This morning, we woke up to the President of the United States calling for military violence in response to protestors in Minneapolis and St. Paul who are demanding justice after a white police officer killed George Floyd, a Black man, in broad daylight, after kneeling on his neck. This message was sent from the official White House Twitter account.
Twitter quickly added a disclaimer to the tweet, which included the word "THUGS" and threatened to send the military to contain the protestors. "This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence," reads the label. However, Twitter left the post for all to see after determining that it "may be in the public's interest." Twitter shut down likes and replies to the statement, but retweets are still available.
It has always been very clear what Trump's priorities are, but this statement puts them in an even starker light. He is using "thugs," a pejorative term that echoes the language of segregationists like George Wallace. He quoted Wallace, the former governor of Alabama and one of the country's most destructive racists, when he said in 1968, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts." He suggested that soldiers use violence against protestors who are calling for justice and the end of police killings of Black people. This is all while the man who kneeled on Floyd's neck, Derek Chauvin, has not been arrested, and none of the officers involved have been brought to justice. While protestors in Minneapolis have been tear gassed, and attacked with flash grenades and rubber bullets.
Yes, Trump's priorities are exceedingly clear, including when it comes to being able to use social media to lie and incite violence. This week he signed an executive order targeting social media companies that could allow federal regulators to punish Twitter, Facebook, and Google over how they moderate posts. It's not a coincidence that this comes just a couple of days after Twitter began fact-checking his statements, including his continued lies that mail-in-ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud, which have been disproven. He accused the platform of censorship in response.
Justice has not been served in George Floyd's case, or in any of the other killings of Black people we have witnessed in the past weeks, months, and years. The outrage must not be toward the protestors. It must be toward the vindictive, small-minded man at the top and toward the system that allows these killings to happen.
On May 1, Trump tweeted a very different statement, this one about the largely white protestors in Michigan who are demanding an end to the stay-at-home orders issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. "These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely!" he said, referring to people who carried assault weapons and Nazi flags. His treatment of the two groups of protestors is racism at work. But there's something to his previous statement that applies now: These are very good people. They are angry. And they want their lives back again.