President Donald Trump speaks with reporters as he walks to Marine One outside the White House en route to Texas Wednesday.Alex Brandon/AP
President Donald Trump said Wednesday that federal agents will “go in and clean it out” Portland, Oregon, if state and local officials don’t “secure their city soon”—a threat apparently prompted by Oregon’s governor announcing that federal forces would soon start withdrawing from the city.
“You hear all sorts of reporting about us leaving,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “We’re not leaving until they secure their city. We told the governor, we told the mayor: Secure your city. If they don’t secure their city soon, we have no choice. We’re gonna have to go in and clean it out. We’ll do it very easily. We’re all prepared to do it.”
Trump on Portland: "We're not leaving until they secure their city … if they don't secure their city soon, we have no choice — we're gonna have to go in and clean it out." pic.twitter.com/y9xg1fhnnO
Trump also said that many “anarchists and agitators” have been arrested in Portland and that “it’s gonna be a long sentence.”
Trump’s remarks came after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced that following her repeated requests, “the federal government has agreed to a phased withdrawal of federal officers” who have been deployed in Portland for several weeks. Both Brown and Chad Wolf, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, said Wednesday that they had agreed on a plan that involved federal agents leaving Portland. But they made differing claims about the details.
Brown said talks with Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials this week led to an agreement that beginning Thursday, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers “will leave downtown Portland, and shortly thereafter will begin going home.”
Officers from those two agencies, which Wolf oversees, have been deputized to help the Federal Protective Service, also part of DHS, protect the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in the city, which has been the target of vandalism and arson attempts amid ongoing protests that began two months ago after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Federal agents, however, have been captured on video blocks away from the courthouse arresting protesters—allegedly without identifying themselves, in some cases. Those actions have drawn a national outcry and swelled the number of protesters participating in nightly demonstrations in the city from hundreds to thousands. Oregon’s attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union have launched multiple lawsuits alleging federal officers are exceeding their constitutional authority in Portland. Inspectors general at DHS and the Justice Department have launched investigations into federal actions in the city.
Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler say protests in the city are largely peaceful but that the feds are worsening the situation. “These federal officers have acted as an occupying force, refused accountability, and brought violence and strife to our community,” Brown said Wednesday.
The federal agents, decked out in military fatigues, have by almost all accounts intensified the situation in the city. Many demonstrators say they took to the streets in Portland to protest the federal presence there. Some people have reportedly thrown fireworks, bottles, and other objects at officers. “A number of federal officers have been injured, including one severely burned by a mortar-style firework and three who have suffered serious eye injuries and may be permanently blind,” Attorney General Bill Barr told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
Federal agents, for their part, have used tear gas, pepper spray, and “crowd-control munitions” on demonstrators. Earlier this month, a federal agent fired an impact munition that fractured a protester’s skull.
Brown said that Oregon state police will replace the CBP and ICE agents in assisting a “limited contingent of Federal Protective Service” officers, who are permanently stationed in the city and will remain. It’s not clear exactly how many federal agents are currently involved. The Oregonianreported Wednesday that 114 officers from CBP and the US Marshals Service have been deployed around the courthouse. Brown did not say if the Marshals, who are part of the Justice Department, will also leave Portland.
Wolf confirmed in a statement Wednesday that the feds had reached an agreement with Brown on “a joint plan to end the violent activity in Portland” that included state police replacing DHS personnel in local law enforcement activity.
But Wolf, who has struck a confrontational stance toward elected officials in Portland, claimed DHS agents would only leave once “the violent activity toward our federal facilities ends. We are not removing any law enforcement while our facilities and law enforcement remain under attack.”
Trump went even further. “They either clean out their city and do it right, or we’re gonna have to do it for them,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Trump’s reelection campaign has touted his deployment of federal officers to various US cities, a bet that his supposed crackdown on cities he falsely depicts as lawless will play well politically. On Wednesday even as feds agreed to pull back in Portland, the Justice Department announced an expansion of “Operation Legend”—an effort supposedly aimed at using federal agents to combat local violent crime—to cities in three swing states: Detroit, Milwaukee, and Cleveland. The DOJ had previously announced a “surge” of agents in Kansas City, Chicago, and Albuquerque to fight crime there.
In his testimony Tuesday, Barr defended Operation Legend and the federal deployment to Portland. Asked if he had talked to the president about how the federal deployments might help Trump’s reelection campaign, Barr refused to answer.
Many questions linger over what led to the events outside in the White House on June 1 in Lafayette Square, wherein US Park Police attacked peaceful protesters with tear gas and excessive force moments before Donald Trump strolled through the park for a photo op in front of a nearby church. The USPP has insisted that the reason for the crackdown wasn’t for Trump’s photo op, but instead to install a new perimeter fence. The agency has also maintained that the protesters weren’t peaceful, which necessitated the use of force and defensive weapons to clear the park. But during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the incident on Tuesday, both of these assertions were called into question by Democratic lawmakers and a National Guard whistleblower who testified that the USPP engaged in “an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.”
According to Gregory Monahan, the acting chief of the USPP, the plan to clear out the park and install the new fence on June 1 had been discussed up to two days prior, and “there was 100 percent, zero, no correlation between our operation and the president’s visit to the church,” he said. Attorney General William Barr, who said he ordered the clearance of Lafayette Park in order for new fences to be installed, also said that the effort had no connection to Trump’s photo op. But Barr admitted in a concurrent House hearing on Tuesday that he actually did learn “sometime in the afternoon that the president might come out of the White House” and that he later heard that Trump also planned to visit the church. Minutes before the park was cleared, he was captured on camera by CNN talking with a USPP officer. As Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) pointed out, something about the timeline of events that day doesn’t quite add up.
Thanks to @RepRubenGallego, we now know for sure that the Trump admin's explanation of what happened on June 1 doesn't add up.
And while Monahan and Barr insist that the reason Lafayette Square was cleared about 30 minutes before the 7 p.m. curfew was because the fencing materials had just arrived, Adam DeMarco, the National Guard whistleblower, backed up earlier claims that law enforcement officials were told that the park would only be cleared of protesters after the curfew went into effect. DeMarco also testified that the fencing materials didn’t arrive until 9 p.m.
One piece of evidence that might be able to clear all this up, however, is conveniently not available. As the Washington Postreported earlier this month, the audio of USPP’s radio communications system was not recorded on June 1, which Rep. Debra Haaland (D-N.M.) said “would answer a lot of the questions that we and public have at this moment.” According to Monahan, the reason why the radio transmissions weren’t recorded on that day had to do with a radio technician who set up the system incorrectly when the agency switched from an analog system to a digital format in 2018. The new system, Monahan explained, had only been set up to record transmissions from the USPP’s main dispatch channel, and not its secondary administrative channel, which is the channel that was used on June 1 so that USPP officers could communicate with law enforcement from other agencies. Monahan said that the agency did not realize the error in the system until they tried to pull the audio from the day in question on June 10.
But beyond the technical inconsistencies that Monahan testified about, the biggest bombshell to come from Tuesday’s hearing was during DeMarco’s testimony, when he countered Monahan’s assertion that USPP exercised “tremendous restraint” in clearing Lafayette Square. “Tremendous restraint does not involve the use of defensive equipment as weapons,” DeMarco said, referencing the use of pepper balls, smoke canisters, and other chemical irritants that USPP used to clear the park. DeMarco testified that he and other Guardsmen did not observe any violent behavior by protesters—which Monahan insisted was happening to justify the use of force—and were “deeply disturbed” by the tactics used to clear the park. DeMarco, who spent five years on active duty, including a combat deployment in Iraq, said that had his unit in Iraq done what federal agents did to the peaceful protesters on June 1, it would have violated the Geneva Convention.
BREAKING: Maj. Adam DeMarco, an Iraq vet now with D.C. National Guard, testified that if his unit had done in Iraq what federal agents did to peaceful Americans on #LafayetteSquare on June 1, it would have violated the Geneva Convention.
Since landing in Orlando as part of the NBA’s return to play, Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris has spoken to the media about precisely one thing: “Justice for Breonna Taylor.”
During a July 20 press conference, he urged Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to “arrest the cops and officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death,” adding, “that is going to be my answer for every question.” Four days later, he confirmed that his postgame interviews—the kind most NBA players routinely go through—would be devoted to justice for Taylor. “Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove need to be held accountable, and we need justice for Breonna Taylor and I’ll continue to preach that message after every single game,” he said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Many NBA players participated in racial justice protests in recent weeks and have been adamant about using the return of the NBA season to keep a spotlight on Taylor’s death and police brutality against Black Americans. The NBA plastered “Black Lives Matter” on the game court in Walt Disney World in Orlando, where the professional basketball league is finishing its coronavirus-shortened season. The NBA also approved 29 statements, such as “Say Their Names” and “I Can’t Breathe,” for players to wear on their jerseys in Orlando once official games begin next week.
But the most powerful advocacy has come from players who have used their platform in interviews to keep the focus on Taylor. Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics told reporters on Friday after a scrimmage, “Before we start, guys, my answer is just going to be ‘justice for Breonna Taylor’—that’s going to be my answer for everything.”
The WNBA, meanwhile, started its season on Saturday and permitted players to wear Taylor’s name on their jerseys. The league also specifically devoted its opening day game between the New York Liberty and Seattle Storm to honoring Taylor and other victims of police brutality. Before the game, New York’s Layshia Clarendon and Seattle’s Breanna Stewart asked for a 26-second moment of silence in honor of Taylor, who was killed at age 26. Both players are members of the league’s new Social Justice Council, which is driving the league’s advocacy on “race, voting rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and gun control,” among other issues.
