Donald Trump's "Shooting" Tweet Is Not Okay—Regardless of the Minneapolis Protest/Riot/Revolution
May 29, 2020
In this case his use of the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts"—in reference to the riots that have taken hold of Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd's death—was deemed to be "glorifying violence," and the Tweet was hidden. Twitter's decision was based in part on the phrase's connection (intentional or otherwise) to 1960s Miami police chief Walter Headley, who made the phrase famous in conjunction with the statement, "We don't mind being accused of police brutality. They haven't seen anything yet."
It was later determined that Headley's aggressive and inhumane approach to civil rights activists were a major factor contributing to violent Miami riots in 1968. So whether Trump's intended reading was as a threat against looters—whom he deemed "thugs" in what should be readily recognized as a thinly veiled racial slur—or (as some have claimed) concern about the looters themselves resorting to gun violence, really doesn't matter. If a man with millions of gun-toting, militia-joining, race-war fantasists prefers not to incite racist violence, he needs to take two seconds to think before he tweets—and should thank Twitter for spotting such an unfortunate "mistake."
But considering how little Donald Trump cares to think about the consequences of his actions, and how much he has been milking his feud with Twitter, he's far more likely to be thanking them for another opportunity to rage against them. Speaking of raging against things—in this case, the machine—let's talk about the rioters:
The differences between a protest and a riot and a revolution are subtle. In every large political demonstration there are bound to be some bad actors who will take any opportunity to sow some chaos—steal things, break things, etc. At what point is there a critical mass of that kind of behavior that qualifies a demonstration as a riot?
There's no clear answer, but the general consensus within the media is that events in Minneapolis have passed through any gray area—protesters have become rioters. Civil disobedience has given way to looting and arson. But with so-called rioters taking over and destroying a police precinct, there is another threshold on the horizon. How many government buildings will violent groups of citizens need to take over before the riot is recognized as a revolt—a rebellion building toward revolution?
With this in mind, there are a number of reasonable ways to look at what's happening in Minneapolis—none of which include calling the people involved "thugs" or invoking the prospect of gun violence.
The first, more obvious way to view the riots is as a sad but predictable consequence of a horrifying injustice. People in Minneapolis witnessed what amounts to a murder carried out by the police while both the victim himself and bystanders politely asked officer Derek Chauvin to let George Floyd breathe. It makes sense that the citizens of Minneapolis—particularly black citizens who are all too familiar with racially-targeted police violence—are angry. And angry people (particularly in large groups) often behave irrationally. As a result, many of them are participating in violence that—according to this perspective—doesn't really help anything.
From this view, efforts to suppress the riots make sense—even if the use of tear gas and rubber bullets seems to have been much more of an option in recent days than it was, for instance, against armed protesters threatening the lives of Michigan legislators. If you take this view, then anything that can be done to encourage people to go home—even mass arrests that result in a black CNN reporter being handcuffed live on air—is for the best and will help this matter be resolved peacefully through the official channels.
From another perspective: F*** the official channels. Calls for a return to order and peace echo the sentiments of white moderates decried by Martin Luther King Jr. as preferring "a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice." Burning a police precinct may be the best way to ensure that police operate in fear of this kind of reprisal in the future—that they know their actions have consequences and that their monopoly on violence can be revoked by the citizens they're meant to serve.
And in a time when tens of millions are struggling to make ends meet while corporations are bailed out, and the police are used as a force to protect capital—so much so that a man can be killed over an allegedly buying food with a fake $20 bill—even looting can be framed as a form of restorative justice. Revolt, violence, and insurrection may be the only way to topple existing power structures so that they can be remade into something more just.
Complicating the issue further, there are reasons to suspect that some of the worst aspects of the riots have been instigated by outside agitators with no interest in the demonstration's cause—only a desire to fan the flames of chaos. In one case Internet detectives believed they had even found evidence that a Minnesota police officer had smashed the windows of the autozone. While this account of events has been denied by police officials, there is no clear evidence one way or another.
It is not unreasonable—considering what we've seen—to consider that there might be a generally adversarial relationship between Minneapolis police and the communities they "serve." And the fact that—as of the most recent analysis—only about 5% of white police officers in the Minneapolis police force were living within the city, suggests that many of the most hostile police officers could have little personal incentive to maintain order—particularly those harboring a racist desire for an excuse to retaliate.
Regardless of which perspective you take, any suggestion that the current tensions should or must lead to gun violence is out of proportion to even the most dramatic aspects of the riots. Destruction of property—even on a massive scale—is not on par with murder, and you can't cure the anger arising from an unnecessary use of deadly force by invoking further unnecessary use of deadly force.
If President Trump doesn't start to handle this situation more carefully (hey, it could happen…), then he runs the risk of escalating the violence to new levels.
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