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ON the day following George Floyd’s lynching by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department, President Donald Trump announced an FBI investigation into what happened. Facing a mass public outcry against the backdrop of incontrovertible video evidence of Officer Derek Chauvin’s killing of Floyd, even Trump was compelled to say he’d do something. The charade of concern didn’t last long. By Friday morning, he was reviving the war cries of the segregationist South on Twitter.
Early on Friday, Trump returned to publicly showcasing his racist instincts. In a series of tweets, he derided Minneapolis protesters as “THUGS” using all caps to type out the code word often preferred by white supremacists who can no longer get away with using the N-word in public. As the 3rd Precinct’s police headquarters burned on television, the president threatened to send in the military to “get the job done right” if the “radical left” mayor didn’t “get his act together.”
And what “job” did Trump want Mayor Jacob Frey to get done right? Apparently, the gunning down of black protesters.
In chilling language, the president concluded his tweet: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts!”
Compare that to his response to the heavily armed white nationalist militias that stormed state capitols over the last few weeks. Like the attendees at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Heather Heyer was killed, Trump said these gun-toting white demonstrators were “very good people.” He urged Michigan officials to “give a little” and “make a deal” with them over public health agencies’ stay-at-home orders.
When it comes to black people demanding justice for another police killing, though, there is no deal to be made. Instead, the president says it’s time for bullets.
Trump didn’t credit the original author of his “when the looting starts” quote, but a simple Google search will tell you where it comes from. In 1967, the notorious racist and segregationist police chief of Miami, Walter Headley, declared “war” against what he claimed was a wave of black criminals “taking advantage of the civil rights” movement.
Headley told the Miami Herald at the time that he intended to use shotguns, dogs, and a “get tough policy” that included the use of deadly force against Black people. “Felons,” Headley pledged, “will learn they can’t be bonded out from the morgue.”
He then boastfully claimed there wouldn’t be any problem with riots or civil uprisings in his city because, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Those were Trump’s exact words from Friday morning.
Miami and other cities exploded under the pressure of police violence and racist attacks in 1968 (the same year as Rev Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination)—just like we are seeing happen today in Minneapolis. In February of that year, Headley’s officers had strip-searched a black teenager accused of carrying a knife, Robert Owens. After searching him, the cops threatened to kill him, dangling him over a bridge 100 feet above the Miami River.
Later that summer, the Republican National Convention came to town to nominate Richard Nixon for president. The GOP leader was calling on the “silent majority” to rise up and vote for him and put an end to the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Revolution.
A black empowerment rally in the Miami neighbourhood of Liberty City took place during the same week that Nixon was kicking off his effort to win the presidency with appeals to white resentment. The rally was addressed by Rev. Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and it’s where Headley’s racist police force made its move.
Like bait for a trap, a car sporting a “George Wallace for President” sticker sped toward the crowd at the Liberty City event. Wallace was the governor of Alabama infamous for declaring, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” Needless to say, the car was trashed, and the police suddenly had the riot excuse they needed to carry out Headley’s deadly edict.
Within a few days, three people were dead at the hands of cops and Liberty City had sustained significant damage. “This was all a battlefield,” Black resident Barry Gilmore told the Miami News that week. Commenting on the cops’ tactics, Gilmore said, “The police were at each end [of the street] and bullets were flying up and down. … The police could have shot in the air but they drew down on the people.”
Headley praised his men, and Nixon went on to win the White House with his “Southern Strategy” built around coded appeals to white supremacy. Which brings us back to another racist president— the one who currently sits in the Oval Office tweeting all day.
By quoting Headley Trump is reviving the war cry of a segregationist police chief at the very moment when the streets of this country are filled with rage over the absolutely unjustified use of deadly force by Minneapolis police against George Floyd. The president is intentionally stoking the flames of racial hatred among his white supremacist supporters in advance of the election later this year.
This is no coincidence; he knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s another signal to the racists among his base that he’s with them.
He has a long record of villainising black people and urging violence against them — including their execution by the state. Just recall the 1989 case of the “Central Park Five,” a group of young black men falsely convicted of raping a white woman in New York. Then an up-and-coming real estate mogul, Trump took out full-page newspaper ads against the Five, declaring, “Bring back the death penalty and bring back our police!”
His calls for the “shooting” to start in Minneapolis is just another example of his racist roots showing through. Social media giant Twitter appended a notice to Trump’s Friday morning tweet, saying it “violated the Twitter rules about glorifying violence.” This is a man whose entire public life needs to have a notice tacked onto it, for he has long glorified violence, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-immigrant attacks, sexism and more.
Police officers like Derek Chauvin and political leaders like Donald Trump are perhaps some of the most heinous symptoms of the racism that plagues American society, but they are just the most prominent expressions of a system that relies on discrimination, inequality, and division in order to secure the profits and privileges of a few.
Putting Chauvin behind bars and kicking Donald Trump out of the White House won’t end the problems of racism that are endemic to capitalism, but it would be a start.
CJ Atkins is the managing editor at People’s World — www.peoplesworld.org.
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