Taylor, an emergency room technician, was killed in March after police officers used a no-knock warrant to enter her Louisville apartment and exchanged fire with her boyfriend, who believed they were intruders. As my colleague Samantha Michaels wrote, “Research shows that Black and Latino people have long been disproportionately affected by these kinds of raids, and tens of thousands more will likely be targeted within the year.”
Even though officer Brett Hankison was fired and reprimanded for “wantonly and blindly” firing 10 shots into Taylor’s apartment, none of the three officers have been arrested for murder. “I can assure you at the end of our investigation, we will do what is right,” Cameron, Kentucky’s top law enforcement officer, told reporters in June. “We will find the truth.”
Taylor’s death gained national attention during the protests following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and NBA players have been part of the pressure campaign to hold the Louisville police officers accountable. “As one of the leaders of this league, I want her family to know, and I want the state of Kentucky to know that we feel for her and we want justice,” LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar, said Thursday after his team’s scrimmage with the Dallas Mavericks. “What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong.”
CNN reported that several NBA players have been in touch with Taylor’s mother, Tameka Palmer, and have “expressed their support.”
Protestors participated in a "unity walk" in Tallahassee in June. Don Juan Moore/Getty
It has been two months and we still don’t know the name of the police officer who shot and killed Tony McDade in Tallahassee, Florida. The reason sounds ridiculous: The cop is claiming that in his encounter with McDade he was the victim and that, under a state law, his personal information should be protected.
In a lawsuit, the Florida Police Benevolent Association sought to keep the officer’s identity under wraps by offering him protections under the victims’ rights amendment to the state’s constitution. As a victim, they said, the law guaranteed him privacy, broadly defined. In this case, they argued that meant keeping confidential all identifying information about the officer, such as his name, prior disciplinary records, and body camera footage. But Leon County Judge Charles Dodson declared that the law, colloquially known as Marsy’s Law, “was not intended to apply to law enforcement officers when acting in their official capacity” because it could grant them “virtual anonymity” whenever they use force.
The case exemplifies an increasingly popular tactic to conceal police brutality. Critics of Marsy’s Law, including Andrea Lyon, a Chicago defense attorney, say cops can use it to control the narrative and reframe the people they kill as the aggressors. As I wrote last month:
Lyon told me that when police invoke Marsy’s Law, it tips the scales of justice even further to the disadvantage of a defendant. In her more-than-40-year career Lyon has defended hundreds of clients, including some who have survived police shootings, only to be charged with attempted murder of an officer. “It’s really quite common,” she said. When police claim victimhood, it makes it incredibly difficult for the defendant to claim self-defense. And without access to an officer’s personnel reports, it’s almost impossible to prove a pattern of brutality—it becomes a defendant’s word against law enforcement’s. And who do people usually believe?
“In the case at hand, Petitioner seeks to treat officers Doe 1 and Doe 2 as victims; however, the would-be accuseds are dead,” he wrote. “The officers do not seek protection from the would-be accused, instead they apparently seek protection from possible retribution for the on-duty actions from unknown persons in the community.” He continued that he could not interrupt a victims’ rights law “to shield police officers from public scrutiny of their official actions.”
The police union has already appealed the ruling. Until that is exhausted, we still won’t know the officer’s identity.
A demonstrator confronts police officers during a protest in Chicago on Saturday, June 13, 2020.Nam Y. Huh / AP Photo
On Thursday, Black Lives Matter Chicago—along with a number of other activist groups—filed a lawsuit against the Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf to stop his push of federal forces, which they say are “interfering in or otherwise policing lawful and peaceful assemblies and protests.”
The complaint, filed in a US District Court in Illinois, comes one day after President Trump announced a “surge” of hundreds of federal agents to the city. It cautions that the presence of these officers could lead to clashes like those in Portland over the past few weeks when federal agents—some in unmarked uniforms who refused to say who they worked for—descended upon Black Lives Matter protesters and began making arrests.
The Department of Justice formally announced the expansion of Operation Legend on Wednesday—an initiative separate from what’s happening in Portland and one that’s framed as an initiative to support local law enforcement. But it’s a thinly-veiled show of force—flooding cities with federal agents, from the FBI, the US Marshal Service, DEA, and ATF, in the name of law and order. In its announcement, DOJ said it’d be sending 200 troops to Chicago and 35 to Albuquerque, in addition to the 200 already sent to Kansas City.
The plaintiffs in the suit see this deployment, of what they’re calling “secret police,” as an infringement on their right to assemble and say that the actions of federal law enforcement, alongside the actions of Chicago police, make them fearful to continue holding protests. The organizers specifically cite recent attacks by Chicago police officers: GoodKids MadCity, a youth community organizing group that’s among the plaintiffs, saw one of their members injured in a clash with city police during a protest over the weekend; 18-year-old Miracle Boyd was hit in the face and had several teeth knocked out during confrontation with an officer.
“From many levels, Chicago knows about police brutality,” said Amika Tendaji, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago. “This [lawsuit] is just one channel we go through to demonstrate in every way—we’re using every tool to make the police follow the law.”
Yet on the federal level, protest has been twisted as an excuse to exercise the power of the state. In the press conference announcing the expansion of Operation Legend, Attorney General William Barr tied the increase in violence in Chicago and other places to anti-police protests. Trump has done the same. He repeatedly conflated protest action with gun violence in Chicago, saying federal force is needed to quell the “horrible ‘carnage’ going on.” This echoes how Wolf has described Portland, as “under siege…by a violent mob”; he has said the deployment of Homeland Security Investigations and US Customs and Border Protection was only to defend federal property from “lawless anarchists.” (Whether or not any violence is ever de-escalated by these federal agents did not appear to cross the minds of these men.)
On July 20, after seeing what was happening in Portland, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared wary at the prospect of federal intervention in her city. She said, “We don’t need federal agents without any insignia taking people off the streets and holding them, I think, unlawfully.” The following day she sent a letter to President Trump rejecting aggressive interference in favor of federal assistance in other crime prevention measures. But it appears that by Wednesday, Lightfoot had spoken with the president to confirm the arrival of Operation Legend agents.
“There is no support—on any level of government—for Black and brown Chicago to protect them from police repression,” Tendaji said.
President Donald Trump is trying to boost his reelection chances by highlighting his efforts to use federal officers to crack down on what he claims is lawlessness in US cities. This week, his campaign ran a Facebook ad that showed protesters attacking a police officer. The words “chaos & violence” appear under the photo, a suggestion that Trump will stop such actions.
But the image is not from a protest in an American city. It is from Kyiv in 2014, part of the so-called Maidan Revolution against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian policies. Yanunkovych was eventually forced out. He fled to Moscow—but not before exacting a bloody toll. His effort to suppress the uprising resulted in the deaths of an estimated 130 Ukrainians. Most were protesters killed by troops deployed by Yanukovych. More than 30 deaths were reported during demonstrations on February 18, 2018, the day the photo was taken.
Yanukovych was accused of extensive corruption. Last year, a Ukrainian court convicted him of treason over his invitation to Russia to invade Ukraine in 2014. Paul Manafort, who worked as Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016, was previously a longtime adviser to Yanukovych and was sentenced last year to seven years in prison for crimes that include illegally lobbying for Yanukovych in the United States and tax fraud related to his efforts to hide proceeds from his Ukrainian work. The House of Representatives impeached Trump last year for attempting to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. That scheme involved Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, working with former political allies of Yanukovych.
The Trump campaign’s error was flagged Tuesday night by Jesse Lehrich, a former foreign policy spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
a new Trump ad warning of chaos & violence depicts a cop being attacked by protesters…
In its effort to smear American anti-police-violence protesters, the Trump campaign—which did not respond to questions about the ad—seems to have inadvertently sided with pro-Russian forces suppressing democratic dissent in Eastern Europe.
Mstyslav Chernov, a Ukrainian photographer, confirmed via email that he took the photograph in Kyiv. He indicated the Trump campaign had not sought his permission to use the image but added that the campaign didn’t need to do so, since he published it on Wikimedia under a Creative Commons license, allowing anyone to use it. Chernov, who now works for the Associated Press, said he couldn’t comment further.
But Chernov previously seemed to fault the Trump campaign in remarks toBusiness Insider: “Photography has always been used to manipulate public opinion. And with the rise of social media and the rise of populism, this is happening even more,” Chernov said. “The only way to combat this is through education and media literacy. When people learn to independently distinguish truth from lies, then the number of manipulations will decrease.”
House Democrats are demanding that the inspectors general of the Justice and Homeland Security departments open an immediate investigation into whether the Trump administration’s use of federal law enforcement agents to invade Portland, Oregon, constitutes an abuse of emergency powers.
The letter—signed by three House committee chairs: Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Bennie Thompson, and Carolyn Maloney—comes after federal agents, some dressed in unidentified uniforms and camouflage, unleashed violent tactics against protesters in Portland last week. The chairs cited Portland as one of several troubling examples in which federal law enforcement officials have been accused of using excessive force in order to remove protesters demanding police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. The Democrats also cited the administration’s use of tear gas to clear Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, immediately before a presidential photo op.
Officials at DHS and US Customs and Border Protection claim that they are in Portland to in support of a June 26 executive order in which Trump directed the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense to provide “personnel to assist with the protection of Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.” More specifically, CBP says that its agents are deputized to help the Federal Protective Service in guarding federal property, a role that the DHS secretary has statutory power to give them. In Portland, CBP says it’s protecting the Hatfield Federal Courthouse from vandalism.
