Terry H. Schwadron
June 2, 2020
Donald Trump came out of hiding last night and made things worse.
Minutes before a Washington, D.C. curfew, Trump all but threatened martial law, threatening to deploy active U.S. military troops into Washington and dozens of other cities and states to quell violence arising in protest to last week’s apparent police murder of George Floyd in a routine stop in Minneapolis.
It was a scary development in an relatively uncontrolled, rolling catastrophe. Above all, it was a reminder of how both dangerous and ineffective Trump can be in a simultaneous tidal wave of pandemic, joblessness, pent-up anger and racism.
Trump’s language in his Rose Garden announcement was militant, insulting and ugly, as it was in a phone call with governors whom he called “weak” and “fools” and ordered them to get yet more aggressive with protestors, to deploy enough National Guard members to “dominate” violent protests.
Just outside the White House, federal authorities used rubber bullets, flash bangs and gas to clear peaceful protesters in the street ahead of city curfew, to allow Trump to walked across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church, where a fire was set Sunday night. Trump wanted a photo op holding a Bible.
For the record, the Right Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who saw all this on television, said she didn’t want Trump speaking for her church.
This is the same arrogant, egotistical Trump who hid out in a White House bunker on Friday night, who has refused the chance to speak a calming word to the nation or to offer thoughts on getting to the reasons for the protests altogether.
Trump has yet to utter a single word about police brutality against black citizens, about the long list of police killings of black men taken into custody on relatively minor actions, or, indeed, about the institutional racism that has come to describe America in a more primary way.
None of what Trump announced in his angry voice helps anything — unless you believe that this projected toughness is good for his political reelection image.
In the end, of course, it turns out that Trump was deploying 250 military police to Washington, hardly the overwhelming, dominating force he said he was envisioning.
And among the governors, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Andrew Cuomo of New York said no governor would ask for active federal troops beyond the state National Guard. Cuomo said, “I was shocked at the force they used to move the protesters, who could not have been more peaceful,” adding, “Calling out the American military for a photo opportunity. . . It was shameful. It was really, truly shameful,” he added.
Presidents generally cannot use the military for domestic law enforcement, so Trump is using the Insurrection Act of 1807 for emergency purposes. It still requires the request of governors.
The record already is replete with continuing incidents of “dominance” in the streets of more than 75 cities across the country. In Louisville, Ky., the mayor fired the police chief after police shot and killed a protester. In New York, officials were investigating why two police SUVs would push into a crowd of protesters. In Davenport, Ia., two protesters were shot and killed for violating curfew. There were reports of counter-protesters driving a trucks into crowds in California and Tallahassee, Fla., and a Fox news anchor who suggested that people grab zip ties and make their own citizen arrests.
In other words, the chaos in the streets are crying out for an orderly voice rather than a gruff demand for more aggression.
The bigger picture
The actual prosecution in Minneapolis hit new obstacles as it became clear that there were different results in the county autopsy report and one commissioned by the Floyd family’s lawyers, which said more directly that Floyd had died as a result of the pressure on his neck.
The other three now-former police officers are still awaiting word on whether they face criminal charges, and Minnesota Atty. Gen. Keith Ellison, a former black congressman, has elbowed into take over the county prosecution, which is widely being perceived as too slow and too minimal in the actual charges.
Lost in all this is the need for leadership about the actual racism at the heart of all of it.
Trump reportedly had been advised repeatedly over the weekend to stay silent unless he really had something to say.
Now he has said it out loud, and his militarized, despotic vision is scary as hell.