubted most thought government should have done that decades ago.

Clearly one wing of the pragmatic Democrats understands that unity means one sides supports the other side on important issues. The next matter deserving discussion is what do we do this revitalized power to demonstrate and set the agenda. That is a subject worth its own discussion.



More Guns Not the Answer

This article was published on on March 1, 2018

BY NATHAN RILEY | Facts contradict the National Rifle Association’s belief — shared over the past week aggressively by President Donald Trump — that arming more citizens will curb gun violence.

Real-life episodes disprove this movie Western version of reality, and Gays Against Guns, a group that emerged after the Pulse nightclub tragedy two years ago, is working to help the public understand that.

In Dallas on July 7, 2016, an armed man shot five police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest about police shootings of civilians. The cops didn’t go near the shooter; they were able to send a robot with a bomb to blow him up because he had holed himself up in an isolated location. This would not, of course, be the recommended response to a chaotic school shooting scene.

ANALYSIS: Standing up to the NRA’s efforts to add to the proliferation of killing machines

The following year in Las Vegas, a huge crowd attending a country western concert, many no doubt supporters of the NRA, were helpless when a millionaire shot them from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel. He fired at will, sending more than a thousand bullets into the crowd and hitting 909 individuals, 58 of whom died. Even if a concertgoer last October 1 were packing a side arm, they would have been helpless against the shooter safely ensconced in his high perch.

On June 12, 2016, less than a month before the Dallas massacre, 107 revelers were shot at Orlando’s LGBTQ Pulse nightclub, which was hosting a Latinx night, by a man with an assault rifle. Forty-nine people died. No police officers charged into the nightclub to save the wounded and stop the shooter. They assembled a swat team, and three hours after the slaughter started they killed the gunman.

Omar Mateen 29, the Orlando shooter was the son of Afghan immigrant refugees and Muslim extremism may have led him to target the LGBTQ community, but we won’t know because the police killed him. Micah Xavier Johnson, the Dallas shooter, was a veteran of the Afghan war. In addition to the five police officers he killed, 11 others were wounded including two civilians. Like Mateen’s, his motives remain obscure. Police were everywhere at that Dallas Black Lives Matter protest, but they never stopped the shooting. They never even approached Johnson directly. For the first time ever, law enforcement in the US decided that a robot could best do the job for them.


Gays Against Guns marched on the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, named for a major NRA funder, the evening after the Florida school shooting. | DONNA ACETO

During the six minutes police say it took Nikolas Cruz to shoot 31 people in a Parkland, Florida, high school, there was an armed deputy sheriff on duty. He didn’t play Wyatt Earp and approach the gunman. He ran toward the location of the shooting but stayed safely outside away from the gunplay. That officer, Scot Peterson — who has since resigned and been slammed by Trump as a “coward” — never realized the shooter fled the school with panicked students in a headlong rush to get away from the gunfire. Once other officers arrived, it took them 20 minutes to realize there was no shooter on the school grounds.

The other solutions that the NRA and its supporters talk about — beyond arming everyone to the teeth — are similarly unpromising. It’s not likely that metal detectors would have stopped the slaughter. Cruz allegedly appeared as the school day was ending when the halls were crowded and non-students had already arrived to provide transportation.

Nor will early identification of “mentally ill” people necessarily prevent future slaughters — you don’t have to be mentally ill to kill. The website visits of the Pulse shooter had come to the attention of authorities. Cruz, during his time at the Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was the subject of constant attention and eventually expelled. We now know that both local police and the FBI had received actionable warnings about him. Yet he had no trouble buying an assault rifle. Researchers have established markers for the early identification of  juvenile offenders and can make reasonably accurate predictions. But they have never found a way to stop the behavior they predict.

Nor, we need to acknowledge, is it likely that the conservatives talking about mental health interventions are really interested in providing the social services —standard in European social democracies — that would be needed to get a handle on the pathologies out there in society. In Finland, psychologists are part of the faculty at its schools, providing daily assistance to teachers and students. For the US to provide these supports, far greater educational spending would be needed.

The only answer the NRA is really interested in is selling more guns to more people. The group, incredibly, has no agenda to prevent mass shootings. Instead, it advocates a violent response after a shooter has already begun his — and it’s essentially always “his” — carnage. But unlike the Hollywood movies the NRA hopes the American public will keep in mind (the president certainly does), the recent history of mass shootings shows that even armed peace officers confront them only with extreme caution.

Prevention, in the NRA’s book, is possible only if we infringe on the “freedom” of assault weapon owners. Removing assault weapons from civilian hands is not a ban on guns. It doesn’t infringe on the right of households to own a gun, but it will make our movie theaters, concerts, schools, and streets safer. But for the NRA, that is “socialism.”


GAG demonstrators in Senator John Cornyn’s office on February 14 protesting the proposed Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. | DONNA ACETO

At this critical juncture in the gun debate, Gays Against Guns is warning that the NRA might be on the verge of a major victory in the proliferation of guns. H.R. 38 is a bill in Congress that would make it legal for a person to buy a sidearm in Texas and then carry it in concealed fashion on the streets of Manhattan, thereby gutting sensible and needed gun control measures at the state and local level. GAG is urging people to write to Federal Express demanding the company end its discount program for NRA members who ship guns.

GAG is also targeting John Faso, a gun-slinging Republican member of the House and a loyal NRA supporter. He represents all or part of 11 upstate counties, including places like Kingston, Peekskill, Delhi, and Kinderhook. H.R. 38, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, is not just an NRA dream. It passed the House of Representatives in December on a 231-198 vote. John Faso voted for it.