“The legal basis for this use of force has never been explained—and, frankly, it is not at all clear that the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary are authorized to deploy federal law enforcement officers in this manner,” the congressional committee chairs wrote in their letter Sunday. “The Attorney General of the United States does not have unfettered authority to direct thousands of federal law enforcement personnel to arrest and detain American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.”
The Trump administration appeared to double down on Sunday, announcing that this week, the president plans to roll out a new directive aimed at expanding federal police power in cities across the country.
Donald Trump displays an executive order on "Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence," on Friday, June 26.Tia Dufour/White House/ZUMA Wire
President Donald Trump plans to assert new authority this week to dispatch federal law enforcement agents to American cities to quell “unrest,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Sunday on Fox News.
“Attorney General Barr is weighing in on that with [acting Homeland Security] Secretary [Chad] Wolf, and you’ll see something rolled out this week, as we start to go in and make sure that the communities—whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or someplace across the heartland of the country—we need to make sure their communities are safe,” Meadows said.
President Trump is committed to standing up to the radical mobs that want to tear down our communities. “Some of the unrest we saw… it’s just not acceptable.”
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) July 19, 2020
Trump’s critics say he is deploying armed federal officers to cities in an effort to help his reelection effort. The Trump campaign lent support to those claims Sunday by gleefully tweeting out Meadows’ comments.
Meadows referred to the ongoing federal presence in Portland, Oregon. There—in defiance of requestsby local officials—the Homeland Security Department and the US Marshalls Service are claiming authority to police Black Lives Matter protests and to make arrests. In Portland, Border Patrol teams have detained people, and federal agents have reportedly used tear gas against protesters. (Protesters have alleged Border Patrol officers failed to clearly identify themselves when making arrests, though the agency disputes that.)
The Feds justify their presence in Portland by citing a June 26 executive order in which Trump directed them to protect statues, monuments, and federal property. They say they are protecting the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and other federal property in the city. The Border Patrol also says its agents are deputized to help the Federal Protective Service guard federal facilities, a role that the DHS secretary has statutory power to give them.
But Meadows suggested the Trump administration wants to broaden its legal justification to allow federal agencies to expand their presence in other locations. Notably he cited Chicago, where the issue drawing national attention is gun violence, not political unrest. Trump has previously threatened to “send in the Feds” if Chicago “doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on.”
“The statues are one thing, but it’s really about keeping out communities safe, and the president is committed to do that,” Meadows said.
These plans are sure to draw condemnation from Democrats and other Trump critics already denouncing the administration’s actions in Portland. On Sunday, the chairs of three House committees—Judiciary, Oversight and Homeland Security—asked inspectors general in the Justice and Homeland Security departments to investigate the “use of federal law enforcement agencies by the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security to suppress First Amendment protected activities in Washington, DC, Portland, and other communities across the United States.”
Federal officers in Portland, Oregon after clearing the streets with tear gas and other crowd control munitions, on July 18, 2020.Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa via AP Images)
The Trump administration says the Department of Homeland Security can occupy downtown Portland, tear gas protesters, and arrest people on city streets with little explanation. Critics saythat’sfascist. DHS says it’s a model to take on the road.
“With as much lawbreaking is going on, we’re seeking to prosecute as many people as are breaking the law as it relates to federal jurisdiction,” acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told NPR on Friday. “That’s not always happening with respect to local jurisdiction and local offenses. But, you know, this is a posture we intend to continue not just in Portland but in any of the facilities that we’re responsible for around the country.”
In Portland, DHS, defying the expresswishes of elected officials, appears to be using the fig leaf of defending federal property to pursue President Donald Trump’s wish to forcibly suppress unrest. In what critics call clearly unconstitutional behavior, camouflage-clad officers—Mother Jonesreported on Friday that they are Border Patrol agents—have arrested protesters, allegedly without identifying or explaining themselves. Federal officers have used tear gas and shot projectiles from paintball guns at protesters.
Officials at DHS and US Customs and Border Protection claim that they are in Portland to in support of a June 26 executive order in which Trump directed the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense to provide “personnel to assist with the protection of Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.” More specifically, CBP says that its agents are deputized to help the Federal Protective Service in guarding federal property, a role that the DHS secretary has statutory power to give them. In Portland, CBP says it’s protecting the Hatfield Federal Courthouse from vandalism.
These efforts do face legal challenges. The US attorney in Oregon has requested an investigation into videos of camouflaged federal authorities without identification arresting protesters in Portland, CNN reported. In a statement Friday, CBP told Mother Jones its agents had carried out arrests in the city and defended them as legal.
On Saturday, Oregon’s Attorney General sued DHS and other agencies Friday night, arguing they are violated the Constitution by detaining and arresting demonstrators without probable cause. On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Oregon branch sued DHS and the US Marshals Service, which is part of the Justice Department, seeking a court order to block federal officers “from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists or legal observers.” The ACLU said it will be filing additional lawsuits in coming days aimed at restraining federal action in the city. Citing Cuccinelli’s comments on nationalizing the Portland model, the ACLU tweeted: “We won’t let them.”
But DHS is pushing ahead. With little notice, the department has already dispatched teams of agents to police the National Mall in Washington, Gettysburg National Military Park, and other locations. Cuccinelli seems set on further expansion.
After the Civil War, Edward Virginius Valentine returned from Europe to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia—the former Confederate capital—and began using his training in classical sculpture to enshrine the myth of the Lost Cause. Over the next few decades Valentine made a career of sculpting monuments to defenders of slavery, building tributes to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, among others. And he made the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond—unveiled on Monument Avenue in June 1907 by Davis’ last remaining child and toppled in June 2020 by protesters against systemic racism after the death of George Floyd.
Over the past few months, protesters have spray-painted, damaged, torched, and toppled symbols of white supremacy around the country. Critics have decried the acts as shameful attempts to erase the country’s history. The president demanded that protesters who took down a Confederate monument in Washington, DC, be “immediately arrested.” But the destruction of our cultural legacies is itself part of our cultural legacy, reaching back to ancient history. It is as old as the act of honoring false gods.
Deconstructing the Design and Demolition of Confederate Monuments
Valentine, working with an architect, made the monument “overwhelmingly tall” and depicted Davis in a “heroic” pose, delivering his famous 1861 speech about quitting the US Senate to the join the Confederacy. Like all the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue, it was erected during an era when white Southerners were rewriting the story of the Civil War. According to the propaganda of the Lost Cause, the Confederates hadn’t betrayed their country; they’d fought gallantly for the principle of states’ rights. And Davis wasn’t the treacherous leader of a failed state that had rebelled to protect slavery; he was a hero fighting a tyrant in vain to protect a “way of life.” But how to show all that? Valentine, and other artists, looked to a previous empire: Rome.
Behind Davis is semicircle of Doric columns, like those used in the Colosseum and the Parthenon. An angelic female figure hovers above him, intended to be an allegorical figure of the South, harkening back to the classical images of gods. This is purposeful. As public historian Lyra Monteiro explains in her forthcoming book on the invention of “white heritage” in the early United States, the white landowners of this time saw the Greeks and Romans as their racial ancestors. W.E.B. Du Bois notes in Black Reconstruction that planters “threw Latin phrases” into their speech to cultivate an air of gentility, an affectation that reached a grim pinnacle with John Wilkes Booth supposedly yelling “sic semper tyrannis” after shooting President Lincoln.
More importantly, Rome’s own history of slavery was central to the defense of American chattel slavery. In his famed Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson is at pains to distinguish between the “white” slaves of antiquity and the enslaved Africans in the Americas. The ancient slaves went on to become great artists and scientists due to the inherent characteristics of their race, Jefferson argues. The inferior Black souls that built and toiled on his Monticello—including, presumably, his own progeny—would never reach such heights. “The past,” Monteiro writes, “becomes an important proving ground to verify the immutability of racial categories, and the inevitability of the hierarchical structure of contemporary society.”
Art was joined to the effort to create a racial and cultural identity out of some imagined classical patrimony. American sculptors traveled to Europe to study the ancient Greek statuary that scientists like Johann Friedrich Blumenbach were using to define the normative white body in their “empirical” racial hierarchical system. Valentine’s own masterpiece was the sculpture Andromache and Astyanax, depicting an incident in The Iliad. This was the heyday of Neoclassicism. An elegant vision of history was summoned to prettify a brutish present. “The ‘classical’ generally is what gets created to explain what whiteness is, and that’s why it happens at the same time as colonization,” Monteiro says. “It’s to justify why they are who they are.”
Inscribed in the very design of the Jefferson Davis monument was the project of rationalizing the racial order.
The ritualistic destruction of statues that some find sacred isn’t new, nor was it always considered barbaric. In antiquity, most of the great Mesopotamian, Persian, and Greek civilizations routinely destroyed the art and architecture of their enemies during war, a symbolic act of regime change. “Castrating a statue of a king showed that he will no longer have heirs,” explains Bailey Barnard, a doctoral student in ancient Greek art at Columbia University, who specializes in the history of iconoclasm. “Hacking out the eyes and ears of a king meant that he couldn’t see his people.” In 612 BCE, conquering Babylonians rubbed away the faces of Assyrian kings depicted on stone reliefs.
In 480 BCE, when the Persians ransacked the Acropolis, the Athenians coped with their defeat by turning ritualistic iconoclasm into a way of demarcating the civilized from the savage. “[S]uch iconoclastic activity came to be seen as a paradigmatic example of ‘Oriental’ impiety and violence,” writes art historian Rachel Kousser. The stereotype was cemented in the art of the Parthenon, where images of ransacking Persians sat atop the columns. Says Barnard: “This set up the East-West dichotomy of civilized, not-iconoclastic people against Eastern barbaric, iconoclastic people.” Looters, you might say. Thugs.
