United States: High stakes in Trump’s attacks on Black Lives Matter protests

June 17, 2020
Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley (right) with US President Donald Trump and his entourage following the violent dispersal of protesters in Washington DC on June 1. Image: Jim Roberts/Twitter.

Republicans are ramping up attempts to curtail African Americans’ right to vote, following polls suggesting United States President Donald Trump may lose the November 2020 election. The recent state primary elections in Georgia emphasised this in spades.

Most of the media called the Georgia elections a catastrophe. Voting machines didn’t work. There weren’t enough trained polling workers. Voters who requested a postal vote because of the coronavirus pandemic never received their ballots.

Some voters had to wait five hours to vote in extreme heat and rain. This was especially true in cities with large African American populations. News coverage showed voters in affluent, white areas voting in seven minutes.

Since the repeal of the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013, Georgia has closed about 200 polling booths, leaving just a handful in areas where the population is heavily African American.

This was one reason why Trumpist Republican candidate Brian Kemp narrowly defeated African American Stacey Abrams in the Georgia gubernatorial elections in 2018. Another was that Kemp, as Secretary of State at the time, was in charge of overseeing the election he was a candidate in.

Abrams said of the recent election, “It’s a disaster that was imminently preventable ... We found ourselves in the mix of both incompetence and malfeasance.”

Trump has labelled postal ballots a source of “massive fraud and abuse”, without a shred of evidence. Is that why Georgia’s state Republican administration muffed the sending out of postal ballots?

If, as is likely, the virus is still with us in November, many voters will want to use postal ballots rather than voting in person. It remains to be seen if, in states with Trumpist administrations, they will be allowed to do so.

Trump’s military threat

The Georgia primaries voting catastrophe, which affected Blacks the most, occurred in the midst of the continuing Black-led, multiracial uprising against the systemic oppression of Blacks, with police violence its spearhead.

Trump’s threat to use the military to smash the uprising, if carried out, would have been a major step towards a military-Bonapartist dictatorship. The power of the uprising led retired generals and admirals to publicly back away from such a step, causing Trump to retreat. Mark Milley, chair of the armed forces Joint Chiefs of Staff – and an active duty general – in effect joined them.

It’s unlikely that the ruling class, reeling from the protests and the huge support for their demands, would support such a move.

On June 1, as part of his threat to unleash the military, Trump ordered armed forces to violently clear peaceful demonstrators from a street in front of the White House, to make way for his now notorious photo opportunity in front of a local church. Washington DC is not a state, and the national government is in overall charge of the district, although the elected municipal government is nominally in charge of the city.

The forces, including National Guard, Military Police, Secret Service and non-identified personnel, such as prison guards, charged into the protesters using flash-bombs, tear gas and clubs. The street was cleared by violence. Trump later hailed this action as an example of what should be done.

Trump and his entourage then crossed the cleared street, with the smell of teargas still in the air, to pose in front of the church. Trump held up a Bible, in an appeal to his racist, white, evangelical supporters.

Milley, who was part of the entourage, now says he was wrong to accompany Trump, saying it gave the “appearance” that the military was interfering in politics.

However, Milley’s presence was no accident. It was a demonstration that he was backing Trump’s call at the time for a military crackdown on the mass protests – in other words – interfering in politics.

This was emphasised by the fact that he appeared in uniform on Trump’s “walk”. Moreover, he was wearing camouflage combat gear – ready for action.

Trump bolsters his base

Throughout the country, police have used extreme violence against the protests. This was true in Seattle, in the state of Washington, until a decision was taken for the police to back off. Seattle’s Eighth Precinct police station was abandoned, and demonstrators took over the surrounding area, occupying it.

In response, Trump demanded that the “radical leftist” state governor and Seattle mayor (both are establishment Democrats) disburse the “anarchist” occupiers, or “he would”. The mayor told him to “go back to his bunker” (referring to the White House basement, where Trump has been holed up). His farcical bluster was exposed.

Everything Trump has been doing and saying is to bolster his supporters in preparation for November’s presidential election – no matter what the rest of the population thinks of his antics.

Trump announced there would be an indoor election rally this month in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Republican-controlled state – against the medical warnings on the dangers of exposure to COVID-19. Trump did this to back up his demand that the economy be completely opened up, whatever the cost in new COVID-19 cases and deaths. Vice President Mike Pence has since said they may move the rally outdoors.

Historically, Tulsa was the scene of a mass riot, 99 years ago, by thousands of whites against its Black community, known for being better off than most in the nation at the time. Thousands of community members were forced to flee, some 300 were murdered and Black-owned businesses and homes were bombed. Tulsa has lived up to its reputation ever since.

Concerning the Black Lives Matter protests in Tulsa, new video has emerged showing a white police officer kicking a Black teenager as he sat handcuffed in a patrol car, then pulling the child from the vehicle and throwing him violently against the pavement. The boy was one of two African American teens detained by police on June 4 for allegedly “improperly walking along the roadway” along a quiet residential street with no sidewalk.

A senior Tulsa police officer, Travis Yates, is under fire after he denied systemic racism in the police force and said more African Americans “ought to be” shot by police. Yates said in an interview, “All of the research says we’re shooting African Americans about 24% less than we probably ought to be, based on the crimes being committed.” The police department has not commented.

Trump’s Tulsa Make America Great Again (MAGA) rally was originally set for June 19, or “Juneteenth” as it is known in Black communities across the country. While the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery, was issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, it was not proclaimed in Texas (and slavery therefore continued) until after the Civil War was ended, when Union troops brought the news on June 19, 1865.

Since then, Juneteenth has been a celebration in Black communities, often called “Emancipation Day”. It takes on new importance this year.

Trump initially defended calling his MAGA rally for June 19, saying that his rallies are “celebrations” so it was OK. However, holding an all-white, racist rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth was an insult to the African American community, and caused such an uproar that Trump moved his “celebration” of himself to June 20 – still much too close to Juneteenth.

Biden rejects protesters’ demands

On the Democratic side, likely presidential candidate Joe Biden has rejected the protesters’ calls for “defunding” of the police. He said he wants to actually give the police more funds, so they can carry out “reforms”.

The mass protests reject “reforming” the police, which has been touted for years. This so-called “reform” agenda resulted in the systematic oppression and mass incarceration of the Black community - which the mass protests are fighting against.

The protests are demanding the abolition of police forces as they are, and the restructuring of policing under community control. They are also demanding the excessive funds presently used by the police be transferred to much-needed, socially useful projects.

The Democratic Party establishment backs Biden’s position. Democrats, including the “progressives”, are also silent on dismantling mass incarceration, one of the factors underlining the “New Jim Crow” system of oppression that is the target of the protests.

The Democrats won’t even take the first step and repeal former president Bill Clinton’s 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which raised police numbers nationally by more than 150,000 and furthered mass arrests of Blacks and other people of colour. Nor do they call for the repeal of the “War on Drugs”, which has done nothing to stop drug addiction, but has spawned a new widespread, crime-ridden, illegal capitalist enterprise, contributing to mass incarceration.

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