Before we get to the news from the protest front — from the driver of the turquoise Jeep who has not yet been arrested for speeding through the crowd of protesters on I-225 Saturday night to the protester who allegedly shot at the Jeep and hit at least one fellow protester and has been arrested — let’s understand what we’re talking about.
When the righteous and overwhelmingly peaceful protests against racial injustice grow violent, they are playing into the hands of Donald Trump, who, if I had to guess, glories in each broken courthouse window and in each cracked protester’s head.
That’s why the president is sending even more U.S. marshals/border patrol agents/secret police to Portland — not to calm the situation, but to roil it, and not only in Portland but also in cities where protests are again flaring in support of the Portland protesters.
It’s all a re-election strategy. Trump means to scare white suburban voters. If you don’t think that’s what he means, just note that in a Wisconsin tele-town hall he said Democrats want to “eliminate single-family zoning, bringing who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down.” Bringing who knows? What Trump doesn’t know is that his lily-white suburbs have mostly disappeared.
But even more, Trump wants to distract voters from his utter failure to lead in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has done real violence to America. So, he calls the protesters anarchists and worse and blames Joe Biden for them. It’s cynical, of course, but no one could expect otherwise.
If you’re a fan of the genre, Attorney General Bill Barr, in his opening statement before the House judiciary committee Tuesday, would say of Portland, “What unfolds nightly around the courthouse cannot reasonably be called a protest; it is, by any objective measure, an assault on the Government of the United States.”
I’m not going to unpack that statement because we just don’t have the time. Let me just say that Portland’s “Wall of Moms” protesters are not there to precipitate a civil war. OK, I’ll say one more thing. Donald Trump mocked the Portland mayor for joining the protests and being tear-gassed. I’m going to guess the mayor wasn’t being violent either.
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So, what’s a poor protester to do? These protests have not only been righteous, they have successfully alerted Americans to the issue of systemic racism. The protesters have, as they march day after day, been our collective conscience. In Colorado, the protests have morphed from the police killing of George Floyd to the death of an entirely innocent Elijah McClain while in the hands of Aurora police. And in Louisville, they protest the no-knock police killing of Breonna Taylor and the lack of any arrests there. The stories are endless, of course.
But as my friend Charlie Pierce, the trenchant Esquire columnist, writes, one of the principles of politics is not to be a sucker. He cites the nonviolent example of John Lewis, whose last trip across the Edmund Pettus Bridge brought tears to the eyes of most Americans not named Donald Trump. That image calls to us.
And while noting the unfairness of the situation, Pierce writes, “We live in a time in which the President* of the United States wants chaos and disunion. Don’t give it to him.”
If only it were that easy. If only the violence began and ended with the protesters. If only protesters weren’t being hit with less-than-lethal violence that is close enough to lethal.
Meanwhile back at the front …
As I mentioned, the driver of the turquoise Jeep who sped his way through a crowd of protesters on I-225 has yet to be arrested, at least as I write this on Tuesday morning.
Somehow, that doesn’t surprise. Aurora police have identified the driver. They have questioned him. They have seen the video we have seen. They have taken the Jeep as evidence, but they say they need more. Presumably, there are dozens and dozens of witnesses to interview.
The shooter, as I mentioned, has been arrested. He didn’t hit the driver, of course, which is a good thing. If he had, the vehicle would likely have careened into the crowd and possibly killed someone. As it is, the shooter — whose actions were unaccountably praised by Denver School Board member Tay Johnson, who has otherwise shown great leadership during the protests — hit at least one protester and possibly two. Does it need to be said that no one should bring a gun to a peaceful protest?
And back at the Aurora courthouse later that night, a small number of protesters broke windows, knocked down a fence and looked to cause damage. In response Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman tweeted that the offenders were “domestic terrorists.” He almost immediately took that down — admitting, in the process, that he was wrong — when someone apparently pointed out to him that terrorism is usually a step or two beyond broken windows.
But he basically criticized police for not having a greater presence at the courthouse, saying protesters could sense “weakness.” Of course, earlier greater presence had led to a much-criticized, more-than-forceful breakup of a crowd there for a violin concert honoring McClain. On the Ross Kaminsky show, Coffman said, “I’m not going to let this city become Portland.” I’ve been to Portland many times. I’d say there’s little chance of that.
Want more? In Eaton, up in Weld County, a driver was arrested for speeding through a smallish pro-police, Blue Lives Matter rally.
In Austin, an openly armed demonstrator — that’s how they roll in Texas — was shot and killed by a man in a car who had turned onto a barricaded street where protesters were marching. No one has been arrested. The question is whether the demonstrator pointed his gun at the driver who killed him. Witnesses say he didn’t, but if he did, Texas law would have it as self-defense.
In Richmond, Va., police officials say that white supremacists sparked weekend riots disguised as Black Lives Matter protesters. Is anyone shocked by that? How about this? In Minneapolis, the so-called Umbrella Man, whose viral video smashing windows once helped spark a riot, is now believed to have been a white supremacist hoping to incite racial tensions.
How’s the line go — that way madness lies?
In 2020, the line should be slightly different. Every way you go, madness lies. Borrowing a page from candidate Nixon’s playbook back in 1968, Trump is playing what I think might be the unprecedented dual role as both president and outside agitator. But this is not 1968. The suburbs aren’t all white. And if the polls are right, the majority may not be silent after all.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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