The Anglo-Western “descendants” of classical antiquity inherited the values around the preservation and destruction of art. In the so-called Age of Enlightenment, museums, populated with collections from ancient Greece and Rome, sprouted up as slavery spread throughout the New World. These were sites of preservation and celebration, redoubts of “civilization” built to contrast with the “savagery” without.
The masses weren’t always pleased with the public art in their cities. In July 1776, a group of radical agitators—sorry, revolutionaries—called the Sons of Freedom pulled down a statue of King George III in New York, beheaded it, and melted down the body for bullets. The outcry in Europe was swift. One scandalized British officer sent the statue’s head to back to England as proof of the “infamous disposition of the ungrateful people of this distressed country.” According to a political cartoon of the event drawn by a German artist, the ungrateful and distressed people ripping down King George were none other than enslaved Africans. It was an early instance of homegrown iconoclasm, then as now decried by the ruling class.
In Belgium, people are forcing down statues of King Leopold II, acknowledging the atrocities he committed in the colonial Congo. In California, statues of Saint Junipero Serra, who founded the mission system there that led to the enslavement and displacement of Indigenous peoples, are being toppled. Monuments to Christopher Columbus, that harbinger of New World colonialism, are coming down, too. Blows are being struck against tokens of white supremacy around the world.
But iconoclasm can be a tricky thing in a country still grounded in the principles of the Enlightenment. In San Francisco, a statue of Ulysses S. Grant was torn down, as was a statue of abolitionist Hans Christian Heg in Madison, Wisconsin. Sympathetic liberals thought this was goingtoofar, but they were missing the larger reckoning underway. “We’re basically populating our landscapes with able-bodied white men on pedestals. It almost doesn’t even matter who they are,” Monteiro points out. “It’s a message of ‘I am in power, and you are not.’” It is white supremacy, too, to center the heroism of Grant and Heg at the expense of the enslaved people who were the principal agents of their own liberation. Pulling down monuments throws open the question not just of who gets celebrated but of who gets to decide, and how, and on whose behalf.
The plinths left behind by these felled monuments are a negative space daring us to fill them with something new. In some places, this is already beginning to happen. Just this week, in Bristol, England, a statue of Black Lives Matter activist Jen Reid went up where a statue of slaver Edward Colston had once stood. Importantly, it was a guerrilla installation, unapproved by the city. The aesthetics of the piece were still beholden to some of the old cultural frameworks—a heroic individual, towering over the group—but the transgression of putting it up at all sent its own message: The time has come for the unauthorized story. A day later city officials removed the statue.
The iconoclasm of the past few months is a war on the inevitability and immutability embodied by the monuments. The ease with which they have come down reminds us that whiteness itself is artificial and impermanent. Something made by humans can be brought down by humans, too. “Dismantling the statues is not erasing history,” Barnard says. “It’s an act that shows how we can dismantle a system.”
Hundreds of peaceful protesters face charges in Minneapolis.Julia Lurie/Mother Jones
Six days after George Floyd’s death, Ahmed Abebe and some friends joined a protest marching towards Interstate 35W in Minneapolis. “I’ve been a resident of Minnesota my whole life. I’m a black man,” said 25-year-old Abebe. “So going out to the protests was something that was meaningful to me—something that hits me straight to the core.”
Just after the 8 p.m. curfew, a swarm of city cops, state troopers, and National Guardsmen surrounded the group of 150 peaceful protesters on four sides. Using tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets, the officers corralled the protesters into a parking lot, ordered them to lie on the ground, and informed them over a loudspeaker that they were being arrested.
“That was my ‘Oh shit’ moment,” remembers Abebe, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy. Over the next few hours, they were zip-tied one by one and brought to police vans and buses, which took them to the Hennepin County Jail.
While the protests have died down in Minneapolis, their effects linger: According to data from the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, more than 500 people still face charges from the days of unrest after Floyd’s death.
A fraction of those are felonies. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is prosecuting roughly 15 people—mostly for alleged burglaries from businesses including Foot Locker, AT&T, and Target. (Critics note that the same office didn’t charge three cops at the scene of Floyd’s death.) The US Attorney’s Office has so far charged 13 people with federal offenses, including three men for allegedly burning down the city’s Third Police Precinct.
But the vast majority of the cases involve people peacefully protesting after curfew. Abebe is among 493 people, many of whom are young Black and brown Minneapolis residents, faced with charges of violating the executive curfew order or unlawful assembly—nonviolent misdemeanors punishable by 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine.
“People are having to face having this charge be something that can be searched out about them by potential employers or schools,” said Jared Mollenkof, a public defender in Hennepin County who is on the board of the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which raised millions to bail out protesters during the unrest.
Minneapolis stands in stark contrast with neighboring St. Paul, where City Attorney Lyndsey Olsen decided to dismiss cases against protesters who weren’t violent or threatening “in the interest of justice,” according to a statement.
As he sat zip-tied, Abebe thought of his parents, refugees from Ethiopia who “put us here to have a better life than they did growing up,” he said. Abebe recently graduated from a master’s program and started his first job, on the tech team at a healthcare company. “I’m definitely very, very scared about what could possibly happen if this gets on my record” he said. “I don’t want something like this to ruin my chances of a dream job.”
Deondre Moore, a 25-year-old HIV activist among the arrestees who traveled from Beaumont, Texas, to participate in the protests, thought of his mother. She’d been watchingthe evening’s events unfold on his Facebook Live feed. “I’m a mama’s boy,” said Moore. “So I kept thinking, ‘Oh, mom—she’s gonna be so scared for me.”
Another arrestee, a physician, said he was protesting not just Floyd’s death, but gaping healthcare disparities across the country. He works at the Hennepin County Medical Center, where Floyd was pronounced dead. “Minneapolis prides itself on being a liberal city,” he said. “My experience here is that’s not so true—especially working at the county hospital and seeing a lot of the inequities tragically play out time and time again.”
Outside the jail, in the wee hours of June 1, officers called protesters off the buses one by one, served them with their citations, and released them. “It was clear that there was a lot of confusion” among officers, says Dan Bellandi, a 44-year-old software engineer among the arrestees. “I heard them asking, ‘What are we charging them with? Is it just the one number or is it two numbers?’” Indeed, the citations varied among the five protesters I spoke to from that night: some were charged with both violating curfew and unlawful assembly, others just with violating curfew.
The Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office is “considering dismissing cases where there is no violence or other egregious conduct,” a spokesperson told me. But in the meantime, says Mollenkof, the criminal defense lawyer, “it ends up taking up a lot of emotional energy and resources to deal with having the power of the state marshaled against you.”
Indeed, arrestees have convened regularly in a Minneapolis park to strategize how to get legal fees covered and charges dropped. “This is part of the silencing,” said arrestee Metadel Lee, a junior in college spearheading the organizing efforts. “This is just part of the system that keeps us from actually making sure that we live in a more equitable society.”
Over the phone recently, Abebe admitted that the charges had been hanging over him ever since that night in May. “I’ve worked really hard all my life to try to stand up for what’s right,” he said. He noted that the charges are an example of the very thing he was protesting: police overreaction and inequities in the criminal justice system. “It’s very ironic, isn’t it?”
In the spring of 1964, the New York Timesreported that six young Black men were indicted for the murder of a shopkeeper. The article is short on context, clipped, half-said.
Two years later, James Baldwin, in his essay “A Report From Occupied Territory,” would famously tell a broader story of the arrests: The young men were dubbed “the Harlem Six”; there was little evidence that they’d done it. Two of them a week or so earlier had been brutally beaten by police officers (spit on, cursed at, taken to the hospital for X-rays because of the beatings and then beaten again) for the crime of defending children that police were also attempting to smash with billy clubs—in the children’s case for the prank of overturning a fruit stand. Marked by the cops, the two young men were among those pinned for the murder of a shopkeeper because it fit a narrative the police and the New York Times had stoked about the upheaval: A “gang” of 400 “rebel Muslims,” called the Blood Brothers, was determined to kill white people.
Daniel Hamm—one of the six men arrested—later told author Truman Nelson (whose The Torture of Mothers, a book written to present the story of the Harlem Six, prompted Baldwin’s piece) that the police beat him so badly he could barely walk but that the hospital would not admit him because he wasn’t actively bleeding.
“I had to, like, open the bruise up and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them,” Hamm explained.
I’ve heard that sentence countless times. It haunts me. And it likely will haunt you, too. It is at the center of a powerful piece of music that not only addresses complicity even amid rebellion but enacts it: Steve Reich’s “Come Out,” a song I have been playing continuously since the killing of George Floyd.
Steve Reich created “Come Out” in 1966. It is a simple song, in some ways. It begins with the quote “I had to, like, open the bruise up and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them.” This sentence is repeated. It is Hamm’s voice, again and again. That is all. There are no other instruments. And then, it is cut short. It is placed at a slight lag and repeated again. Over 13 minutes, there’s a process of cutting, clipping, lagging, and repeating. The sentence develops a rhythm. The sentence becomes impossible to parse. The sentence becomes just noise.
And, in the end, it echoes everywhere and yet you cannot even hear the words. In this idyll, are you forgetting about the violence of the sentence?
