Two months into this year’s Black Lives Matter protests that call for the defunding of police departments across the country, President Donald Trump has yet to respond in a way that isn’t thoroughly racist and problematic. Outrage swept through the nation in response to the first reports of unidentified federal agents arriving in Portland, Ore., — a hotspot for Black Lives Matter protests — in unmarked vans, kidnapping citizens off the streets and placing them under arrest without probable cause. In one case, Mark Pettibone, a 29-year-old protestor, fled after realizing he was being pursued by men in an unmarked vehicle wearing military-style outfits, believing it was a far-right extremist group. After realizing his efforts to escape were fruitless, he was detained, read his Miranda rights and promptly asked if he would waive those rights in order to be interrogated. He refused and was immediately released. They never directly told him the crimes he was accused of or who had detained him.
These officers aren’t simply arresting protestors without probable cause, either. After a United States Navy veteran approached these federal officials in Portland to ask why they weren’t honoring their oath to the Constitution, they beat him and sprayed him with chemical irritants, going so far as to break one of his hands. This is indisputable evidence that Trump is not only criminalizing protestors, in violation of their First Amendment rights, but is also encouraging agents at the Department of Homeland Security to violently attack anyone — even military veterans — for simply questioning them. Even some Republicans and former directors of DHS are speaking out against Trump’s recent authoritarian actions — an unnerving sign that our country is falling victim to its fascist leader.
Trump and many conservatives’ counterarguments to the fury overwhelming the nation in response to these reports deny that these demonstrations should even be referred to as protests. Instead, they insist they are violence-ridden riots led by anarchists and Antifa that cause excessive harm to people, government buildings and businesses in the city. However, while some protestors do identify themselves as Antifa, countless eyewitnesses have claimed the protests are largely peaceful and violence only erupts when incited by the police and federal agents invading the city. In fact, the deputy chief of police in Portland claimed his department has taken a hands-off approach to the protests because of their general peacefulness and stated he never requested federal assistance. Even more, the mayor of Portland has called for Trump to remove his troops from the city, after he himself got tear gassed by federal officers, asserting that their actions have only “ratcheted up the tension on (their) streets.” It’s becoming apparent that Trump is actively ignoring the reality of the protests and the objections from local government and police departments in order to focus his re-election platform on the revitalization of the war against crime.
If the Trump administration considered historical patterns and advice from expert criminologists, they would understand this response is only going to incite violence. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Law Enforcement Assistance Act, sparking an aggressive war on crime that was not a response to remarkable crime rates, but rather to the civil rights protests that began to escalate just a year before. In fact, rates of crime were lower in 1965 than in 1933, and they more than tripled by 1995 after the act was passed. Just six years after Johnson’s declaration, in 1971, President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs, criminalizing addiction and giving law enforcement another excuse to target and incriminate Black people. Both of these “wars” disproportionately targeted Black Americans, triggered their mass incarceration and contributed to the rapid growth of the prison-industrial complex. Consequently, we have seen an array of socioeconomic impacts, such as increased poverty among Black populations due to many employers’ refusal to hire those who have been convicted of a crime. Moreover, low-income populations are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated as well. Based on this history, the only conclusion is that harsh and unforgiving crackdowns on crime have only worsened socioeconomic and racial disparities, increasing crime rates as a result.
As Trump continues to unabashedly criminalize Black Lives Matter protests, he has also attempted to invalidate them by creating a “law and order” campaign that paints inner-city dwelling Black Americans as violent criminals. The White House was planning to send federal agents to Detroit, Mich., Chicago, Ill., Cleveland, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wis., in what they claimed was an attempt to quell inner-city crime. Called “Operation Legend,” this move would have provided over $61 million in grants to expand police forces. Similar to Portland, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit Police Chief James Craig stated they do not want federal law enforcement in Detroit and they find it unnecessary as they have not seen an uptick in crime since the protests began. Despite this, federal agents continue to plan to invade cities throughout the country.
It’s quite apparent the Trump administration is not genuinely responding to protests or “inner-city crime” with an increase in federal policing and local police funding with the intention to actually make those cities any safer. Instead, his political advisors are using these tactics to appeal to suburban centrists who are not already committed to voting for him. Quivering in fear of his deficits in the polls, Trump is grasping at whatever he can to give himself more power and win another four years in office — even if it means uncovering the depths of white supremacist beliefs still lying just underneath the surface of the American culture.
Elayna Swift can be reached at email@example.com.