By Robert A. Vella
Yesterday, I related the violent protests currently tearing America apart (which grew worse last night) to the tumultuous 1960s which I witnessed and was an active participant. During those similar incidents fifty years ago, my fellow peaceful demonstrators and I were always on the lookout for agitators among our ranks and from the outside who sought to exploit the situation for their own impulses and agendas. Some of the agitators believed in what we were fighting for, but felt compelled to express it violently. Such impulses are not uncommon among rowdy young people especially for those who have experienced severe emotional and physical traumas in their lives. However, we were able to control them. Usually, a little heart-to-heart discussion was sufficient.
The outside agitators were completely different and beyond our control. They did not believe in what we were fighting for and were solely committed to causing destruction. There were two distinct and opposing types. One camp were right-wing extremists hell-bent on conducting violence as a way to turn the public against our cause and to justify an authoritarian crackdown on dissent. They were ideologically fascist, typically racist, and often were undercover police officers, FBI agents, or covert CIA personnel. Such infiltrators are known as agent provocateurs. The other camp were left-wing anarchists whose primary goal was to generally confront government authority and to specifically trigger the downfall of the United States. Although they were vehemently antithetical to the right-wingers, they used the same tactics.
Today, a third camp of outside agitators has thrown itself into the melee. Adversarial foreign nations – such as Russia, China, Iran, and others – see the same opportunity to exploit America’s growing social unrest as do the homegrown fascists and anarchists. From a numbers standpoint, their strength on U.S. soil is certainly less; but, it doesn’t take many people to cause havoc. One person alone can cause a lot of mayhem. A book of matches can start several fires, for example.
If the current protest crisis (amidst the coronavirus pandemic crisis) wasn’t bad enough, America must also contend with a fourth camp of outside agitators. President Donald Trump might not be starting the fires, but he is perniciously pouring gasoline onto them. When he and his Himmler-esque Attorney General William Barr both labeled the anti-fascist group Antifa (which is not necessarily associated with anarchism nor is it evidentially linked to this protest violence) as terrorists, Trump revealed his intent to turn the uproar over the police murder of a helpless black man into an ideological war between right and left, and a racial war between white and black.
Here’s today’s news:
MINNEAPOLIS—Riots took hold of U.S. cities Saturday night, as protests over the death of George Floyd turned violent across the country for a second night in a row.
Protesters lighted cars on fire in New York, Seattle and Philadelphia. In Los Angeles, demonstrators kicked in the windshields of police cars, torched a police outpost in an outdoor shopping mall, and looted Nordstrom and Ray Ban stores. Police shot rubber bullets and swung their batons at demonstrators.
In Minnesota, where protests began this week after the death of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis police custody Monday, Gov. Tim Walz pleaded with residents to obey an 8 p.m. curfew. Mr. Walz said he was fully mobilizing the state’s National Guard after a night of rioting and violence, leaving open the possibility of requesting federal troops; forces from other states had also been readied to deploy to Minnesota.
When police began trying to move protesters off the street at 8 p.m., the gathering, which had remained largely peaceful to that point, grew violent.
In Minnesota, Mr. Walz said what began as peaceful gatherings early in the week to express justified outrage over the killing of Mr. Floyd had turned into destruction fomented by ideological extremists, who wanted to destabilize the city and undermine civil society.
Police in several cities significantly increased their use of force on Saturday night against protesters decrying police use of force — wielding batons, rubber bullets and pepper spray in incidents that also targeted bystanders and journalists.
Some of the most aggressive actions were taken by police in Minneapolis, where the protests began. There, a video posted online showed police arresting a local TV cameraman, firing nonlethal projectiles at a CBS TV crew and firing a round that scatters paint into a group of people watching from their front porch.
The intent seemed to be a forceful restoration of control, after earlier nights where police in Minneapolis were criticized for being too passive — even abandoning a police precinct to protesters, who set it afire.
But in Minneapolis and elsewhere on Saturday the effect was often the opposite, signaling disorder among those whose job it was to restore order.
You start to wonder if it should be all black people who wear body cams, not the cops.
But COVID-19 has been slamming the consequences of all that home as we die at a significantly higher rate than whites, are the first to lose our jobs, and watch helplessly as Republicans try to keep us from voting. Just as the slimy underbelly of institutional racism is being exposed, it feels like hunting season is open on blacks. If there was any doubt, President Trump’s recent tweets confirm the national zeitgeist as he calls protesters “thugs” and looters fair game to be shot.
Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.
Many young people, especially minorities, were gig-economy workers holding two or three part-time jobs that evaporated when the outbreak hit, said Tyler Sit, pastor of the New City Church, which is blocks away from where Mr. Floyd died and from the Third Precinct that was burned in the protests. They were left jobless and worried about not having benefits should they become ill.
Sitting at home during lockdown, with no work and no prospect of finding work for the foreseeable future, he said, they were more aware than usual of news reports and then had the time to react by taking to the streets.
“I hear messages from community members trying to deliberate whether or not they’re going to show up. They don’t want to catch Covid-19 and spread Covid-19 if they happen to be an asymptomatic carrier,” he said. “But there’s a deep feeling of we have to do something because our city is burning.”
As several cities erupted in street protests after the killing of George Floyd, some of them resulting in clashes with the police, Mr. Trump made no appeal for calm. Instead in a series of tweets and comments to reporters on Saturday, he blamed the unrest on Democrats, called on “Liberal Governors and Mayors” to get “MUCH tougher” on the crowds, threatened to intervene with “the unlimited power of our Military” and even suggested his own supporters mount a counterdemonstration.
The turmoil came right to Mr. Trump’s doorstep for the second night in a row on Saturday as hundreds of people protesting Mr. Floyd’s death and the president’s response surged in streets near the White House. While most were peaceful, chanting “black lives matter” and “no peace, no justice,” some spray painted scatological advice for Mr. Trump, ignited small fires, set off firecrackers and threw bricks, bottles and fruit at Secret Service and United States Park Police officers, who responded with pepper spray.
The police cordoned off several blocks around the Executive Mansion as a phalanx of camouflage-wearing National Guard troops marched across nearby Lafayette Square. A man strode through the streets yelling, “Time for a revolution!” The image of the White House surrounded by police in helmets and riot gear behind plastic shields fueled the sense of a nation torn apart.