Reich is chiefly known as a leading minimalist composer, a master of an ambiance that can be miscategorized as ambivalence. He is known for creating repeating rhythms that induce a haze, sometimes a calm. If you didn’t know his work deeply, you could guess this is background music. It is “chill.” But Reich has never shied away from the political; “he has addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, American racism, the Holocaust, the encroachment of technology, and, now, Islamic terrorism,” notes Alex Ross. His point, it seems, is that this is the background of American life. He is confronting white listeners: Your calm is built on a violence done to someone else. Either the violence becomes a monotone drone or you were never really listening at all.
Reich is one of the few composers to bring a listener through the process of how white people become complicit. Baldwin takes a similar journey in his piece, playing out a long sequence of explaining why Black people are disenfranchised and how it is ignored and how it leads to violent summers of upheaval. “Of course, we will be sitting on a powder keg all summer,” Baldwin concludes. “Of course, the powder keg may blow up; it will be a miracle if it doesn’t.”
At the end of “Come Out,” the sentence is bouncing off itself like an explosion. And yet one you can ignore, as it fades.
A day after cameras caught him and his wife waving guns at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters walking near their gaudy $1.15 million mansion, Mark McCloskey went on local news and dropped the analogy of the year. “I really thought it was storming the Bastille,” said McCloskey, who like his wife Patricia is a lawyer. “I was terrified that we’d be murdered within seconds. Our house would be burned down, our pets would be killed.”
In fact, the protesters were headed to city hall to rally against Mayor Lyda Krewson, who had recently released the personal information of people who had sent letters calling for the local police to be defunded. But that doesn’t really matter, as far as the law is concerned. What matters is that the McCloskeys—Mark shoeless and in khakis, gripping an AR-15; Patricia in capri pants, brandishing a pistol—were afraid. And that fear gave them special rights.
Much of our gun rights regime is built on the consecration of a landowner’s anxieties into law. When the McCloskeys padded out onto their driveway with their guns, looking like country clubbers newly deployed into the fields of An Lộc, they could count on the impunity extended to them under what’s known as the Castle Doctrine. This was a common-law principle, only recently enshrined into civil law, that says that one’s home is one’s castle, and that an owner has the right to defend it with force. Because protesters were on private property, the McCloskeys could freely take aim. In fact, after the incident, the police told the St. Louis Dispatch they were investigating the protesters—not the McCloskeys—for trespassing and intimidation. The Castle Doctrine is how the Bastille storms back.
As lawyers have pointed out, it’s a bit more complicated than property owners having carte blanche to kill. The McCloskeys would still need to meet the requirements laid out in Missouri’s self-defense statute. But the larger point, as Adam Weinstein writes in the New Republic, is about what the Castle Doctrine represents: an excuse to kill people because you’re scared of someone harming property.
The legal doctrine has underpinned the expansion of racist self-defense legislation, like Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” law, which stopped police from arresting George Zimmerman after he shot Trayvon Martin. While the Castle Doctrine “has for centuries generally immunized people from homicide convictions if they resorted to deadly force while defending their home,” Weinstein wrote for Mother Jones in 2012, “Florida’s law was the first to extend such protection to those firing weapons in public spaces—parking lots, parks, city streets.”
The origins of the Castle Doctrine go back to 1604, when a court case carved out an exemption to the English common-law doctrine of “duty to retreat,” which held that people were obligated to retreat if under attack. In the United States the exemption “turned into a very expansive set of notions about who is allowed to fight back lethally against whom,” as Caroline Light, a historian who traced the history of self-defense in the United States, put it in an interview with the Harvard Gazette. On American soil the Castle Doctrine was adapted to the prevailing racial order. “When people in the U.S. said, ‘A man’s home is his castle,’ what they actually meant was, ‘A white, property-owning man’s home is his castle,’ and he’s allowed to fight back,” Light said. “[L]ethal self-defense has been legalized for the most privileged even if, rhetorically, we celebrate self-defense as something universal to all citizens.”
In 2017, Missouri’s legislature used the Castle Doctrine to expand gun rights in the state, doing away with any obligation to retreat before using deadly force. At the time, law enforcement opposed this expansion, feeling it could be reckless.
One of the state legislators who spoke up against it? Kim Gardner, who was elected to be St. Louis city’s attorney in 2016. “We’re lowering the standard. We are creating the perfect storm,” she said at the time, according to local station KSDK. She is now presiding over how the McCloskey matter will be adjudicated.
Gardner, as city attorney, puts the blame squarely on the couple, despite what police said to the local paper about investigations. “We must protect the right to peacefully protest,” she said.
It’s unclear what sort of investigation Gardner’s office is conducting into the McCloskeys, but the couple have nonetheless hired legal representation: Albert Watkins, a “self-centered, egotistical, and a self-proclaimed expert in all matters,” according to himself.
In a statement to the St. Louis Dispatch, Watkins said that his clients, “as melanin-deficient human beings, are completely respectful of the message Black Lives Matter needs to get out, especially to whites.”
Watkins’ bio is a marvel of self-proclaimed racist and misogynistic accomplishments. His list of noted legal accomplishments include defending the man at the center of controversy involving a rodeo clown wearing a racist Obama mask, successfully defending a “white elementary school principal accused of felonious sexual misconduct involving African American third-grade students,” and driving a survivor of sexual assault to suicide. He also hosts a radio show in which he “waxes poetically about the news and events of the day, employing a decidedly conservative Midwest American mindset…born of ‘rugged individualism.'” This is a quote from the biography on his own website. It’s not hard to see whose ground he’s standing.
On June 12, almost three weeks after the police killing of George Floyd sparked massive protests for racial justice throughout the country, the long-running reality show The Bachelor announced that Matt James would become the first Black bachelor on the show’s 25th season. The announcement came 18 years after the creation of the show, three years after Rachel Lindsay became the first Black bachelorette and repeatedly called out the franchise for systemic racism, two years after Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss called his own audience Trumpishly racist, andfive days after a Change.org campaign—which is now 135,000-plus signatures strong—called for anti-racist changes within the franchise. It appears that the seismic national reckoning with racial injustice has finally reached the cosseted world of reality TV.
The awakening at The Bachelor is the picture of calm in comparison to the real reality-show drama that unfolded in June at Vanderpump Rules, a Bravo spinoff from TheReal Housewives of Beverly Hills.Vanderpump Rules follows a group of aspiring mactors—that’s models/actors—who work in Lisa Vanderpump’s empire of bars and restaurants in Los Angeles. The cast members have spent the past eight seasons fighting, partying, hooking up, breaking up, cheating, gossiping, and getting so drunk that you can feel their hangovers through the screen. They have also served countless goat-cheese balls and pump-tinis to the residents and tourists of West Hollywood, including celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence (who is also a huge fan of the show).
I’m with Jennifer. I was one of the 1.1 million people who tuned in to the eighth season of Vanderpump Rules (VPR) this year, the culmination of my loyalty over all eight seasons, some episodes of which I’ve watched multiple times. In fact, I’ve been on record calling VPR “the greatest reality show of all time.” Sure, other shows let me vicariously experience a California sun-dappled life filled with day-drinking and botox and photoshoots. But Vanderpump Rules is special because the drama is real. The show follows a group of friends and lovers with interpersonal dynamics as complicated as a Tolstoy novel and as soap-operatic as the original Dallas. Coming from someone who’s watched a lot of reality TV, trust me, it is *chef’s kiss* reality gold.
But these entertaining mactors of West Hollywood were not exempt from the historic national reckoning with systemic racism and racial injustice. In mid-June, all 19 cast members—a majority-white group—posted their support of Black Lives Matter on social media. Then four of them were called out for personal histories of racist behavior, and they were fired. Two were not just cast members; they were what passed for the supernovas in the Vanderpump constellation, having been with the show for all eight seasons.
Like all American institutions, reality TV has a history of racism that predates cancel culture. Rooted in documentary film, the genre as we know it today—unscripted but heavily produced, peppered with confessionals, fueled by booze and beautiful people—was introduced to mass audiences in 1992 with MTV’s The Real World, which, unlike its successors, intentionally cast people from many cultures and racial backgrounds. The Real World has been criticized for tokenizing racially, sexually, and regionally diverse groups, but it also had a social mission rooted in the multiculturalism of the 1990s and gave a platform to voices that had been sidelined in the mainstream media.
In the first decade of the 2000s, reality TV shows exploded onto the screen with the appearance of Big Brother, Survivor, American Idol, and The Simple Life. While most early reality shows filtered new casts in and out every season, around 2005 MTV’s Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, E!’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and MTV’s Jersey Shore successfully adopted more of a docuseries style that focused on interpersonal relationships within groups of friends, families, and lovers over the course of multiple seasons. These shows usually glorified extreme wealth, partying, and problematic behavior that stoked drama and kept viewers coming back for more.
Bravo hit the jackpot in this vein with the 2006 launch of its Real Housewives franchise, which follows the lives of wealthy women in cities around the United States as they attend charity events, go on lavish vacations, host dinner parties, engage in elaborate beauty rituals, and fight fight fight with husbands, ex-husbands, soon-to-be-ex-husbands, boyfriends, best friends, and service personnel. Bravo’s brand became affluence, glitz, glamor, and venal conflicts. The franchise spread from the original Real Housewives of Orange County to eight other cities and birthed spinoff shows like Vanderpump Rules. Bill Langworthy signed on to be executive producer of Vanderpump Rules after one season on The Real Housewives of Orange County.
When it comes to race, The Real Housewives are segregated. The casts in Orange County, Beverly Hills, Dallas, New York, and New Jersey are almost entirely white. There have been two women of color in all those five cities combined after over a decade of filming. The franchise also expanded to Atlanta and Potomac, Maryland, where the casts are almost entirely Black. In a comment to the New York Times, a spokesperson said the lack of diversity in Bravo’s shows was due to the fact that the “docuseries follow groups of friends who are organically connected, often through long, pre-existing relationships but in some cases only casually through a wider social circle or six degrees of separation.” In other words, the racism isn’t Bravo’s problem. It’s America’s reality.
