As Republicans try to terrify white voters by conjuring a fictional dystopia at their convention this week, a real one has been laid bare, yet again — this time in the streets of Kenosha, Wis.
That one, it seems, is impervious to the months of miseries, protests, and promises that have followed the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May.
Millions took to the streets to protest Floyd’s death, and those of others who died at the hands of those sworn to protect them. Over the past few months, we’ve seen what looked like progress, seismic shifts in culture and public opinion. We’ve seen attempts at reforms, many of them batted back by police unions and intimidated legislators.
But the Kenosha police officer who held Jacob Blake by the T-shirt and shot him in the back at point blank range had to know the stakes were higher now, that the whole world could be watching. He did it anyway. Blake’s children were in that car, too: They are 3, 5, and 8, too young for The Talk, now seared first-hand and for life with the lesson every Black child must learn.
Rage is the only appropriate response here. So protesters have taken to the streets in Kenosha. Some of them have destroyed property. We don’t yet know whether in Wisconsin, as elsewhere, the destruction was fueled in part by those who benefit from the chaos — those who live by the racist narrative of Black and brown people hell bent on destroying the American (read white) way of life. But at least some of the damage reflects the frustration of those who see that peaceful protest seems to change nothing.
The only way to end this is for police to stop brutalizing, killing, and maiming Black men and women. But too many people won’t hear that. Instead, we see police doubling down on force, and legions of supporters springing to their defense.
And so, in Kenosha, as at other protests, heavily armed vigilantes showed up to defend police and property. Footage from Tuesday night makes it clear the police saw Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, and his group as allies, thanking them for their support and giving them water, even as they swept others from the streets for violating curfew.
Shortly thereafter, witnesses saw Rittenhouse fire shots that they said killed two protesters and wounded a third. Right after the shootings, police let Rittenhouse walk on by, even as bystanders told them what he’d done. Rittenhouse was arrested without incident at his home on Wednesday.
This is a country where a Black man who appears to have been trying to break up a domestic dispute gets seven police bullets in the back, and where a white kid brandishing an AR-15 gets police gratitude before he goes on to murder two people and heads home to sleep in his own bed.
That’s pretty dystopian.
But at their convention this week President Trump’s GOP has been fabricating a different nightmare, a scenario in which real, decent, white Americans are under siege by folks with less money than they have, who would seek to invade their nice suburbs and make them feel unsafe in their own backyards. The GOP has leveraged the unrest over police brutality to stoke racial fears, and drive wavering white voters back into Trump’s arms.
In this bizarro-land, Patricia and Mark McCloskey, the litigious St. Louis couple who drew their guns on the peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters who dared to walk past their mansion, are heroes, and the real victims. If Democrats take the White House, they argued on Monday night, “no matter where you live, your family will not be safe.”
If these are heroes, this isn’t America.
It’s Black Americans who live in the hellscape Trump and his cultists conjure: Black men and women who are not safe in their own homes, who can be killed in their own backyards, and, yes, by police.
Given the deadly incompetence of the president’s response to the coronavirus and the tanking economy, race-baiting is all Republicans have left. None of this is subtle. Nor is it logical, given that it is Trump presiding over the chaos he claims is worse than ever.
But we are so far gone that it just might work.
An earlier version of this column gave the wrong month for George Floyd’s death. It was in May.