A Tale of Two Cities out on the Streets
WASHINGTON -- It was the worst of times. But the best of times are far from here. President Donald Trump is veering toward martial law, as announced in the Rose Garden the very moment peaceful resisters were tear-gassed in nearby Lafayette Square. Mounted police were a nice touch, too -- part of the plan. Flanked by the president's men, Trump strode through the cleared square to a historic church for a photo op.
Was it absurd or tragic? You tell me. Trump uncaged.
A blatant act of starkly racial police brutality -- charged as murder -- has ripped the nation into pieces on the ground. Streets exploded in fury in at least 125 cities: New York, San Francisco, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans -- and, in a gasp, Santa Monica, where I grew up.
Americans lost what little peace of mind we had had left from the pandemic, which claimed 100,000 lives this spring. The murder of George Floyd -- or just "George," as Trump called him -- was a Midwestern lynching over a fake $20 bill. His life wasn't worth 20 bucks. In every corner of the country, we collectively lost it, black and white, old and young. Peaceful protests broke out all over.
While Trump slept in an underground bunker, he apparently forgot the "madman in a bunker" meme is not a good look. He's trying to make up for that with strongman words. "I will deploy the United States military," he threatened "weak" governors who don't comply with his Nixonian blueprint of "law and order."
Here at home, where I've spent my time lately, police sirens scream and speed on Wisconsin Avenue. My beloved city's peace is shattered like glass, like so many storefronts. Police failed to focus on the true wrongdoers (via intel, arrests, defending retail districts), not drawing a distinction between criminal looters and nonviolent demonstrators.
In a colossal farce that escalated tensions and property damage, city police departments trained their force on the wheat, not the chaff. In Philadelphia, police were scarce in the riot zone of Center City.
As noted in The Washington Post, mayors and local officials witnessed a pattern of "young white men joining the fray, seemingly determined to commit mayhem."
How ironic. Remember the gang in the deadly white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia? They were "very fine people," Trump declared defiantly on a blazing summer day in 2017. A young, white woman, a nonviolent protestor, lost her life in the violence. That was a harbinger of this.
Truly, it's a tale of two cities for me. Charles Dickens' story tells of Paris and London during the French Revolution. Mine are Washington and Santa Monica, east and west, present and past. Like the song goes, this land is my land. But does it still belong to you and me?
It's strange to have chapters of my life, thousands of miles apart, converge in a national emergency.
Writing in Washington, the new curfew, 7 p.m., just ticked by. The National Cathedral is dark. The vibrant neighborhood is empty, though the trees have a golden glimmer in the setting sun. All eyes are on brave White House protestors. But the "law and order" officers and National Guard soldiers look armed and ready for war on civilians. That's un-American, to turn the military against us, we the people.
Suddenly, seeing the Santa Monica unrest cross the screen gave me a jolt. There were streets where I bicycled to school, streets where my family lives, streets near the beach where I rode the waves. One sister took her kids to that protest. My other sister went for coffee on Montana Avenue and heard helicopters buzzing overhead as marchers headed her way. When politics hit where you live, it goes deep down the well.
I know, from my reporting days, that Washington's police force is pretty peaceable with crowds. But with Trump breathing down law enforcement's backs, innocent people may get hurt or arrested in police melees here and everywhere. The beating heart of American democracy is the right to assemble -- peacefully. The same people -- of all colors, ages, classes, creeds, regions and pronouns -- protested Trump at the Women's March.
He can't take that right away from us.
Jamie Stiehm can be reached at JamieStiehm.com. To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit creators.com.Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate, Inc.