The Real Violence Isn’t the Demonstrations

Demonstrators in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Image credit: Bil Schulz / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, tens of thousands of people took to the streets around the country to protest this latest violence at the hands of the police. In Kenosha the night sky was aglow as buildings, cars, and trash dumpsters burned.

Trump quickly launched his fear-mongering, using the backdrop of some burning buildings to denounce those who took to the streets as terrorists. He continued his attack on Black Lives Matter and those he calls “anarchists,” calling for “law and order.” In a number of cities, right-wing groups responded to Trump’s call. In Kenosha a right-wing vigilante group, armed with a variety of weapons, occupied rooftops and stood in front of buildings where demonstrations were taking place. Their presence was accepted by the police, who are seen in one video welcoming them and giving them bottled water.

These self-appointed defenders of the community were joined by a 17-year-old armed with an assault rifle. At one point he had a confrontation with 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and, emboldened by his weapon, opened fire and shot Rosenbaum multiple times, killing him. He fled the scene, pursued by some who had witnessed the killing. When he fell in the street, they attempted to disarm him. He responded by shooting two people, killing Anthony Huber, 26, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, who was working as a medic. He then got up and walked away, carrying his rifle in plain sight. Cops in vehicles entering the scene only told him to get out of the street.

Ann Coulter, of Fox News and other right-wing media, called him a hero, saying “I want him as my President.” This celebration of vigilante violence has been led by the terrorist-in-chief, Donald Trump, who said that the killings in Kenosha looked like self-defense to him. The following week, as part of his on-going campaign against those he calls terrorists, Trump went to Kenosha. He praised the police and expressed sympathy for those whose businesses were burned. But he made no mention of Jacob Blake, who was shot in the back multiple times at close range as he reached into his car where his three young children were sitting.

Four days after the shooting in Kenosha, in response to Trump’s call for an end to demonstrations in Portland, a caravan of hundreds of vehicles drove through central Portland. Some people rode in the backs of trucks, shooting protestors with paintball guns and spraying them with pepper spray. Trump applauded their actions and tweeted videos of the attacks. When a supporter of Patriot Prayer, a right-wing group, was shot and killed in an altercation in Portland, Trump blamed the Democratic Party politicians there for not maintaining order.

The tensions that have built up due to the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting economic crisis, burst into the streets with the police murder of George Floyd. It unleashed a massive response to the conditions of society that have been ignored for too long. Police violence is not new. This year more than 660 people have been killed by the police, approximately the same number as last year. But little or nothing was done and the police knew they could get away with murder.

Many politicians shrugged off people marching in the streets or promised investigations, but when property was damaged, they sat up and listened. They are well schooled in the values of this society. To them property matters – NOT Black lives.

These government officials are well aware of the violence of this society. They accept the racism and poverty that disproportionately affects Black people and other people of color. It is reflected in the statistics that they collect: the tens of millions of people who are currently unemployed, millions of whom will not be called back to work and the more than 40 million people who cannot pay their rent and face eviction despite the current amnesty, because they will not be able to pay their rent when the amnesty ends. And many utility companies are threatening shutoffs as winter approaches. Tens of millions of people are facing food insecurity and more than 40 million adults do not have adequate health insurance. To those who occupy positions of power, these are just the facts of life in the system they maintain. But poverty is violence. It produces the street violence and the suicides and drug addictions born out by the despair this society produces. And now, more than 186,000 people are dead because of the lack of an effective response to the spread of COVID-19. There is little wonder that tensions are flaring.

Trump and others fan the flames of discontent, claiming that people responding to the racism and other injustices of this society are the problem. Trump, Coulter, and others encourage the racism and white supremacy that run deep in this society. And we are seeing the outcome with the encouragement of these groups and individuals. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, 27 homicides have been committed that are connected to far-right extremists in the U.S. since 2019. (This doesn’t include the recent murders in Kenosha.)

People are right to take to the streets in protest. But we are going to have to do more than make demands on a system that will not respond to that which it does not value – the lives of all of us. We are not alone in our disgust and anger about the situation we find ourselves in. When we look around the world we see people like ourselves, in the streets, confronting the inequities of the system they live under – from Hong Kong, to Belarus, South Africa, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Mali and elsewhere.

Everywhere, it is the same system and the same fight. We have the possibility to join the struggle and use the power we have as workers to bring this society to a stop. With our collective power we can also create the possibility to leave the misery and tragedies of the world we live in behind and open the path to a new future. The choice is ours.