Shows of force ~ now and then, then and now

President* Trump,

Everything that I’ve seen written about the illegal assault on peaceful protestors last Monday to clear Lafayette Square focuses on your desire to strut over to St. John’s to have your picture taken holding up a bible. Every single one of the dozens of articles I’ve read, whether they are directly about the incident or mention it in passing, talk about this being the motivation for you having ordered peaceful protestors shot, gassed, and swooped by helicopters. It’s bullshit, though, isn’t it? The real motive, we both know, was to make a blatant, patently illegal, inhumane, illogical show of force against the American people with the photo-op providing a convenient narrative – ‘oh, see how much POTUS wanted to “honor” poor St. Johns after it was burned by criminal elements the night before; he had those no-good hooligans cleared out so he could show his support of Christian America.’

You simultaneously created substantial plausible deniability for your props to hide behind and provided the media with a bullshit story with which to unwittingly gaslight the American people, all while you tested the totalitarian waters. As in, ‘hmm – apparently I can get away with shooting people in broad daylight on the equivalent of 5th Avenue….. I wonder how far I can push this?’ Of course you had to have the right people shot and gassed – it wouldn’t have done to have all those fine, heavily armed white people who stormed State capitols feeling intimidated by police or National Guard soldiers, now would it? But unarmed black and brown people and others who were standing (peacefully) with them – f*cking fair game, right?

Last night on our daughter’s recommendation, Laura and I watched “13th”, the 2016 documentary by Ava DuVernay about the loophole in the 13th Amendment that undeniably links slavery to our current day mass incarceration of African Americans, particularly African American men. Here’s the wording of the 13th Amendment (passed in 1865):

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

I bolded the critical part so that you can’t miss it. It’s just 13 extra words, but damn if that wasn’t a handy little insertion if you were a Southern landowner who profited from slavery only to have your wealth and status suddenly ripped from your hands by emancipation. This clause allowed that if blacks could be arrested and convicted, they could be used as slaves and would continue doing the plantation work, likely at even less cost to the owners since they didn’t have to feed the workers’ families.

The film draws a devastatingly straight line from this bad faith insertion into our Constitution to the horrifying disparities in incarceration rates for black and white men – one out of three for the former, and one out of seventeen for the latter.

There was too much mileage to cover to have spent a lot of time on it, but DuVernay did draw out the exquisitely calculated way that wealthy whites have ensured that blacks were and continue to be criminalized. Several of those she interviewed described how we all – white and black – have been trained to fear black men such that we reflexively see them as menacing, barely human beasts that must be subdued by whatever means necessary. Clearly this is not series of unfortunate events that we forgot to put in our history books. Rather, this is obviously still going on whether it takes the form of police officer knees on necks, POTUS-ordered rubber bullets and tear gas fired at lawfully gathered peaceful protestors, or the annual addition of tens of thousands of black and brown inmates to our for-profit industrial prison system toiling at slave wages to keep the robber barons afloat.

May we all be safe.
May we commit to a deep and sustained truth and reconciliation process.
May we be strong in the face of the escalating backlash (figurative and literal) to the truth.
May we accept that this deeply necessary work is scary and hard.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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