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WASHINGTON—One of Donald Trump’s “very fine people,” Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old who news reports said “admires the police,” was arrested August 26 for gunning down three peaceful protesters against racial repression and police violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
One of his victims is in the hospital. The other two—one shot point-blank in the head, video shows—are in the morgue.
And while the manhunt arrested Rittenhouse, what his murders highlight is the green light the current GOP Oval Office occupant, Donald Trump, gave to such extremists with his praise of neo-Nazis who rioted in Charlottesville, Va., three years ago.
One of those neo-Nazis in Charlottesville committed murder, too, running down peaceful counter-protester Heather Heyer, 32, with his car. And the neo-Nazis injured up to 39 others.
Despite that murder, Trump praised the neo-Nazis, a point unmentioned at the current Republican convention, which nominated him for a new presidential term. Instead, the convention’s own resolution denounces groups that do the important work of tracking white supremacists, right-wing terrorists, and systemic racism, including Trump’s racism.
The president’s supporters on right-wing cable TV and online media, led by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, are portraying Rittenhouse as close to something like a hero fighter for law and order. “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?” Carlson asked on his program Wednesday night, portraying the murders as the fault of Democrats and city officials.
The defense of Rittenhouse comes on the heels of the Republican convention’s valorization of Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the barefoot gun-toting lawyers who are facing charges for threatening peaceful Black Lives Matters protesters in St. Louis back in June. The danger that more armed right-wing thugs will take to the streets and shoot people is now a very real threat all across the country.
Also of major concern now are growing signs of the alliance between white supremacists and elements in the police forces. Video shows that after Rittenhouse left his victims dead or injured on the street, he shouldered his semi-automatic weapon and walked toward a nearby police vehicle, passing the vehicle undisturbed. Cops on the scene made no attempt to arrest him at the time. Earlier in the evening police forces had told a group of armed vigilantes, including Rittenhouse, that they “appreciate” them and provided them with bottled water.
Trump’s reaction to Rittenhouse’s murders? He uttered not one word of condemnation but announced instead that he was sending in federal law enforcement troops, including the FBI, to break up protesters, not the people who shoot and kill them.
The latest racist murders and Trump’s stoking of them with his inflammatory speeches, come only weeks after the release of documentation of his long history of racism in a book written by his niece, Mary Trump. Racist diatribe, she said, occurred regularly around the Trump dining room table.
Trump and his allies have fueled racial hate through the years in both the private sector and society at large. They range from (with his developer father) illegally barring Black families from federally-assisted housing he built in New York to his bigoted demands for execution of the “Central Park 5,” five youths of color framed for raping a white female jogger in 1989. DNA later proved them innocent.
Those are just symptoms, however, of the larger disease of systemic racism. Civil rights groups, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), the Asian-Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), and two big unions, AFSCME and the Teachers (AFT), get it. The AFL-CIO has joined in the condemnation coming from the labor movement.
“The bodies continue to pile up. The abuses continue unabated. Apparently months of protests have yet to prove that Black Lives Matter,” CBTU said after Kenosha police, unprovoked, shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back in on May 24, as he was getting into his SUV.
Blake’s fate—he’s in a hospital, paralyzed from the waist down—set off the Kenosha BLM protests which Rittenhouse invaded three nights later.
“There will be the usual trolls who will climb off their perch of racism and hatred and throw silly justifications like dung. ’If you just listen you wouldn’t have a problem’ or ’If you did nothing wrong you wouldn’t be in trouble,’” come those statements, CBTU continued.
“Yet in all of these arguments, you never hear once how this justifies the death of a human being. How does turning your back on a cop explain being shot seven times in the back? What do we tell our children? How do we explain that a Black life has less value than a cigar or cigarettes or a $20 bill?
“There will be no peace until there is justice. We do not accept explanations or justifications. We do not accept inquiries or investigations. We do not accept taking a knee or making Juneteenth a holiday. We demand justice. We deserve justice. We have died for justice. Begin with justice for Jacob Blake.”
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights pointed out that a GOP convention resolution condemns not the haters or systemic racism, but the nation’s top tracker of hate, the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In a statement co-signed by APALA, AFSCME, the Teachers (AFT), and two dozen other organizations, the Leadership Conference declared: “Hate crimes and incidents terrorize entire communities and we are seeing an unprecedented increase in them. These acts of hate cause people devastating harm and undermine our democracy as people fear for their lives.
SPLC “documented a 50% increase in the number of white nationalist hate groups last year,” the Leadership Conference added. It noted even the FBI director “acknowledged most racist attacks are fueled by some type of white supremacy.”
That’s a switch. In the J. Edgar Hoover era, the bureau targeted both Communists and civil rights leaders. It not only spied on and bugged Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but called him Communist, too. Now it calls white nationalism “a national threat priority.”
“This resolution seeks to undermine the truth and enable white nationalists and hate groups like QAnon to continue targeting hate against the communities we represent and serve alongside.” The GOP and the administration “continue to hide the evidence” of systemic racism,” CBTU says.
“Until we reckon with the many ways that white nationalism and hate groups continue to devastate our country, we cannot keep people safe nor come closer to realizing a country as good as its ideals.”
The SPLC, the GOP’s target, condemned “the Trump administration’s pattern and practice of working with individuals and organizations that malign entire groups of people—immigrants, Muslims and the LGBTQ community…It comes from the same vein as Trump’s claim that there were ‘very fine people on both sides’” in Charlottesville.
Joe Biden, now the Democratic presidential nominee, also got it. “Equal justice has not been real for Black Americans and so many others. We are at an inflection point. We must dismantle systemic racism. It is the urgent task before us,” he said after Blake was shot. “We must fight to honor the ideals laid in the original American promise, which we are yet to attain: That all men and women are created equal, but more importantly that they must be treated equally.”
The House’s ruling Democrats got it. On June 25, they pushed through the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, HR7120, which they called the first step in attacking systemic and entrenched U.S. racism.
Democrats backed the bill, 233-0. So did three Republicans, one of whom, Texas’s Will Hurd is the only Black GOP representative. And he’s retiring at the end of this Congress. But the other 181 Republicans voted “no.” And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Trump’s congressional ringmaster, won’t even let it come up for a hearing on that side of Capitol Hill.
A few Republicans get it, too, but they aren’t at the convention. They’re on the outside looking in, and 27 of them—including former GOP National Chairman Michael Steele, who is Black—endorsed Biden, just days before Blake, and the other Blacks, were shot.
“Sadly, we have witnessed the occupant of that Chair”—the presidential seat in the Oval Office—”devolve into preying upon our fears and resentments with a narcissism that nurtures only chaos and confusion,” Steele tweeted. “Dr. King reminds us ‘our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ My country matters,” his tweet concluded.
AFL-CIO leadership has been speaking out for police reform. “The murder of George Floyd captured a reality throughout America’s history of violence against Black people and other people of color,” the federation’s legislative director, Bill Samuel, wrote lawmakers. “It is critical…Congress take comprehensive action to change the basic rules of policing that have allowed this pattern and practice to continue.”
“Union members live and work in every state and every community, so when police brutality occurs, it happens in our backyards and to our families. We also represent tens of thousands of law enforcement officers who go to work every day and risk their lives to protect the public.”
“As such, we believe we have a special responsibility to play a leading role in making sure this time is different. Whether it’s banning chokeholds, expanding the use of body cameras, ending racial profiling, demilitarizing our police forces, or ending no-knock warrants, the Justice in Policing Act has the potential to create a fairer, more equitable justice system,” he explained.
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999.
First published in People’s World. Included in Vox Populi for educational, noncommercial purposes only.