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.