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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Republicans Incite Fear of Violence

Updated: Aug 31, 2020


When I wrote an opinion piece for a British newspaper about the overseas image of gun-toting Americans, I wrote about the skewed view of us. After all, I had never carried a firearm when in the United States.

However, I had carried a whistle and my house keys in my hand as a deterrent when I was out at night.

Once, in the glint of a streetlight, a homeless man in San Francisco mistook the keys for a knife as I waited for a bus. The man quickly sobered up as he kept repeating that he didn’t mean me any harm.

Twenty years ago, I did not question why I felt the need to have protection. If anything, I thought that I was proving my ability to take care of myself. I also believed that, despite any precautions, getting mugged was a matter of chance.

On Sunday, August 23, police officer Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake Jr., a 29-year-old black man, seven times in his back, partially paralyzing him in Kenosha, Wisconsin, according to BBC News. The shooting was captured on videotape as Blake climbed into his car, where his young children waited for him.

Protests erupted against racial injustice as they had after the police killing of George Floyd, another black man, in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25. They had turned chaotic two nights later when two demonstrators were killed and a third severely wounded in a shooting incident, according to Aljazeera.

The following day, police arrested and charged Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, with murder in connection with the shooting, which also was captured on video.

Yes, violence against African Americans is disproportionate and treated differently.

However, violence against everyone is in the national consciousness, and it is applauded by no one.

The Republican National Convention, last week, catered to the fear of violence.

“People who can afford to flee (“Democrat-run cities being overrun by violent mobs”) have fled, but the people that can’t -- good, hard-working Americans -- are left to fend for themselves,” said Governor Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota).

Patricia and Mark McCloskey, who face a felony charge of unlawful use of a weapon for brandishing their guns at Black Lives Matter demonstrators outside their St. Louis home on June 28, said:

“America is such a great country that not only do you have the right to own a gun and use it to defend yourself, but thousands of Americans will offer you free advice on how to use it,” said Patricia McCloskey.

“These radicals want to take over,” she said. “They want power. They want to abolish suburbs altogether. No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”

Violence begets violence.

One of the first questions I am asked by Americans about living in another country is:

How safe is it?

Americans never ask whether it is safe, but how safe. We do not realize how much the fear of violence weighs on our psyches.

Does anyone want a country that comprises two camps: us vs. them? I do not.

That country of division frightens me.

When I hear repeated vows “to protect our way of life”, it also scares me. It brings to mind dictatorial attempts to maintain power such as Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s half-a-century grip on Portugal, which ended in 1974. Salazar’s Estado Novo (New State) opposed communism, socialism, liberalism and anti-colonialism. It was conservative and nationalistic. Most significant, it was extreme.

Fanaticism, of any stripe, is suspect.

It is what made me shudder when Kimberly Guilfoyle, the national chair of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, teetered between speaking and screaming. She shouted:

“President Trump believes in you. He emancipates and lifts you up to live your American dream. Don’t let the Democrats take you for granted. Don’t let them step on you. Don’t let them destroy your families, your lives and your future.”

Several speakers, including Trump, asserted that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. This is true. However, that Republican Party emerged in 1854. That Republican Party opposed the expansion of slavery. That Republican Party had almost no presence in the South. In 1912, it underwent an ideological shift to the right when many Theodore Roosevelt supporters deserted the Grand Old Party for Roosevelt’s Progressive “Bull Moose” Party.

The shift occurred more than 100 years ago.

In the late 1960s, law and order became a powerful political mantra. Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, and presidential candidate Richard Nixon, both Republicans, were its proponents. Nixon targeted, among others, the northern ethnic working-class to turn against the Democratic Party, which he said was being soft on crime and rioters.

Trump espoused law and order even before entering the realm of politics. As a New York real estate developer in 1989, Trump took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times calling for the death penalty against five black and Latino boys, ages 14 to 16, accused of raping and assaulting a woman jogger in Central Park.

“What has happened to law and order,” Trump said in the ad which, some say, ignited public opinion. “Let our politicians give back our police departments power to keep us safe. Unshackle them from the constant chant of ‘police brutality’, which every petty criminal hurls immediately at an officer who has just risked his or her life to save another’s.”

After questionable interrogation techniques and without legal counsel, the five boys confessed only to withdraw their confessions weeks later.

In 2002, after the Central Park Five served their sentences of 5 to 15 years, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, who had matching DNA, confessed to the crime.

The convictions against the five young men were vacated, which voided the previous legal judgment. Trump never apologized for his actions. He maintains that the boys were criminals.

In the years leading up to his run for president, Trump often talked about crime in relation to terrorism, calling for swift executions, according to National Public Radio.

In his first campaign, Trump linked urban crime to illegal immigration, even though studies have shown that people in the country illegally are not more likely to commit crimes, said NPR.

Last week, at the Republication convention, Trump said:

“Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators and criminals, who threaten our citizens.”

Again, Trump’s language is incendiary.

The presidential candidate was alluding to protesters for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. The majority of those protests have been peaceful, according to the Wall Street Journal on June 4.

However, there have been demonstrations that have escalated into riots, looting and street skirmishes with police, according to BBC News on May 31. Some police responded to protests with alleged brutality, including against reporters, according to The New York Times on June 2.

At least 200 cities had imposed curfews by early June, while at least 30 states and Washington, D.C. had 62,000 National Guard troops.

By the end of June, at least 14,000 people, including “lone anarchists, radical opportunists and extremist groups also using the moment to spread their messages or incite violence, had been arrested in the unrest, according to Australian News on June 27.

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