Donald Trump warned protesters in Portland, Oregon, that he would squash them like cockroaches if they continued their nightly violence in support of Black Lives Matter.
Trump intends to keep his word.
He sent federal marshals and FBI agents to reclaim Portland. City officials have frowned on the president’s help, but they have little choice but to accept it.
I can’t say with certainty how bad the situation there — and in Seattle — is these days. News reports are unclear on whether the federal presence exacerbated conditions or whether things were trending toward lawlessness on their own.
To me, which it is doesn’t matter.
I do, however, wish protesters would stop their violence. They aren’t making “good trouble,” as the late John Lewis and others in the Civil Rights Movement used to say. They are making the kind of trouble that might turn the public’s sentiment away from Black Lives.
From what I’ve noticed, a goodly number of the protesters have been white. I’m glad they’re on the streets and fighting injustice. I applaud their passion. Their marching against injustice is all good. Looting, rioting and chucking Molotov cocktails for injustice are not.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said racism can’t be eradicated with firebombs and bricks, a point Lewis stressed throughout his life. Because the men and women who throw bricks put themselves in peril of facing a far superior force, which Trump isn’t hesitating to use.
In the past couple of days, he’s unleashed more federal agents on Portland, and he will send even more of them into urban streets elsewhere, too. The optics here might not benefit a politically desperate leader like Trump, but they might.
That’s the danger.
I’m no disciple of King’s nonviolence. Never have been. I think, strategically, that bricks and firebombs can work. Not now, not with other problems that beg for people’s attention.
I would ask my white brethren to focus on those other problems. I would like to see them march with placards and chants and taunts, not bricks. For once they lose interest in all of this – and they will – they’ll need to shift attention to bigger business: electing Joe Biden to replace Trump.
Under Trump, they can’t expect progress toward racial justice, regardless of how many bricks they toss at federal agents. The president has dug in; he’s hardened his position toward protesters; and he’s set his political sights on crushing dissent.
He will succeed, too.
America needs no more martyrs; it has enough. What it does need is a committed citizenry, one willing to do the grunt work. It needs people who will knock on doors in the weeks ahead to check voter eligibility; it needs people in November to ferry folks to the polls; it needs people to speak loudly about the turn democracy has taken toward an autocracy, which Trump and his wealthy surrogates are bent on achieving.
Bricks and ballots won’t stop them. The ballot will … or so I hope.
I guess I’m saying I don’t want Portlanders to support the movement the way they are today. I want them to rip a page from Lewis and King’s playbook, study it carefully and follow its instructions.
That’s a much smarter approach to rescuing our democracy from men who are moving toward dismantling it.