Bravo’s lack of diversity is part of the vast ecosystem from which these shows emerge. Bravo is essentially a platform for selling advertisements. In the case of Vanderpump Rules, brands like Procter & Gamble—the same company that’s now calling on white people to “use your power” to combat racism—have bankrolled the cast for years, essentially subsidizing them to behave in ways that now justify firing them. Are these “woke” commercials from huge brands—many of which have a long and deep history of perpetuating racism—just a form of crisis communications or are they a genuine reckoning with changing times? In an industry in which Black people have been misrepresented, ridiculed, tokenized, and just straight-up absent for years, do the firings of four cast members signal any meaningful progress?
In the first season of Vanderpump Rules, we met three best friends: Stassi Schroeder, Kristen Doute, and Katie Maloney-Schwartz, and Jax Taylor, Tom Sandoval, and Tom Schwartz, their three respective boyfriends and also best friends. Even though only one of the three couples remains together, these six people and their long, deep, tormented, drama-filled relationships have anchored the show for eight seasons. A typical episode of Vanderpump Rules is cut like a dramatic series, with A, B, and C plotlines. For instance: Jax tries to win Stassi back by getting her name tattooed on his arm. Tom Schwartz tries to get a job at the Vanderpump restaurant SUR, but Lisa Vanderpump rejects him because he’s dating Katie. Tom Sandoval and Kristen try to improve their relationship by building a coffee table together. Stassi gets mad at Scheana for bad-talking her to Lisa Vanderpump behind her back.
In the fourth season of this mix appeared Faith Stowers as a new server and best buds with the new hostess Lala Kent. Stowers’ arrival marked the first Black core cast member on Vanderpump Rules. Kent was courted by multiple men on the show while Stowers’ main interaction with men was when the two Toms gave her a hand-me-down couch. Kent was attacked by the women for taking her bathing suit top off and swimming half naked near their boyfriends, while Stowers, who also took her top off, was essentially ignored. Kent got confessionals—which translates into more screen time. While Kent’s star rose, Stowers pretty much faded into the background.
Stowers’ Vanderpump Rules contract was not renewed after that one season. Stowers returned to the center of the drama on the sixth season when she and Jax Taylor had an off-camera affair when Taylor was in a relationship with his now-wife, Brittany Cartwright. She was not part of the show then, but Stowers was skewered by the women on Vanderpump Rules, who attacked her with a vehemence that was somewhat surprising given that Jax Taylor cheated on his girlfriends all the time. Now, five years after her appearance on the show, after a stint on the first season of MTV’s The Challenge and Ex on the Beach, Stowers was interviewed by Floribama star Candace Rice on Instagram Live. In response to a question from a viewer about racism displayed by Stassi Schroeder and Lisa Vanderpump, Stowers explained: “I was the only Black person on the show. It was a lot.”
“A lot” is an understatement. She described how Stassi Schroeder and Kristen Doute had reported her to the police after they had seen photos in a 2017 article in the British tabloid Daily Mail of a Black woman who went to a Hollywood party, drugged men, and stole their watches, cash, and jewelry. The woman was still at large. Most important, she was not Stowers. “She looked very, very light-skinned and had these different, weird tattoos” Stowers told Candace Rice. “They thought it was me because it was a Black woman with a weave.” Schroeder and Doute called the police and reported that Stowers had committed the crimes. Jax Taylor also piled on, making a loosely veiled accusation on Twitter that Stowers was stealing cars and AWOL from the military.
In a 2018 episode of the Bitch Bible podcast, Schroeder recounted the event from her perspective: “We are like, we just solved a fucking a crime,” she said. “We start calling the police. The police don’t give a fuck. It’s really hard to get in touch with the police unless it’s an emergency.” Doute tweeted something to a similar effect in April 2018. The police ignored their bogus charges, Schroeder and Doute remained core cast members, and the entire incident probably would have remained buried were it not for the timing. The interview with Candace Rice took place on June 2 when the world was exploding with demands for racial justice on the heels of a white police officer killing George Floyd on May 25.
Stowers’ instagram interview blew up. An instagram account called Accountability4Stassi collected all of Schroeder’s racially insensitive actions, including a clip from a now-deleted 2017 episode of her podcast in which she criticized the #OscarsSoWhite movement, saying, “I’m like, really sick of everyone making everything about race—I’m kind of over it.” Photos of Schroeder dressed as “Nazi Chic” with Doute dressed as “Tupac Chic” started circulating. In an interview with AfterBuzz TV on June 11, Stowers said that Cartwright had also allegedly called her a “nappy-headed hoe” following the cheating scandal between Stowers and Jax Taylor.
The retribution extended beyond social media. Within a week of the June 2 interview Schroeder and Doute were dropped by their publicists and by all of their brand sponsors, and fired from Vanderpump Rules. Max Boyens and Brett Caprioni, who were both new cast members in the most recent season, were also let go after old tweets in which they used racist epithets emerged last January. Back then, they were acknowledged by the show’s executive producers and ignored. Boyens tweeted in 2012 that the n-word is his favorite word and said he wanted to punch Asians “in the suck hole.” Boyens later explained on Instagram that he is “BLACK” and wouldn’t have to say he’s “a quarter black” if people would just believe him, but he “didn’t express [he] was black when the tweets came out because [he] didn’t want to justify them.” Caprioni’s tweets date from 2011 and also use the n-word.
Coincidentally, June 2 was also a Vanderpump Rules reunion episode. Andy Cohen, the executive producer of the Real Housewives franchise and public face of Bravo on Watch What Happens Live, asked Boyens and Caprioni about the tweets. They both gave solemn apologies. Lisa Vanderpump said she forgave them (though how this became Lisa Vanderpump’s offense to forgive I have no idea), and it seemed like it would all pass as water under the bridge.
Except, the Stowers interview dropped that night. Bravo decided to appear tough on racism and fired the four of them. Lisa Vanderpump released a statement saying, “I love and adore our employees and I am deeply saddened by some of the lack of judgment that has been displayed.” Andy Cohen, who has been doing interviews with Black Real Housewives cast members about racism, said he “absolutely support[s] Bravo’s decision. I think it was the right decision.”
But these reality shows are not just stages for a few exhibitionisticcast members. There is a large infrastructure of advertisers, producers, showrunners, story editors, publicists, and network executives supporting them. And while firing some prominently offensive cast members may appear to address the problem, it doesn’t address the root causes. I reached out to a veteran Bravo producer, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid serious retributions for breaking their nondisclosure agreement. They told me that Bravo’s target audience is semiprofessional women in their 20s to early 40s and gay men.
“Were we asked as Bravo employees to cater to a certain demographic and marginalize people of color?” they said. “Yes. Because it didn’t fit the brand.” They told me that on an early season of Vanderpump Rules there were two major storylines involving people of color; both got cut because they weren’t “marketable,” which was in keeping with the instructions to producers and editors to “cut for our audience.” The producer recounts not being allowed to include hip-hop music cues for the club scenes because it was “not the tone for the show.”
The cast members who appeared on the show were given the spotlight, incentivized with more screen time, and praised for having no filter while saying deeply troubling things. The producer said that even more offensive comments than the ones that have come into public view recently hit the cutting-room floor over years of filming. “We have to make them seem human,” they said. “We cut out that shit to make them seem not like sociopaths and relatable…We have to think about them like characters.” The producer notes that there are people of color with prominent roles on Bravo’s crew. There are also many people of color working at Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurants. And yet, season after season, the cast of Vanderpump Rules are almost exclusively white.
Stowers is happy about the firings. She says that Bravo did the right thing and showed that they cared, though Stowers and Billie Lee are both asking that Jax Taylor get fired too for his racist and anti-trans behavior. Stowers told ET Canada, “I’m seeing change, and that’s what this whole thing is about.”
Well, yes. Accountability is important. Zero tolerance policies in the workplace for sexism, racism, or any other kind of harassment is a long-overdue step forward. And for reality TV stars, whosefame, power, and lucrative paychecks come from exposing all aspects of their existence, their lives are their jobs. Meanwhile, brands are going into overdrive to post their support for racial justice and Black Lives Matter, and everyone with a social media account seems to be using this moment to virtue-signal.
Schroeder, Doute, Boyens, and Caprioni are all being punished for things they did years ago and behavior that’s been out in the open for eight seasons. Boyens’ and Caprioni’s tweets were uncovered in January. Schroeder openly bragged about calling the cops on Stowers back in 2018. When it comes to reality TV and social media, the line between authenticity and appearance, reality and performance, has never been fuzzier. “Wokeness” has the potential to awaken hearts and minds, whether it comes from a genuine place or not. These people were not cast in spite of their problematic behaviors, including racial profiling, slut-shaming, and all the other judgmental prejudices that ooze out of our mainstream white heteronormative culture. They were cast because of them.
I like reality TV for a lot of the same reasons that I like journalism. I’m nosy. I like to learn about people’s lives and how people live. On a good day, this kind of work fosters understanding and compassion, a sense of human solidarity. On a bad day, we point fingers and say, “Look at those beautiful-pitiful-hilarious-disturbing people over there.” And that’s exactly why I’m uneasy about what is likely to follow this most recent spate of firings. Sure, reality networks will continue to get called out for racism and lack of representation, and people will continue to get fired. Meanwhile, viewers can relax and judge all those racist people over there. After all, it’s much easier than looking in the mirror.
