Opinion

Trump inadvertently reveals the truth about the police response to the protests

It's not "law and order." It's "domination."

Monday afternoon in Washington, D.C., a peaceful demonstration against police brutality had gathered in Lafayette Park near the White House. It was covered from multiple angles by journalists, including several live TV feeds. At about 6:30 p.m. — before the city's 7 p.m. curfew had taken effect — a huge mass of law enforcement, including federal and military police, suddenly attacked the demonstrators with tear gas, rubber bullets, concussions grenades, and clubs. Cops bludgeoned two two Australian reporters directly in front of live cameras, which prompted an official investigation from the Australian state.

Axios headlined their article about the event as "Trump goes full law-and-order." We see that this phrase means more-or-less the opposite of what it seems to mean. In this case, it was the police who were violently disrupting order and violating the law — in particular, the First Amendment. The intent, coming from the very top of the American government, is to brutally suppress Americans' constitutional rights. If President Trump and more than a few police departments have their way, freedom of assembly will be null and void in this country insofar as it is invoked to protest police brutality.

In absolutely classic Trump style, it turns out that the park had been violently purged so that he could conduct a photo-op in front of the nearby St. John's Episcopal Church. Administration sources told reporters that he did this because he was embarrassed about the coverage of how he had fled to a bunker during the protests over the weekend. A strongman must always appear strong — especially if he happens to be a coward.

After walking through the trashed park and past a wall of obscene anti-Trump graffiti, he stood before the church and held aloft a bible, bizarrely turning it back and forth like some auctioneer of rare books. One reporter asked Trump if the bible was his own. "It's a bible," he responded. Later it was discovered several of the church's clergy had been gassed out of the patio of their own place of worship. The local Episcopal leader, Marian Budde, told The Washington Post: "I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop."

As protesters dispersed, police chased them all over D.C. Various helicopters flew low over the streets to blast people with the backwash. Police also trapped a group of them on Swann Street to be arrested, but some homeowners allowed people to take refuge inside when the cops started blasting pepper spray everywhere. One kindly man, Rahul Dubey, let over 100 people into his home to protect them from arrest and probable violence. Dozens stayed overnight until the curfew lifted.

Other cities saw similar unprovoked attacks, but one in Philadelphia deserves special attention. Again well before the city's 6 p.m. curfew had taken effect, police suddenly ambushed a group of peaceful protesters that had shut down the I-676 freeway. They forced the demonstrators up against the fence bordering the highway, and pelted the packed crowd with tear gas as they desperately tried to climb to safety, coughing and choking.

It made for a marked contrast with the latitude Philly police reportedly granted a mob of white men, wielding bats and hammers, who took to the streets of the Fishtown neighborhood after the curfew. According to WHYY producer Jon Ehrens, who was on the scene, they exchanged racial slurs while looking for a fight. "There are no rules tonight!" one yelled. At first police reportedly chatted casually with the vigilantes and even posed for a group picture with them. When counter-protesters showed up, more police arrived, and they reportedly gave the white mob at least three separate warnings to disperse. The mob eventually did so at about 9 p.m. — but not before allegedly brutally beating Ehrens for reporting on them.

The First Amendment protects "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." It's hard to imagine a more legitimate political demand than for the agents of state violence to stop killing citizens for no reason. Yet in several cities at least the police plainly regard the prospect of accountability and the rule of law with furious outrage — and are backed up in this attitude by the president of the United States, who has personally unleashed violent political repression on peaceful demonstrators, and is demanding state governors do the same thing. "You have to dominate or you'll look like a bunch of jerks," he told them on a conference call, demanding "retribution" and telling them "You don't have to be too careful." It falls to random good Samaritans to protect the citizenry from lawless state violence.

That is the meaning of "law and order" as advocated by President Trump and his supporters — beating the population into submission until they give up on their constitutional rights and meekly accept what Trump himself has demanded: "domination."

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