The 1992 Los Angeles "Rodney King" riots occurred near the end of the George H. W. Bush presidency.
The Ferguson, Missouri, riots in 2014 sullied Obama's second term.
And now it's Minneapolis under Trump.
Different locations, different specifics, but always the same cause—the mistreatment of black citizens by those in authority.
The other day Tucker Carlson, Fox News commentator and fawning Trump cheerleader, characterized the riots in Minneapolis as tyranny. He said this: The indiscriminate use of violence by mobs is a threat to every American of all colors and backgrounds and political beliefs. Democracy cannot exist when people are rioting. Rioting is a form of tyranny. The strong and the violent oppress the weak and the unarmed. It is oppression.
To repeat: The strong and the violent oppress the weak and the unarmed. It is oppression.”
That statement, the intent of which was to portray the rioters as oppressors, actually points out the opposite: white privilege remains the issue—it has always been the issue. In Minneapolis, as in so many other similar uprisings, the catalyst was the murder of a black man by white authority, and even when black police officers are at fault, their authority derives from the white majority.
I was listening to Eddie Glaude, Jr. yesterday—he’s a Distinguished Professor at Princeton, an author, and a social commentator. Glaude, a black man, made an interesting point, one that I had not considered—that the police response to white protesters with guns is a lot more measured and shows a lot more forbearance than with unarmed black protesters.
Remember these photos?
Armed white men with rifles, and what was the police concern in light of the strong and the violent oppressing the weak and unarmed? The protesters were blocking traffic.
Now imagine that the black protesters in Minneapolis also carried AK-47s. Different outcome?
In a tweet yesterday referencing that city, the president suggested that the rioting "thugs," as he called them, could justifiably be shot, yet he said nothing of the sort in response to his "liberators" with weapons earlier this spring. We don't expect nuance from someone as myopic as Trump, but we should at least expect some attempt at harmony and a refuting, rather than an endorsement, of vigilantism.
Trump's failings are beyond counting, but he didn’t turn the country racist—we've always been that way. Still, by word and deed he has intensified the problem, from his refusal to rent to black families last century to his opening salvo against Mexicans in 2015. We are still reaping the whirlwind of a seed sown four hundred years ago, one now nurtured by a man who saw armed white supremacists take to the streets in 2017 and claimed he saw good people on both sides. Trump didn't cause this problem, but he's making it worse. Of course he would: he thrives on division, and in a failing presidency, this one might salvage him a vote or two.
But now, today—in Minneapolis, in Louisville, and probably in more cities to come, there's the novel coronavirus, and that's the wild card. During this pandemic people of color are suffering unimaginably worse, both in terms of loss of life, loss of income, and loss of basic needs. Other police killings—and there have been many—occurred in what appears now to have been normal times. These are not normal times, and calls for a restoration of order when there is no order to begin with will fall on deaf ears. Trump's refusal to institute a national policy to deal with the pandemic signals the weakening of the nation, the division of the United States into little compartments operating on their own. The compartment of Minnesota is the current epicenter. That may change.
If mistreated people have nowhere to look for recourse, for justice, for authority—if they see the Constitution that protects them as being rent and torn by a criminal president and a feckless Congress, what are their options? Nobody wants to see this country ravaged by violence and destruction, but with no-one at the helm and the president tacitly suggesting that anyone with a weapon is now in charge, optimism is difficult.
And as with Covid-19, we may be at the beginning of the curve, not at the end.