The events that transpired in Washington, DC’s Lafayette Park on June 1—in which US Park Police assaulted peaceful protesters so that President Trump could pose for a photo op in front of a church—have drawn universal outrage. But during a House hearing on Monday to investigate the incident, Republicans used the opportunity to defend Trump’s order to attack peaceful protesters, repeatedly downplaying the incident and using misleading video clips of unrelated protests to justify the police response.
Kishon McDonald, a Navy veteran who was among the protesters attacked by police in the June 1 demonstration, testified before the Committee on Natural Resources that demonstrators had been neither violent nor confrontational before police began firing rubber bullets and chemical irritants into the crowd. “Using weapons on us was ridiculous and just made the situation dangerous, even though before the officers charged us or fired their weapons it had been peaceful,” he said in his testimony. “It’s citizens who are being attacked by our own government just for asking and protesting for change.”
In response to McDonald’s testimony, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) turned to a video that deceptively used footage from other protests—including footage of ones that took place weeks after the June 1 demonstration—to argue that there was a precedence to expect that protesters would turn violent. “Describing the protests in DC as mostly peaceful protests is like describing Scott Peterson as a mostly faithful husband,” McClintock said, making a weird comparison to the man who was convicted in 2004 of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, because of his affair with a massage therapist.
When examining the events that occurred in Lafayette Square, it is important we recognize the full picture.
Among the other witnesses who testified in the hearing was Rev. Mariann Budde, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who spoke about the experiences of the parishioners at St. John’s Church—the site of Trump’s now infamous photo op—who were supporting protesters prior at Lafayette Park throughout the day. Budde called out the popular GOP talking point of justifying violence against protesters because of the instances of rioting, looting, and vandalism—including the small fire that was set at St. John’s. “It would be unforgivable to allow this moment to slip away because our building was damaged,” she said. “We care deeply about our churches—many of which are older than our nation itself. But in the end, buildings can be re-built. Windows can be replaced. Pillars can be re-painted. We can never bring back the lives that have been lost due to senseless police violence.”
Amelia Brace, an US correspondent for Seven News Australia, testified about her experience on June 1. As police began push back protesters in Lafayette Park, she described how officers attacked her and her news crew even after they identified themselves as members of the media and were trying to get away from the chaos. “As I was running away, I felt something strike me hard across the back and shoulders,” Brace recalled. “I now know, from seeing the local news crew’s footage, that a third US Park Police officer reached around the second officer to smack me with his baton in a backhanded motion as I was running away.”
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley—known for his role as the House GOP’s legal witness during Trump’s impeachment inquiry hearing—again testified on behalf of Republicans to argue that the Park Police’s operation to clear Lafayette Park for Trump’s photo op was lawful. But even Turley conceded that what happened to Brace and her news crew, which caused an international rift with the Australian government, appears to have been unlawful action. Still, that didn’t stop Rep. Dough Lamborn (R-Colo.) from clumsily arguing that the police’s treatment of journalists in the Lafayette Park incident pails in comparison to how some protesters have treated media at other protests.
“Journalists should be able to do their job,” said @RepDLamborn.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the committee’s ranking GOP member, called the hearing “political theater” because no members of the US Park Police were present to testify. “The Democrats here have now produced something that’s not going to be substantive, that is not going to be historical, that is really a distraction,” Bishop said. But Lamborn later cited a letter from the Park Police explaining that no one came to testify because they didn’t feel it was legally appropriate for them to testify on the same panel with someone suing them (McDonald is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of DC and Black Lives Matter DC against the Trump administration over the Lafayette Park incident).
Protesters block the Golden Gate Bridge on June 6.Vivian Lin/Getty
Just 7 percent of the population of the San Francisco Bay Area is Black, yet 27 percent of the people killed by the police in the region since 2015 were Black, according to a new investigation by the Bay Area News Group. In their examination of 110 police killings, reporters found that officers were disciplined in only 8 cases. None were prosecuted.
The report also found racial disparities in police killings of Latinos, who make up 20 percent of the area’s population but were 27 percent of victims. Its analysis found that 20 percent of victims of police killings were not armed; of those, 40 percent were Black. In 45 percent of the cases, the reporters found no evidence that the victims had been committing a crime before they were killed. In 97 incidents, police used guns. In 8, officers killed people with carotid restraints, wraps, or by dogpiling on top of them.
The investigation gathered data from the Bay Area’s five counties, which include San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. The print editions of the East Bay Times and Mercury News ran a list of the names of the 110 people whose deaths were counted in the report.
The reporters cite a recent study by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that found that the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward area has the nation’s second-highest rate of Black victims of fatal police violence, after Oklahoma City. The report also found that the region has the nation’s second highest ratio of Black to white victims of police killings, after the Chicago area.
The article focuses on the story of Chinedu Okobi, a Black man who died in October 2018 after San Mateo County deputies repeatedly tased him and then piled on top of him. Like many of the people whose cases the Bay Area News Group reviewed, Okobi, was experiencing a mental health crisis when police tried to restrain him. His death, which was recorded on video and led to no discipline or charges for the officers involved, is depressingly familiar:
Like Okobi, Roy Nelson Jr. was an unarmed Black man with a history of schizophrenia, suffering a mental-health episode and committing no crime when his ex-wife called 911 to report he was hallucinating and needed psychiatric help. He was later found to have methamphetamine in his system.
“I can’t breathe,” Nelson insists on a video recorded by Hayward police after a group of officers pulled him from a patrol car because he wouldn’t stop kicking the door. The officers handcuff the 300-pound man, face down on the ground, then try to wrap him in a restraint similar to a straitjacket.
“I can’t breathe,” he says again, in a plea that feels even more harrowing five years later, after George Floyd repeatedly uttered that same phrase and died under a police officer’s knee in Minneapolis.
Roy Nelson died too. So did Rakeem Rucks, who also yelled, “I can’t breathe,” while face down in the dirt as Antioch cops piled on top of him in 2015 after finding him in an altered state, high on methamphetamine. According to a lawsuit filed by Rucks’ family, officers put their knees on his neck as he struggled until his death.
None of the officers in any of those deadly encounters were ever disciplined.
On June 4, a little over a week after the death of George Floyd, a Wilmington, North Carolina, police sergeant conducting routine checks of dash-cam footage found video of two cops discussing, among other things, the arrival of “martial law.” “We are just gonna go out and start slaughtering them fucking ni‐‐‐‐‐,” one of the cops, Michael “Kevin” Piner, said. “I can’t wait. God I can’t wait.”
Piner was fired on Wednesday, along with two other white officers—James “Brian” Gilmore, and Jessie E. Moore II—with whom he had conversations filled with racist threats of violence. Video of the conversation has not yet been released. But the comments are quoted in the sergeant’s report about what she heard on the video.
According to the report, Piner also said, of a Black officer, “Let’s see how his boys take care of him when shit gets rough, see if they don’t put a bullet in his head.” He also complained that he saw videos on social media of people “worshipping Blacks.”
Moore gets in on the racism, too, calling someone he’d arrested a “negro” and the n-word, saying she “needed a bullet in her head.” He also calls a Black judicial official a “fucking negro magistrate.”
The conversation broadened out into a discussion of genocide. Per the sergeant’s report: “Officer Piner then explained to Cpl. Moore that he felt society needed a civil war to ‘wipe ’em off the fucking map. That’ll put ’em back about four or five generations.'”
The report notes that, when confronted about their comments, each officer “pointed to the stress of today’s climate in law enforcement as a reason for their ‘venting.’ Each officer also denied being racist.”
Last Tuesday, at a Students for Trump rally in Phoenix, Arizona, a Turning Point USA ambassador explained the ultimate significance of Aunt Jemima. “She was the picture of the American dream,” Reagan Escudé told the crowd, referring to Quaker Oats’ decision to retire the brand logo that is based off a racist stereotype of a “mammy,” an always cheerful subservient Black woman as cook, just waiting to serve. “She was a freed slave who went on to be the face of the pancake syrup that we love, and we have in our pantries today. She fought for equality, and now the leftist mob is trying to erase her legacy.”
First let’s fact check a little history here. In 1889, Chris Rutt, heard the song Old Aunt Jemima at a minstrel show and decided to name his pancake flour after the song. In 1893, after Rutt sold the company, the new owner hired Nancy Green, a former slave who was working as a cook for a judge, to act as Aunt Jemima and sell the pancake flour. Escudé was likely referring to the misinformation that Nancy Green, the woman whose likeness Aunt Jemima is based off of, died a millionaire. There is no evidence of that. What’s important here is that the Aunt Jemima pancake and syrup image is based off a racist trope that depicted Black women as docile and happy to serve their white owners. It has gone from an offensive 130-year-old brand logo to American heroine in a matter of days. But not without a few other racist detours on the way.
As part of the racial reckoning that is occurring in so many industries and sectors of society, everything from brands to bands are being renamed and rebranded. Schools named after confederate soldiers will get new names. The country music sensation The Dixie Chicks will now simply be known as The Chicks. Mars, the company that owns Uncle Ben’s rice has also vowed to change its logo, who’s gently smiling elderly Black man has long been criticized as a racial stereotype. And despite the president’s threats to jail protesters, they’re toppling statues to racist men across the country.
For some, these changes are long overdue and may even feel a little hollow, not to mention opportunistic. Did you just now notice your band name referred to states that had seceded from the United States to fight a war in order to preserve slavery? But for white conservatives, the racial reckoning has exposed their own brand: Denying America’s racist foundations while fighting like hell to preserve them.
