The global protests against police brutality have been going on for over a week now, with cities in California, Minnesota, New York and the UK seeing powerful demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. In all that time, there has been little support beyond lip service from high-level politicians, like governors, mayors, and senators and the UK's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. But no political leader has been more contemptuous of the movement than President Donald Trump, who addressed the nation on Monday evening to condemn the protesters. His racist rhetoric of calling protesters "thugs" and threatening to deploy the US military came just moments after police charged at seemingly peaceful protesters in front of the White House with flash-bang explosions and tear gas.
But Trump is not the only political leader shifting blame onto protesters. In a press conference on Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo dismissed the protesters, saying that "violence obscures the righteousness of the message," and adding that protesters have made it impossible to “control the spread” of COVID-19 because of the mass gatherings. Cuomo's rhetoric is not so dissimilar to Trump's, in that he blames protesters instead of police. But what's so notable about that is that Cuomo is ostensibly a political rival of Trump's. So why is he speaking so similarly?
And, it's not just words. Gov Cuomo and fellow Democrat, New York City Mayor De Blasio, have also responded to demonstrators by putting the New York Police Department (NYPD) out in full force to control people attending protests. They've also instituted a curfew in New York City, the first time one has been in place in over 70 years. So, even though they claim to support the cause of the protesters, their actions tell a different story.
They're not alone: Around the country, public officials have been following this lead, seeking to control demonstrations instead of condemning police actions, including unnecessary use of violence against protesters. In Atlanta, a 31st May curfew was just extended. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that a curfew would be imposed until further notice, and the curfew has yet to be lifted. Los Angeles, California residents continue to receive alerts with new curfew times, often with less than an hour warning. Washington, DC, Columbus, Ohio, and other major cities with protests are under this same kind of lockdown.
Curfews aren't the only punitive action being take. In Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti closed down all COVID-19 testing centers in the city due to “safety concerns” as protests have continued. And instead of doing anything substantial, public officials have just reiterated that people should vote instead of protest, as if that were a way of achieving immediate gains. But even Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms recently said, "This is chaos. A protest has purpose. When Dr. King was assassinated we didn't do this to our city. If you want change in America, go and register to vote.”
And yet, what's more clear than ever is that voting isn’t going to put an end to police violence, the killings of Black people, and other abuses of power, especially because the people currently in office, who should be using their power to solve problems, are simply shifting the blame onto protesters. Our political leaders could try and institute change, although most of them, like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are happy to just meme-ify themselves by holding bibles and calling for Trump to be a "healer-in-chief." Yeah, right.
If our political leaders want real change, it's on them to shift the way their budgets work and ethically reallocate police funds towards social services, instead of standing with police and blaming protesters for speaking out against injustice that the politicians' actions helped cause in the first place. And they should put down the Bible. They just look foolish.