On Friday, July 27, President Donald Trump gave a speech to law enforcement in Long Island, New York, during which — for all intents and purposes — he essentially advocated violence against criminal suspects.
“When you see these towns, and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon," Trump said. "You just see them thrown in. Rough. I said, 'Please don't be too nice.' Like when you guys put somebody in the car, and you're protecting their head, you know? The way you put your hand — like, don't hit their head, and they've just killed somebody? Don't hit their head? I said, 'You can take the hand away, okay.'”
Many of the police officers in the audience applauded after Trump spoke. Automatic reflex or a genuine show of support? We may never know.
But what we do know is that in an era where rarely a month goes by without an extrajudicial killing, to have the leader of the Free World advocating violence is nothing less than horrifying. In the hours after his speech, numerous law enforcement officials across the nation took to social media to repudiate Trump’s heinous words.
When the President of the United States openly advocates violence against criminal suspects — which will almost always disproportionately affect marginalized people — we need our local officials to take a stand. To borrow a line from the local advocacy organization Progressive Portland, “As long as we have Donald Trump in the White House and Paul LePage in the Blaine House, the only way we are going to make any progress is at the local level.”
We need to hear our local police chiefs being vocal and saying “No, we will not abuse our power.” They need to commit to anti-racism/implicit bias training and be transparent about that process. We need to see them actively working against what is increasingly looking like a regime rather than an administration. In Portland, that means Police Chief Michael Sauschuck needs to speak up, as do Mayor Strimling and other elected officials.
We need to see concerted grassroots and high-profile pushback against the Trump narrative that too often demonizes people who aren’t white and which has consistently advocated violence against criminal suspects, dissenters and others. Let's not forget that this is a man who continued to call for the death penalty for the “Central Park Five” — four black and one Hispanic teen charged with a brutal assault of a Manhattan jogger in 1989 — long after it was shown they were wrongfully convicted. Fairness and decency are not high on his agenda.
Too often, our city and state equates growing racial and ethnic diversity alone as indicative of progress when, at best, such efforts are cosmetic change. Despite the growing awareness of racism in Maine, and despite many good-faith efforts from white people who are working to dismantle racism and other forms of oppression, many people of color in Maine do not experience Maine as a welcoming place. For many people of color, the “good-faith” efforts ring hollow as they often are not backed by momentum for actual change; as such, they can end up being lip service and be experienced as yet another form of violence.
Black and other non-white pain is consumed and dissected and real systemic change rarely happens. Progressive whites rarely do the heart-level work that is required for change — the kind of work that means a willingness to lose something in the fight toward racial equity. It means a willingness to lean into the discomfort and recognize that ultimately our battle is against unfettered white supremacy. It means the courage to walk away from the privileges inherent in simply being white.
These are admittedly lofty, possibly abstract goals, and they will be a long time to achieve even with committed movement. But for now, it's a start to be vocal against everything President Trump’s administration is attempting to normalize — drawing a line in the sand and not crossing it. Trump may be a master at dog-whistle politics when he speaks to his base, but we can be diligent about denouncing such statements.
And we must. Because if we don’t, we will help tacitly give consent for state-sponsored violence. Violence that will grow and spread to harm even more people on the margins and — as happens when states turn to violence against pockets of citizenry — begin to be used as tools against everyone else too.
Read more Shay Stewart-Bouley at www.blackgirlinmaine.com