Law and Disorder

With a health crisis that well and truly exists, but one that he has spent most of his time downplaying, Donald Trump is trying to juxtapose another crisis, this one a security crisis that is entirely made up. It is thus in the name of “law and order,” though he is notorious for obeying a reflex that only ever consists of sowing disorder, that his government deployed federal troops in Portland, Oregon, last week to quell anti-racist protests in defiance of the objections and prerogatives of Democratic municipal authorities. Not satisfied with the fact that “Numerous people are in jail or will go to jail,” Trump threatened to send federal agents to other large “out of control” cities, something that he did on Wednesday in Chicago where he considers the situation to be “worse than Afghanistan, by far.”

This is madness. At its heart, it is, above all, about tarnishing, by any means necessary, the Democrats who play an important political role at the local level. Trump has not ceased to diminish the largely peaceful protests which have engulfed the United States since the murder of George Floyd in May — a man who suffocated under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer — as disorder. He clumsily confuses voters by amalgamating the anti-racist movement with the crime problems that have long plagued many U.S. cities.

Americans would see it more clearly if the much-listened-to and very Republican channel Fox News was not so propagandist. If Sean Hannity, one of its most insufferable stars, did not reduce political life to a sacred war against the “Bolsheviks” who have taken control of the Democratic Party, and who have turned Joe Biden into a “puppet” for their “extreme left” projects.

With 100 and some days until the presidential election, the president must smell trouble. And it’s because he smells trouble that he resigned himself on Tuesday to acknowledging the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and to recommending that masks be worn. For the time being. We will come to understand that it is not so much the resurgence of the coronavirus that made him react, but the polls that say again and again he is in free fall against Democrat Biden.

Sending federal troops to Portland, and now Chicago and Albuquerque, is appalling, because the logic is a logic of occupation. For a week in Portland, protesters were arrested by unidentified agents, taken in unmarked vehicles, interrogated without justification and then released. Otherwise moderate voices went so far as speaking of a slide into fascism. Others assert that the White House’s actions are tantamount to encouraging the formation of a paramilitary nebula which far right activists will want to join. Among the agents dispatched to Portland, some belong to a Border Patrol group specializing in the fight against drugs. The group’s poor reputation for respecting human rights precedes it. And its leadership is blindly pro-Trump.

A number of Democratic mayors — from Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Kansas City and Washington — have denounced the federal government’s “unilateral deployment” of agents into city streets, asking it to abandon these plans. In vain.

It is not unusual for the number of shootings and homicides to increase in summer in large American cities. But this year, these cities are experiencing a particularly serious and sudden rise in violence — in New York, Chicago and Atlanta, among others — and the majority of the victims are African Americans.

The economic crisis induced by the pandemic obviously has something to do with it. But one must also acknowledge the diminished motivation of local police forces, like in New York, where leaders are resisting the systematic reforms made urgent by George Floyd’s murder. In the intermediate term, the reduction of funding for police services decided by municipal councils is stirring debate. But there is a more fundamental abscess to burst: the one that allowed police officers, over time, to equip themselves, by collective agreement, with protections that shield them from any accountability. That is why the undeniably progressive Minneapolis City Council’s efforts at reform have been met with resistance by Bob Kroll, the reactionary president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis. It represents a cancer that has metastasized in a good number of cities, says former Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak. Furthermore, the U.S. president’s behavior not only conceals the social problems arising out of this cancer, it amplifies them.

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