Clarence Page: Where do we go from here? Martin Luther King Jr.’s old question endures
As President Donald Trump described himself in the White House Rose Garden as “an ally of all peaceful protesters,” reporters could hear the awful sound of peaceful protesters being cleared from Lafayette Park with tear gas, flash-bangs and rubber bullets.
After a day of peaceful protests Monday, the park directly across the street from the north side of the White House was being cleared so the president could be photographed walking through the park to historic St. John’s Church, which had been damaged by a small fire Sunday night after peaceful protests were displaced by vandals and looters.
The unrest in the president’s neighborhood was part of the fallout from the video-recorded death on Memorial Day of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who can be seen on video smothering to death under the knee of since-fired police Officer Derek Chauvin, for at least eight minutes. Civil unrest broke out before Chauvin was arrested and charged with the killing Friday and continued through the weekend.
In city after city, the ranks of peaceful protesters were infiltrated by vandals and looters, who captured the president’s focus after he expressed disapproval of Chauvin’s actions.
After the president was escorted by Secret Service agents to the White House bunker Friday night, he wanted to project a more man-in-charge image.
This, after all, is the former reality TV star who reportedly told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.
Trump earlier Monday had a confrontation during a conference call with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other governors over the president’s rhetoric in response to Floyd’s death. The rhetoric included a presidential tweet that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” and a call for governors to “dominate the streets.”
The president retorted in typical Trumpian fashion that he didn’t care much for Pritzker’s rhetoric either.
Trump preferred to take his show to the historic church, not for prayer or reflection but for a photo op as he held up a Bible, which he confirmed was not necessarily his Bible. It was not to be read anyway but to be displayed as sort of a trophy, in the eyes of Bishop Mariann Budde, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who did not approve.
In fact, she was outraged to have received “not even a courtesy call that they would be clearing with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop,” she told The Washington Post. She also denounced Trump for “holding a Bible that declares that God is love ... when everything he has said and done is to inflame violence.”