Yesterday, as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd outside the White House, Donald Trump declared war on the American people protesting the death of George Floyd. Floyd was a Black man who was killed on May 25th after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin buried his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. But after weeks of historic protests, it’s clear that this uprising is not just about Floyd — it’s about every single injustice that has been rained down upon the Black community since this country’s cursed inception, marred by genocide and slavery.
So far, protesters have destroyed the idols of American capitalism (luxury stores), the American police state (the Minneapolis 3rd precinct), and American racism (Confederate statues).
Police have responded with unimaginable violence. They drove vehicles through crowds and assaulted people on their own private property. They injured journalists and peaceful protesters with non-lethal and “less-than-lethal” weaponry. And they have done so with the full endorsement of a president who tweeted: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Then last night, at the White House Rose Garden, Trump further characterized as "professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa, and others.”
"I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights," he bellowed in the manner that weak, power-tripping men often bellow.
For the military to operate on American soil, the occupant of the White House would have to invoke the 213-year old Insurrection Act. The last time this act was invoked was 1992, after an uprising erupted in Los Angeles following the brutal beating of Rodney King by police. Not only is Trump threatening people with incredible violence, then, but that piece about “Second Amendment rights” and “law-abiding” Americans is a clear dog-whistle to his white supremacist fan base, who in late April flooded a Michigan courthouse with AK-47s and faced no violent response from police at the scene.
"If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them," Trump continued, adding that he wanted the National Guard to “dominate the streets,” and protestors to “face severe criminal penalties and lengthy sentences in jail”.
There is no subtext here. There is not even a warning. This is a vow. The president is promising violence, indeed anticipating it. As he spoke, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to push protesters away from the front of the White House so the Commander-in-Chief could walk to a boarded-up church for a photo-op, posing with a Bible that I’d venture he doesn’t even read.
Trump declared war on my people yesterday. Our president declared war on Black people protesting for our right to breathe free air in a country that’s built on our blood and bones and sweat. He declared war on every man, woman and child who is out there in the streets right now, choking on tear gas deployed by agents of the state, nursing bullet wounds bequeathed to them by agents of the state. He declared war on every person who is thrashing about desperately, trying to escape this American nightmare.
But I’ve seen and felt this all before.
I don’t mean to sound dismissive when I say that. If anything, the reiteration of this horror only makes it more terrifying, more exhausting. But yesterday wasn’t extraordinary, not particularly. Trump declared war on us long ago, back when he called Mexicans “rapists” and pledged to build a border wall, a monument to hate.
In truth, we have been at war with Trump since 2016. For Black people and Indigenous people, this country has been at war with us for centuries. And we don’t know how to wake up from this nightmare.
After the occupant of the White House declared war on me and my people in that Rose Garden, I couldn’t sleep. I began to sob uncontrollably. I prayed — When does it end? — to a god who I often doubt is listening. When do I and my people, and the children that I’m terrified to have, get to breathe free air? When does this war end for us?
As I look at Trump’s self-satisfied, war-mongering face, as I await the devastation of the Insurrection Act, as I sit in fear that I will lose someone I love to police violence or Covid-19 or both, a voice floats into my nightmare and whispers: Never. You will never be free of this, of men like him or of this country.
I had a vivid flashback to Trump’s Inauguration, when my partner and I were protesting what we knew was the beginning of a dangerous far-right government. We were dancing and having fun amid the demonstration when everything suddenly went quiet. I turned around and saw police in riot gear hurtling towards me, throwing smoke grenades and yielding batons. We and other protestors were corralled into Lafayette Park, where more fresh horror has taken place in the past few days. There were snipers on the roof and a young Black teen was having his eyes washed out with milk.
I had that nightmare feeling then, looking around me in a panic. Then I saw people — white people — wearing red MAGA hats, strolling the streets with their souvenirs, shopping and eating. We were in two different worlds. And in my world, there was a war.
Trump has waged war on us every single day that he has been in office. This country has waged war on my people since its founding. In the Rose Garden yesterday, he just declared it louder, spat it in our faces more forcefully.
I have no idea what violence the coming days will bring, especially if Trump passes the Insurrection Act. What I do know is that because of my ancestors, some part of me has seen it and felt it before. Because America is a nightmare that never ends, a war that just continues on and on.
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