The rush to transform Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben from racist logos that should be removed to historical legacies that ought to be honored started last week. That’s when Quaker Oats announced they would be retiring the smiling logo and looking for a new name to accompany syrups and pancake mixes on grocery shelves across the country. “We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, said. “As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations.”
The subsequent social media meltdown was unintentionally hilarious, at least at first.
Aunt Jemima. Uncle Bens. Mrs. Butterworth’s. This country is now on life support.
Social media lit up with the demise of Aunt Jemima. How could the company remove the face of someone who is so important to, get this, the Black community! The character serves as a role model to children everywhere, and removing her is actually the real racism!
Getting rid of the faces of black cultural icons on food packaging sure is a weird way to show you’re “not” racist…
In fact, the image of Aunt Jemima has provided a convenient shorthand for all kinds of racists over the years. A quick Twitter search for “Aunt Jemima” and the name of any prominent Black woman, like Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) or Stacey Abrams, reveals that it wasn’t that long ago that conservative white people were using the logo as an insult and not as a sign of affection, much less respect.
It’s also worth noting that the same phenomenon occurred when the butter company Land O’Lakes recently removed the image of a Native American woman from its packages. Conservatives, who once parroted their president and used Pocahontas as a slur for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), were now claiming Land O’ Lakes was the real perpetrator of injustice for changing this racist logo. I guess I can’t expect much from the people who think the Civil War was fought over states’ rights.
The role of Aunt Jemima and what is happening now with reactions to her image is the inevitable consequence of our segregated society and the whitewashing of history. It is likely that many people who are mourning her untimely departure live in completely segregated communities, not by law but by choice.
When you don’t have to learn about actual Black cultural icons, or the legacy that America chattel slavery left behind, Aunt Jemima can be conveniently deployed for whatever cause you’ve decided to embrace at a current moment. Black history can be sanitized for the comfortable consumption of white people, protecting the lies they’ve been sold about Blackness and American history.
But now, for the first time in generations, those lies are being exposed to a mainstream audience, and whiteness as the default culture is being questioned. It’s reflected in the protests against police brutality, in the realization that despite being the wealthiest country in the world, we have failed to contain the coronavirus that has disproportionately affected people of color, and that the socioeconomic crisis caused by the pandemic could have been avoided if there were less income inequality.
It may seem contradictory, but the rush to defend Aunt Jemima as a symbol of American exceptionalism, the idea in which one can be born a slave and die a millionaire, is a last ditch attempt to save the flawed ideals that are imperative to renounce. And yet, in some ways, it makes perfect sense: If the core tenet of your ideology is preserving white supremacy, you’ve got to go to the mat for anything that threatens it—even racist syrup logos.
Theodore Roosevelt's equestrian statue has stood in front of the Museum of Natural History since 1940. It will soon be removed.Vanessa Carvalho/ZUMA
The uprisings sparked by George Floyd’s death are, ostensibly, about the war on Black lives. Protesters demand that we say the names of the deceased, that their murderers be brought to justice, that the institution of policing be re-thought, defunded, dismantled. Yet as the anger and grief simmer, a deeper purpose has crystalized: dismantling white supremacy in all its various forms.
Days after Floyd’s death, protesters defaced Confederate memorials and torched buildings connected to slavery. Within another week, more than a dozen racist statues were toppled, removed, or beheaded, sometimes with municipal support. Collective consciousness evolved in a frenzy; long-resisted changes suddenly felt like no-brainers. The Marines banned displays of Confederate flags on their bases, while brands raced to retire dated symbols. It’s been nothing short of a reckoning—and not just for Aunt Jemima and Robert E. Lee.
In Boston, Richmond, and St. Paul, it was Christopher Columbus’s turn to fall. In New Mexico, two cities removed monuments to Juan de Oñate, a colonial governor who ruled so brutally that he was exiled by his Spanish overseers. Monument fever quickly spread overseas: English activists drowned the statue of a slave trader in Bristol, while protesters in Belgium assailed effigies of King Leopold II, who presided over a genocide of Congolese people in the 19th century.
At the New Republic, Sappony writer Nick Martin called for the tide to also sweep away less egregious colonizers, since Roosevelt, Washington, Jefferson, and “countless others still honored across our landscapes are [also] responsible for genocide, land theft, and forced assimilation” of Indigenous peoples. His piece was called “Now Do Lincoln.”
Why take down Honest Abe, “the Great Emancipator,” who we celebrate on Juneteenth for ending this country’s (overt) enslavement of African-descended peoples? Because we’re not just reckoning with the value of Black lives—we are re-evaluating our history as a country built on stolen land with stolen labor.
The histories of Black and Indigenous people are inseparably intertwined. In their essay “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor” (which argues that anything less than the return of Native lands should not be considered “decolonizing”), scholars Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang define settler colonialism as “built upon an entangled triad structure of settler-native-slave,” in which laborers brought from other countries become “deathlike monsters in the settler imagination,” while Indigenous peoples are erased.
The connection became further entrenched as enslaved people and Native tribes, both hunted by settlers, hid and protected each other throughout US history, frequently mingling their cultures and bloodlines. Alongside thousands of Black people, an untold number of Native Americans were lynched throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Abraham Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in US history in 1862, when he had 38 Dakota men hanged for inciting a small rebellion as the government starved their people. Tellingly, only a handful of Confederates were executed after the Civil War.
A CNN analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Native Americans were slightly more likely than Black people to die at the hands of law enforcement between 1999 and 2015, though the rates are often neck-and-neck….In 2011, Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed George Floyd, was involved in the shooting of an Alaska Native named Leroy Martinez. (A witness claimed Martinez had surrendered his gun and had his hands in the air when he was shot.) Recognizing their common experience of police brutality, Native youth stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Black protesters throughout this year’s Minneapolis uprising.
That’s why Washington’s NFL franchise was called a hypocrite for tweeting in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter, while clinging to a team name that’s a blatant anti-Indigenous slur. It’s why Joe Biden, in an NAACP town hall earlier this month, raised the question of whether reparations should be paid to Native Americans, too. And it’s why Natives standing in solidarity with Black lives sometimes express frustration with the present moment’s focus.
“Indigenous women, men and children go missing and are murdered every day,” an Assiniboine and Sioux activist told the Great Falls Tribune in Montana. “Where’s the outrage for them? Where’s the outrage for the generational trauma that people are still dealing with on reservations?” A Blackfeet tribal member added, “It seems like we get forgotten because America is ashamed, or embarrassed about its treatment of us.”
Giving Native American communities their due might seem even more difficult than defunding the cops—but in a time when police stations have been torched and abandoned, everything is up for grabs. A country finally ready to confront the brutality of its policing is one also prepared to dredge other skeletons from its past, to have hard conversations and begin the work ofradical reimagining.
Migrants and refugees from all corners of the world encounter our system’s brutality; white supremacy makes sure of it. But Black and Indigenous people experience specific forms of racism that run all the way back to the founding of this nation, a nuance often lost in the catch-all “people of color.” You can’t end racism without also challenging white supremacy, colonization, and empire. One remarkable thing about the uprisings over the past month is that they’ve readily connected those dots.
Over the weekend, it emerged that the statue of Theodore Roosevelt at the entrance of the American Museum of Natural History in New York would be coming down. After years of complaints about the statue, the museum finally decided to take action, citing “the ever-widening movement for racial justice.” The monument depicts Roosevelt towering over a Native American and an African—white supremacy, colonization, empire. May its removal become a monument to end of these interlocking oppressions.
To someone who grew up in New York City, the NYPD will always be synonymous with Amadou Diallo. One of the first protests I ever attended was at City Hall in 2000, after the police officers who shot at Diallo 41 times were acquitted and the city erupted in anger. His killing solidified and reaffirmed a generation of New Yorkers’ understanding of who the police really were, who they served and protected, and who they did not.
People called for change, and politicians promised that the police would be reformed. Instead billions of dollars flowed into the NYPD as they racially profiled countless youth through stop and frisk, shot at Sean Bell 50 times, choked Eric Garner to death, and denied justice to the family members of Delrawn Small, Elvin Diaz, Ramarley Graham, Jayson Tirado, Mohamed Bah, Shantel Davis, Iman Morales, Kimani Gray, Alberta Spruill, and Rexford Dasrath—all men and women who have been killed by the NYPD over the past 15 years. Year after year, from New York to Missouri, police continue to kill Black and Brown people with impunity, all while serving as the most powerful apparatus of racist violence in the United States.
After the killing of George Floyd, 25 days (and counting) in New York City have been marked by hundreds of protests and marches that have spread out across so many neighborhoods it seems like they might reach every person in the city. Young people, around the same age Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown would have been if they were alive today, are leading marches with confidence and strength. Older residents and young children stand outside their stoops and windows cheering from a safe distance, thanking them for putting themselves on the line. Just a month ago, the hospitals were overflowing. So many lives were lost, and just as with police violence, the victims have been disproportionately Black and Brown.
Some of the protests are enormous and others are small, some are joyful and others mournful, some are run like campaign events organized by local politicians and others more like DIY actions scraped together by high school kids. What they all have in common is their power—the way people are feeling it, and the way people are showing it. This is a movement, not a series of protests, and within weeks it has already put politicians on the defensive, pressuring them to enact reforms that have been long overdue. And still, the movement knows that this is not enough, and it is not backing down.
Floyd’s killing is infuriatingly nothing new or different. But the outrage, activism, and protest it has inspired, the Black Lives Matter movement’s spread and influence, the calls to defund and abolish the police that are going beyond more of the same placating reforms, and the momentum of a movement that simply will not stop—all this is new. From my one small lens in this great big city, this time feels different.