Many of us watch in disgust — in “shock and horror,” to use Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s words — at the brutality police are levying against people protesting those very acts.
Perhaps the most discussed example comes to us from New York, where two Buffalo police officers violently pushed a 75-year-old, unarmed demonstrator. A harrowing video of the event shows the two individuals and dozens of their colleagues, who had seemingly forgotten their sworn oath to protect and serve, walk by the man’s incapacitated body with not a modicum of regard for the blood pooling from his cracked head. Rest easy, though. The mayor of Buffalo assuaged the shocked residents of his town by calling the elderly man an “agitator” who was trying to “spark up the crowd of people,” even though the video evidence flatly contradicts him.
Outraged, several officers resigned in solidarity…with the police. In the words of John Evans, the police union president, “They tried to fuck over these guys like I have never seen in my 54 years,” further lambasting the district attorney’s pursuit of this case as “despicable.” Fortunately, the two officers were charged with felony assault shortly after the incident.
But not all perpetrators of such flagrant violence are similarly bound. One officer, aware he was being recorded, groped a woman he had restrained. Appalled, she wrangled free, only to be beaten severely by several other officers. No charges. A California officer shot and killed Sean Monterrosa, a 22-year-old protestor who, at the time, was kneeling with his hands up. The killer has been placed on administrative leave, but no charges. Several policemen in Kentucky fired pepper balls at reporters, violating their Constitutional right to cover the news. No charges.
Journalists, unsurprisingly, have been a favorite target of various cities’ ‘finest’ since the protests first broke out. Minnesota officers arrested Omar Jimenez, a Black CNN correspondent, during a broadcast — despite Jimenez’ insistence that he would comply with their (illegal) orders for him to move. Law enforcement in Washington, D.C. battered an Australian journalist on air for no discernable reason.
There are countless other examples and detailing them all would be impossible for one person to do. But the mere observation of the uncountable acts of recorded violence by those who allegedly have our best interests in mind is devastating, heartbreaking, and unfortunately, unsurprising for Black America.
There is no need to even attempt to defend the indefensible, although that certainly hasn’t stopped people from trying. The blue-stripe brigade has been in full force recently, telling us to reject the evidence of our eyes and ears and cellphone videos. Though excuses that may have worked in the past — ‘they were resisting,’ ‘they were being violent,’ ‘they provoked me’ — are untenable given the relative ease with which one can capture, record, and share police abuse. Indeed, I’ve found in recent weeks that Twitter is an oddly illuminating source for current events as protestors share videos of their firsthand experiences.
It is encouraging, yes, that this new level of clarity has begotten charges against some of the savage killers who brandish their badge like it’s their favorite toy (although recently, some have taken to obfuscating their name, which is not only illegal, but distressing given the implication). But the very fact of police violence weaponized against demonstrators begging for an end to police brutality says more about the state of American justice than does the occasional capture of an obviously guilty officer.
Because to acknowledge the benefits brought to society by its citizens’ near-universal possession of pocket-sized video recorders is to also recognize the unfathomable amount of crimes against humanity police carried out when the cameras were turned off, or when they had yet to be invented. What’s more, the ‘I-support-the-idea-but-condemn-the-violence’ crowd which has poisoned our political discourse has been mysteriously silent on the above instances of horrifying, immoral, institutionalized violence.
Perhaps there is a reason for that. When one says that they think George Floyd’s murder was tragic but doesn’t necessitate ‘riots,’ maybe they don’t have a principled objection to violence. Maybe those who advocate law and order — a notorious, racist dog whistle — don’t genuinely care about the rule of law.
Indeed, the events of the past few weeks have done an amazing job of showing systemic racism in action. The same people who protested the “tyranny” of state-mandated lockdown orders meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 are now ridiculing protestors for not obeying curfews. The same people who decried the “violent” nature of the initial protests are deafeningly quiet about documented police abuse. And the same people who claim that peaceful protests are the only way to enact change (usually, these are the ones who selectively quote MLK to suit their political beliefs) are completely fine with the president’s autocratic declaration of war on his own people. The goalpost shifting and inherently incompatible beliefs they’ve espoused reveal that their politics are not rooted in ideology but rather the maintenance of the white supremacist system in America.
Remarkably, having an aspiring klansman in the White House has not helped.
I recognize that some are tired of the constant talk of Trump, especially when the evidence quite reliably suggests that he is a symptom, not the disease. But the man leading the country — who historians have accurately concluded is a dangerous, populist demagogue reminiscent of 20th-century fascists, who once explicitly called for police brutality — is exploiting these historic protests. He is intentionally weaponizing the state and stoking racial resentment in order to bolster his reelection prospects.
In other words, he is becoming increasingly fascist.
On June 2nd, several minutes before the president was set to deliver remarks about the Floyd demonstrations, Attorney General William Barr directed police to use tear gas and rubber bullets to clear out completely peaceful protestors so that Trump could take a photo in front of a church. Again, this is blatantly unconstitutional and anti-democratic.
In the preceding remarks, Trump dog whistled about “law and order,” calling the demonstrators “dangerous thugs.” He said that the violence that has propped up in cities across the country are “acts of domestic terror,” a label he mysteriously declined to give to the self-proclaimed Nazi who ran over peaceful protestors in 2017, the gunman in the Parkland shooting, the perpetrator of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in 2018, the man who mailed pipe bombs to several Democratic leaders, or the man who targeted Hispanics in a mass shooting in El Paso. Those people, if you ask Trump, were not terrorists. But the protestors today are.
And, most chillingly of all, he threatened to deploy the military to “solve the problem” of the protests if Governors do not deploy the National Guard with all deliberate speed.
If you had not guessed already, not once did the president condemn violence carried out by police. In fact, he recently took to Twitter to defend the officers who nearly killed the 75-year-old man, alleging with no evidence (as he often does) that the man was an Antifa plant.
The signals are clear. If you are black, you do not get to protest injustice. If you do it peacefully, you’re a “son of a bitch,” as he called Colin Kaepernick; if things escalate, you are a “dangerous thug” who needs to be shot, terrorized by “vicious dogs,” or confronted with the military. If you peacefully assemble but you get in the way of his photo-op, you will be tear-gassed, beaten, and forcibly removed.
If you oppose the evil ideology of fascism, you are a domestic terrorist who must be dealt with swiftly.
(Unrelatedly, if you descend on your state’s government building with large, military-grade weapons, you are a patriot whose concerns need to be heard).
American fascism is here and no good can come from denying it any longer. The president’s open acceptance of state-sanctioned violence, his eagerness to support White America while condemning Black America, his violent, authoritarian policies, and his vile rhetoric make that very clear.
Where do we go from here? Brutal honesty is a start. Journalists need to stop pretending police are innocent as they torture protestors and that the president is merely mistaken when he tells lies that rile up his base. Voting, too, is highly important. As Bernice King so perfectly put it, “If voting didn’t matter, voter suppression wouldn’t persist.”
Above all, though, we need a holistic approach. Performative resistance and faux solidarity, as is typical of many white liberals online, will not suffice. Protest. Vote. Educate yourself. Donate money. Do all that you can.
Because history will exonerate those of us fighting against racism, against brutality, and against fascism. Plain and simple, the fight is a moral imperative — and I hope you’ll join it with us.