We are in the midst of a very ugly, unsettling time in America. The large demonstrations against injustice have somehow become delegitimized by the relatively few incidents of looting and arson. Focus groups are showing diminished support for Black Lives Matter because of the property damage. Retiring Trump aide Kelly Anne Conway minced no words: the violence, she said, will help Donald Trump’s reelection.
I am sickened that so many white people, awakened by George Floyd’s appalling death to the horrors that Black Americans are facing, could so quickly forget when another horrific episode evoked demonstrations whose largely peaceful nature is marred by acts of arson. The fact that a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, could shoot seven bullets into the back of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, while he was getting into his car–in full view of his three young children–should be viewed by everyone as the horror that it is. And we must see justice unfold promptly and transparently.
But the compounding and equally frightening fact is that police officers who knew what one of their fellow officers had done, touching off the demonstrations, then let a young white vigilante walk away after he’d shot three people with a long gun, killing two of them.
That unconscionable evidence of injustice should lead us to a major national discussion. The fact that Fox News host Tucker Carlson said the killer had to “maintain order when no one else would” does not bode well for curbing violence in our streets. We must call it what it is: an act of domestic terrorism.
I am certainly not advocating looting and arson. I wish every demonstration was peaceful. But Martin Luther King, Jr., the beacon of non-violence, called such acts “the voice of the unheard.” People who feel they have a stake in their surroundings don’t loot or set fires. Changing that dynamic after years of neglect will take time and resources. Sure, there are opportunistic looters in the mix as well, and we know that white supremacists have been responsible for some of these acts as a way to stir things up.
In the past, when armed vigilantes showed up, the police sent them home. The fact that they were welcomed in Kenosha “to protect property” shows that we as a society have our priorities badly skewed. Property should be protected by trained authorities, not by vigilantes. And never at the price of human lives.
But instead of a major national conversation, we got the Republican National Convention. Why did it feature a white St. Louis couple who had stood armed in front of their mansion as Black Lives Matter protesters walked by? These people aren’t heroes! They’re paranoid thugs, facing charges for their reckless acts. But they’re being depicted as the only way to keep your suburban family safe if you vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
If you don’t have time to watch the video above, Rivers discusses the Republicans’ emphasis during their convention:
“They’re just spewing this fear. We’re the ones getting killed, getting shot, denied living in certain communities, getting hung…All you hear about is fear. It’s amazing….Why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back. It’s so sad. We got to do better.”
The persistent emphasis on fear is a desperation tactic being used by a racist President who hopes to win over a sliver of suburban women in battleground states. Law and order indeed! The list of crimes committed by his closest advisers and the charges looming against him and his family give the lie to that claim.
I fervently hope Americans are smarter than this.
As Biden said Thursday, this is not only happening in Trump’s America; Trump is adding to the conflagration, throwing matches on the fire. I just heard someone say that Donald Trump is the cause of the violence and hopes to be its beneficiary.
Quite true. He is dividing us and trying to scare us because he has nothing to offer us after 3-1/2 years in office but 182,000+ dead in a pandemic he doesn’t know how to control and an economy that collapsed because he doesn’t understand that you can’t expect an improved economy if you deny or hide the pandemic.
He’s still trying to deny and hide by ordering fewer tests so he can claim the virus has been defeated and persuading the once-apolitical and highly respected Centers for Disease Control to assert that asymptomatic people don’t need to be tested. (The CDC eventually backtracked.) I think of Trump assuming the “Ostrich/Scientist-Imposter/Deadly” approach to curbing the pandemic. Kamala Harris was right: he froze; he failed; he’s scared.
The Athletes Offer Hope
I believe that the sports figures who boycotted their games to protest the Kenosha police shooting are in a better position than many to clarify the stakes here. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest police violence, I felt he was demonstrating in the best nonviolent tradition. But he was alone, and he paid a hefty price: nearly four years later, he’s still not employed.
But the quiet dignity of all those athletes from basketball, baseball, soccer, and tennis resounded. “It was the silence that spoke loudest,” wrote Kurt Streeter in The New York Times.
“This is what the silence said: No more Jacob Blakes. No more George Floyds. No more Breonna Taylors…Natasha McKennas…Philando Castiles…Michael Browns..Tamir Rices…Eric Garners..Alton Sterlings.
“No more pain.”
Streeter wrote that “a new high bar of protest has been established.”
These athletes will ensure that the conversations about social justice will continue. (In the video. Doc Rivers so clearly states what most Black people are seeking from this country, how these continuing crimes against them make so many of them feel, and why they must continue the protests.)
Sports are unique in attracting people from disparate backgrounds, so I’m hopeful that the athletes’ plans for sustained action and discussion will channel the anger productively and move us forward toward significant societal improvements.
At the same time, athletes are seeking to make change by facilitating voting. LeBron James created an organization called More Than a Vote to overcome voter suppression. That organization is working with the LA Dodgers and Detroit Pistons to turn their stadium into a massive voting site. James is also encouraging young people to volunteer for training as poll watchers.
And, I just learned, to date at least 12 other professional sports teams (football, baseball, basketball, and hockey) will be opening their stadiums to facilitate “fast, safe, and socially distanced voting.” Expectations of the Election Super Centers Project, which is nonpartisan, are that the number will continue to rise, surpassing 25 and including university and college arenas as well.
The players’ boycotts and their emphasis on voting are two positive, nonviolent approaches to combating the dreadful deadly actions we’ve seen by too many police officers. We must confront as well the growth of overt white supremacy in our country. Regrettably, there appears to be some evidence that those two trends are linked. But that’s a story for another day.
This is a story of the growing numbers of sports figures who are turning their own pain into demonstrations of the ways our country must move if we are to get closer to the equity and racial justice that should be every Americans’ birthright.
It is now 57 years since the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. How much longer must it take for us to finally get this right?