Holding an upside down Bible as if it were burning his hand, President Donald Trump stood in front of St. Johns, also known as the “Church of Presidents,” as peaceful protesters writhed in pain on the ground around him Monday afternoon.
After a quick statement endorsing the rights of peaceful protesters, Trump had them shot with tear gas and rubber bullets at his press conference to clear a path for his photo op. He had just threatened to unleash the military on protesters if governors couldn’t get control of the protests. He called himself the “law-and-order” president, and declared himself willing to violate states’ rights to prove it regardless of what some of his Southern supporters or other governors thought about it.
“The governor of a state has to ask for federal help, (and) I don’t know any governor who intends to do that,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker told NPR Morning Edition Tuesday. “And secondly, you know, you can hear in his rhetoric that he is simply trying to make himself sound like a strong man, almost like a dictator, as if he’s going to be responsible for bringing order all the way.”
Trump was invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807. The 213-year-old law allows presidents to unleash the military on Americans in times of rebellion against state or federal law. President John F. Kennedy used the law a couple of times to get racist Southern leaders to allow black people into their newly desegregated white schools. The last time he used the law was in September 1963. Two months later, he was assassinated in downtown Dallas.
Kennedy, though, wasn’t the last president to use it. Lyndon B. Johnson used it a few times in the late ’60s to end riots in Detroit, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. George H.W. Bush used it twice in the late ’80s to end disorder following a hurricane and in the early ’90s to end the Los Angeles riots.
Trump told governors in a conference call Monday, “You have to arrest people and you have to try people. And they have to go to jail for long periods of time. If people are running amok, you have to dominate. If you aren’t dominating, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you, (and) you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”
At Trump’s press conference Monday, his Kodak moment in front of St. Johns, complete with a Bible, was staged to be a symbolic moment for him, possibly meant to showcase his “tough on crime” stance for his Conservative Christian supporters. Over the weekend violent protesters had set the church ablaze, and now Trump seemed to be punishing the peaceful ones for that crime.
The Rev. Mariann Budde, of the diocese over St. John’s, came down harshly on Trump, who some supporters and opponents have called, “God’s gift to America.”
“In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation,” she wrote on Twitter. “We stand with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd through the sacred act of peaceful protest.” She also criticized Trump for neglecting to pray at the church, as presidents before him have.
Praying seemed to be the furthest thing from Trump’s mind as he held the upside down Bible in the air while protesters writhed like sinners at the gates of hell. Behind him the church’s sign reads, “All are welcome.”
All aren’t obviously welcome after the weekend protests. The lists of atrocities committed are far too long to cover in this article and echo the ones that ignited the protests in the first place. Militarized police unloaded bean-bag rounds, rubber bullets, and tear gas —regardless if protesters were peaceful or violent — and attacked or arrested journalists trying to do their jobs. It was as if they were collectively putting their knees on protesters’ necks to silence them just as then-Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, did to George Floyd.
Police chiefs across the country denounced the actions of all four former Minneapolis officers. Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall mentioned it to a local news reporter over the weekend, and several officers have made similar statements on social media.
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Hall also had her own run-in with violent protesters over the weekend when they started throwing bricks during a peaceful protest. “My officers had the direction to make sure this was a peaceful protest and provide traffic control,” she told CBS 11. “We had all the streets blocked off. They had the run of the streets. Everything was peaceful. Then all of a sudden bricks started hailing, hitting our squad car, hitting the officers. … And then I almost got hit with a brick.
“So once the officers are under attack with bricks or bottles of course here comes the disruptions. We are an organization who constantly upholds peaceful protests but we will not be the target.”
The Dallas police department has been that target before. The July 7, 2016 mass shooting erupted in downtown Dallas after a peaceful protest proclaiming Black Lives Matter too.
Similar to the 2016 protests, this weekend’s protests are not isolated to the atrocities committed against Floyd but stem from growing anger over systemic racism and violence committed against all people of color. Floyd’s death was simply the cherry on top of a very nasty apple pie that should have been thrown out after the Civil Rights movement in the ’60s.
Instead Trump is enjoying a piece of it, blaming the “Lamestream” media for the protests and calling protesters “thugs.”
Yet Black people and their allies do have a right to be angry, especially after years of high profile police shootings of Black people, all of whom were innocent and not proven guilty in a court of law. (For examples, click here, here, and here. Or here, here, and here. Or… well, you get the picture.) Scientific American pointed out in a September 5, 2019 report: “Although the databases are still imperfect, they make it clear that police officers’ use of lethal force is much more common than previously thought, and that it varies significantly across the country.”
In a May 24, 2019 article, Vox media asked, “Are Americans still listening to stories of police violence?”
Obviously not. But perhaps we are listening now.
This fact was on display in North Texas Monday evening despite Trump’s threats to turn America into Orwell’s police state. In Frisco, Mayor Jeff Cheney, Police Chief David Shilson, and other officers joined protesters’ march for equality. Denton police had a similar experience with protesters; their protest ended with a state trooper kneeling with them in solidarity to end police brutality against black people.
Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus and his police officers also took a knee in front of protesters as if they were NFL players on a Sunday afternoon.
Protesters hugged them en masse.
On Tuesday, Plano Police Chief Ed Drain spent three hours with protesters, listening and marching with them. “Every police department can get better, don’t get me wrong, but we’ve got processes in place that limit the chances that we’re going to have a case like that happen,” Drain told Star Local Media in June 2 report.
What seems to be the difference between these protests and the ones that turned violent over the weekend? Much of it has to do with the way those in power respond. Instead of firing off the tear gas and spraying people with rubber bullets, law enforcement left their military-style riot gear at home and listened to the people.
The Fort Worth police chief told the local Fox News affiliate, “I often say we need to have better relations with our community and that starts with the police department…”
….getting rid of the military gear, listening to concerned citizens (especially those with criminal records), and rooting out violent officers with a history of complaints against them instead of protecting them.