U.S. civilians are fed up — and rightfully so. The circulation of the video of George Floyd being forcefully pinned down, a police officer kneeling against his neck with indifference, his partner standing passively by, unresponsive to the indignation of the witnesses sent visceral shockwaves of outrage and grief throughout the nation. Officially, news sources claim that Floyd died a few minutes after being transported by an ambulance. The people defy that fact: he really died right there, face-down against the road, suffocated by Derek Chauvin.
There is a world of difference in the clarification of the timing of Floyd’s death: the police officer’s draconian behavior did not lead to his death, it caused his death — and it was murder. The video is graphic, incontrovertible evidence of that, and it throws the entrenched prejudices of police brutality into starker relief.
With the choked pleas of Floyd still ringing in my ears, my gut churning at the memory of his cries for his mother, I watch videos of the Minneapolis protests with a leaden heart. President Trump, too, has recently reacted to the incidents of arson and destruction of property that occurred after what was meant to be a peaceful gathering. After decrying Mayor Jacob Frey for his lack of action, he brings in the Military, saying, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
….These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2020
First, let me get one thing clear: partisanship plays no role in this. This is about the divisiveness that is cleaving through the U.S., and this is about police officers’ active participation in oppressing Black people, with impunity. This is about the lethargy that has too-long consumed the U.S. towards unnecessary police aggression.
I don’t believe violence is ever the right answer to address these deep-seated flaws in our system, but I certainly don’t condone Trump’s statement. There is an undeniable threat within those words, and it is chilling. Rather than attempting to build rapport with his citizens and defuse the explosive resentment within us, rather than using emphatic communication, he is only fanning our anger.
Trump is not handling this with the delicacy and the sensitivity that it requires. There is distorted hypocrisy within his words that cannot be ignored: Floyd’s arrest was for a non-violent crime, but he died violently. Now, people are responding to this, most of them peacefully, but some of them violently. Instead of focusing on the reprehensible actions of the police officers responsible for Floyd’s death, Trump is emphasizing the violence of the protests, which he believes is uncalled for.
Well, so was Floyd’s death — and there is the rub.
Trump, by diverting attention purely to the violent riots instead of acknowledging the impassioned anthems of the marches, is only vilifying the protestors. He is doing nothing to address the source, the motivation, behind the people’s rage. If the circumstances escalate further and force is needed, then I have no doubt that Trump will provide it, but it does not need to be broadcast over social media as a thinly-veiled threat.
1) As expected, extremists seizing on pandemonium from protests & riots after George Floyd's killing: calls to place “crates of Molotov cocktails” in crowds, fabricate racist chatter from police scanners, murder, arson, and sparking riots in other cities. https://t.co/FZtn7o90L5 pic.twitter.com/j7G7a2WEj2
— Rita Katz (@Rita_Katz) May 29, 2020
Quite frankly, Twitter has become a battleground on which Trump can voice any of his opinions, however skewed or harmful they are, in order to advance his own agenda. His tweets often showcase a blatant disregard for the decorum expected of the president of a powerful nation, but they have become even more lurid during this time.
It is unsurprising that animosity has quickly arisen between social media giants and President Trump. Days before his “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” tweet was flagged as a violation of Twitter guidelines, he’d signed an executive order limiting the ability of social media companies to police content. Parading the action as a protection of free speech, he targeted the companies in an effort to prevent them from imposing their own biases and deleting posts that clash with their beliefs. Specifically, he cited the restrictive treatment conservative viewpoints get in comparison to more liberal viewpoints.
I believe that this approach is counterintuitive and short-sighted. I acknowledge that media bias exists. I acknowledge that conservative perspectives are often excluded and invalidated on social media. But such an invasive order will only perpetuate the spread of fake news. President Trump’s tweet was flagged not because it represented a conservative viewpoint, but because it glorified violence, and that is why it is necessary that social media companies have the authority to monitor activity: not all speech is protected under the Constitution, and certainly none that presents any sort of danger to society or promotes violence.
Trump is operating under the guise that he is acting in the best interest of the country, but he is not. He is acting in the best interest of conservatives and those whose ideologies align with his. He is manipulating his actions to seem appealing, when, in reality, the executive order will only plunge social media into a cesspool of falsehoods, hate speech and misinformation. Before, he had used social media as a weapon, and only now that it has started to turn on him, he is retaliating because it has become inconvenient for him.
Note the difference in police response to the George Floyd protests vs. the armed anti-lockdown protests. pic.twitter.com/bRlXImiIeT
— The Recount (@therecount) May 27, 2020
Lastly, I must conclude with a few questions, and their answers provide a stark reality to the priorities of our government: Where was President Trump when unmasked, anti-lockdown protestors staked out along the streets, hindered the performance of our health-care professionals and jeopardized public health? Where were his decrying tweets towards them? Where were the police and the military?
If those anti-lockdown protestors had been a different color, would they have been treated the same way?