Protests are the way citizens talk to government when it is not listening. In a situation as we have right now in America where the government is at odds with the majority, and the minority owns the levers of power (the executive with the justice department, the upper house, in this case the Senate), and every agency kowtows to one man we have to consider whether protest is the best strategy. If we want to get everyone’s attention protests do the trick. But once protesters get everyone’s attention, these citizens have demands they need people to listen to, sensible demands that might improve life for everyone. Making the people whose assistance the protesters need fearful is not helpful even if that was never the protesters’ intention. There are opposition forces and just plain criminals working against your peaceful protests.
The American people have never been fond of protests unless the cause was their own. And in this case the head of our government is actually escalating the fears of the people so that he can offer to protect them and win reelection. The point has been made, and it is so logical that it elicits a positive reaction and a smile, that in this case the current president is causing more chaos and then offering to fix it if people reelect him. Trump is the President while these protests are going on. If he can’t fix it now why would we reelect him and expect a different outcome. During this pandemic he has pushed responsibility on to states using a state’s rights argument that pleases Republicans. In that case an actual national emergency would have justified a federal government response However, when he has tried to initiate a federal response to protests in cities and states, state’s rights actually do apply and he must be invited to intervene. Because he has those pugilistic fascist tendencies when he is riled up by the people he governs, his first response is beat them into submission, maim them, lock them up. Peaceful streets at any cost!
In this case most Americans see the cause of racial equality as an important one, one that has been allowed to languish in an America that should not have accepted this situation as long as it has. It is not totally altruistic on the part of white people to want to solve our racism problem. Refusing to accept Americans of African Descent as fellow citizens is destroying our society, pulling it apart. Accepting our neighbors of color should not be something that is left to personal choice. This should not be a matter that is in dispute. But we find ourselves deeply divided and in a cultural war over skin color and over a subculture that includes a few violent individuals, a culture produced by the very inequalities we should be trying to address. This might even be labeled a ‘culture war’. Sadly the white supremacists have the con right now. Additionally, our inability to figure this out is insuring that we lose respect around the globe. The world has its eyes on us.
The culture war is complicated by what looks almost like old-style hunter-gatherer tactics used to hunt people rather than game. On the police forces of America, and in the population there are those who seem to be hunting down black folks, killing them off one at a time or in small groups. They seem to hunt the way early humans hunted, the way animals hunt. Find those who are separated from the rest (the herd), find the loners, those who have wandered out of their tribe or pack and then pick them off. I have thought about this before, but recently there was a story of the three police officers who called the EMTs who administered ketamine to Elijah McClain going back to the scene of their ‘take-down’ to pose for a ‘kill’ shot. Vigilantes in Georgia shot Ahmaud Arbery from their pickup truck because they thought he looked suspicious while jogging. A man is killed when he falls asleep at the wheel in a fast food pickup lane. Someone is pulled over for a broken taillight and ends up dead. We often hear someone say ‘he had a gun’ although that was either not true or there was a permit to carry. The protesters have good reason to rise up and ask their government to stop the madness. Sadly they are asking the wrong government.
The fact that protests are coopted by groups who are not with the protesters complicates matters. There are genuine protesters, there are rioters and looters, there is most likely some crossover (protesters who are also looters), there are militias and Trumpers there to fight against allowing black and brown folks by making the arguments about things like ‘respect for the police’ and ‘patriotism’. And there are most likely some people there who are not so peaceful about their protesting methods, who are there to mix it up with the militias and the Trumpers (white supremacists). If it were possible to get some idea of how many people at a protest identify with each group, it would not be quite so easy for Trump to place blame on the left. The fight may end up being between the right wing and the left wing with the protesters left out completely. I don’t know how sociologists or journalists can get a fairly accurate count of the size of these mostly informal groups but it would be helpful.
There could be an interest group formed of knowledgeable people from the protesters and those who would like the protests to push our culture forward on these issues. Such a group could have a plan ready to address the needs of our neighbors who we have excluded for so long from mainstream economic success and acceptance. In this case the protesters should take the lead and the allies should take the role of facilitators. The plan should also include ways to appoint other agencies to take over some of the responsibilities that have fallen to the police such as domestic violence, mental illness, drug ingestion. These are fraught areas of policing because they involve human emotions and chemical imbalances. Can such a plan expect to succeed while those who like the idea of white supremacy are in charge of our government? Will there be a spontaneous combustion if Trump wins? Will there be a spontaneous combustion if Trump loses? What an election!