On Friday, Governor Charlie Baker activated the National Guard, for no apparent reason.
On Sunday, there were two peaceful protests — one at the State House, opposing Baker’s public health mandate requiring most Massachusetts students to get the flu vaccine, and another in Roxbury, calling for the arrests of police officers involved in the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
Was Baker’s action overkill? Some thought so. At the Roxbury protest, several people held signs that said, “Baker: Troops out of our streets now!” One organizer told the Globe that the governor’s action was “unacceptable” because it showed his priorities — “to suppress protests.” But the gathering wasn’t suppressed. According to the Globe report, it progressed from Nubian Square to Franklin Park without any interference from law enforcement. Given the deadly protest hot spot in Kenosha, and the one that developed over the weekend in Portland, Ore., what Baker did could also be seen as wise preemptive preparation.
I’ve been critical of Baker for ducking responsibility when things go wrong, including at the State Police, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. But in this case, I think this Republican governor showed his well-developed skill for finding the common-sense center.
The ongoing protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in May have prompted a national debate on police brutality and racism. That debate escalated over the weekend when a man affiliated with a right-wing group was shot and killed as a group of Trump supporters drove through Portland. Last week, a 17-year-old with a military-style weapon shot and killed two protesters in Kenosha. In the aftermath of these deadly encounters, Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, is rightly condemning violence “of every kind, whether on the right or left” and challenging President Trump to do the same.
So far, however, Trump continues to wallow in his ugly law-and-order rhetoric. But I don’t think that’s what most people want to hear. They are more open to Baker’s message.
Generally speaking, the governor has a good sense of proportion and balance when it comes to pleasing voters in a blue state. The poll released last week by the University of Massachusetts Lowell, which showed Senator Edward J. Markey leading Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III by double digits, also included these startling numbers: 89 percent of likely Democratic primary voters either strongly or somewhat approve of the job Baker is doing. CNN’s Chris Cillizza called those Baker results “the single most amazing poll number of 2020.” In that same poll, only 7 percent of likely Democratic primary voters approve of the job Trump is doing, and 92 percent think the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Much of Baker’s popularity is attributed to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. While some critics said he was too slow to lock down the state and others complain he’s too slow to reopen it, poll responders continue to back his nonpartisan, data-driven approach. Can that same nonpartisan, data-driven approach apply when the subject is racial justice?
In July, Baker suggested that he disagreed with Trump’s decision to send federal agents to respond to protests in Portland. “We don’t go where we’re not invited. I mean, our view is really simple on that.” Yet he did send the Massachusetts National Guard into Boston for more than a week, after a May 31 protest led to some violence and store break-ins. Again, he wsas criticized by some, said he took that action at the request of city officials. On Friday, when he announced the activation of the National Guard, he said they would only be deployed if their presence was requested by municipal leaders.
He gets where the people are, even in Massachusetts.
The right to protest is important. But protests should not be violent. At this moment in time, against the backdrop of all that is happening in this country today, activating the National Guard — just in case — in a non-provocative way is OK.