Protestors gather in Washington D.C. with sign that reads “Where is the dream?” Photo by |Flickr
By Angelika Oviedo and Cami Melson
In July of 2017, Donald Trump gave a speech to a group of police officers on Long Island encouraging them to use excessive force when arresting suspects. Officers in the crowd laughed and cheered after Trump advised them that while putting handcuffed suspects into a police car, “Please don’t be too nice.”
“Like when you guys put somebody in the car, and you’re protecting their head…you can take the hand away, O.K.?,” Trump said.
The remarks were made at a pro-law-enforcement rally during which Trump vowed to ask Congress for funding to hire 10,000 new border patrol agents for the alleged purpose of preventing the crimes caused by gang violence. Within hours of the speech, police departments across the country issued statements denouncing Trump’s statements.
The Suffolk County Police Department on Long Island, whose officers were seen and heard cheering the president, tweeted several posts, the first of which read, “As a department, we do not and will not tolerate the roughing up of prisoners.”
Trump’s handlers and supporters wrote the statements off as jokes, but not everyone who watched the video was convinced.
During the nearly four years of Trump’s presidency there have been multiple killings by police where he showed no remorse or or issued any calls for justice for the victims, like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
His views on how police should handle suspects during arrest combined with his outward hostility toward anti-police street protestors have led many to wonder if his positions have not backfired and actually fueled introspection in white America.
The Times recently reported that the Black Lives Matter movement has started to change the minds of some white voters, opening their eyes to the reality of America. According to a poll, 52 percent of white voters considered the murder of George Floyd involved excessive police violence towards African-Americans. Another poll showed that 44 percent of white voters were in favor of the BLM protests during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Abolitionist Movement of the 1800s raged for at least three decades before the American Civil War and what we think of as the modern Civil Rights Movement ran for just about as long,” said the Interim Dean of Arts & Sciences at York College, George White in an email interview about BLM abolishing racism. “This is not to say that BLM is not significant; it is. However, it needs to continue to grow, sustain itself, and demonstrate concrete successes.”
White said people should see this fight as a “marathon” rather than a “sprint.” He added that Trump isn’t the reason for the disease of racism and sexism but a symptom.
Brooklyn youth activist Estefany Valera, 20, shared her experiences of being a Latinx witnessing BLM, as well as the racism and sexism towards black communities.
“A lot about what this process of becoming politicized has looked like is acknowledging the privileges that I hold as a non-black person,” she said. “This means, actively listening to black voices, especially black trans, queer and gender non binary voices.”
Valera added that she believes COVID-19 played a role in the attention BLM has been receiving and increasing the number of people joining protests.
Activist and English Professor Janice Cline shared her thoughts in an email interview including her memories of participating in a protest more than 20 years ago in which she carried a sign that read, “York College mourns the murder of Amadou Diallo.”
“It was March 23, 1999,” said Cline. “I was wearing my cap and gown along with many other members of CUNY faculty. I was proud to be standing for justice after four undercover cops murdered this innocent man with no weapon, and shot him 41 times as he tried to enter his apartment building after work. After I was arrested and handcuffed, I was scared—but my fear was nothing compared to the fear so many others have endured under the knees of the police.”
Cline said that Trump’s calling peaceful protestors “thugs” indicates that he has no intention of stopping the brutality officers are causing to the community. She also mentioned her own experiences with relatives who support Trump being impacted by the televised death of George Floyd and seeing police brutality for what it really is. Although Trump is thriving in white supremacy, he was forced to speak on the topic but had no intentions to fix it, stated Cline.
Nico Nunez, 21, who has been an active youth organizer since the 2016 election, experienced an encounter with officers during a recent protest that reinforced the belief that Trump’s goading of police officers toward violence is part of a systemic problem.
In an email interview Nunez described being part of a protest during which a police car sped near the crowd, almost hitting someone nearby.
“The police don’t need the president to say those words… they have similar words engraved in their minds from the corrupt systems they belong to,” said Nunez, who remains hopeful that the support for a reform movement is growing.
“I’ve never seen this movement this big before. From 2014 to 2016, we saw a lot of black murders by the state followed by protests across the country, but never to this extent… years ago, saying Black Lives Matter would raise eyebrows and now we are seeing the statement in advertisements, billboards and even sporting events.”