The protests are not the problem

This piece was originally published in the June 1, 2020 edition of CAP Action’s daily newsletter, the Progress Report. Subscribe to the Progress Report here.

Following George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a police officer, people across the nation took to the streets this weekend to demand justice for Floyd and an end to the repeated targeting of Black Americans by law enforcement.

In cities across America, protesters — the majority of whom conducted themselves peacefully — were met with last-minute curfews, hit with tear gas and pepper spray, and nearly run over by the police. In Atlanta, two officers have already been fired for violating the department’s policy on excessive force.

Where do Trump’s priorities lie in the midst of all this? Encouraging officials to use the police to crack down on protesters — protesters against this exact sort of violence from law enforcement.

graphic of Trump tweet count for two phrases: “tough on crime” (39 tweets) vs. “black lives” (0 tweets)


  • Trump spent the weekend inciting violence online. On Thursday night, he suggested that protesters be shot and invoked the words of a segregationist police chief in a tweet that Twitter has since slapped with a warning label because it “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.” Facebook, on the other hand, refused to do anything in response to the equivalent post on their site, leading several employees to speak out publicly against their employer’s inaction.
  • This morning, on a call with the nation’s governors, Trump continued ranting about the need to “dominate” the protesters, failing to so much as mention the racism that sparked these protests. “You gotta arrest these people,” he said of protesters. “And you can’t do the deal where they get one week in jail. These are terrorists, these are terrorists. They’re looking to do bad things to our country. They’re Antifa and they’re radical left.”

REALITY CHECK: Trump is weaponizing racist “tough on crime” rhetoric, using his platform to monopolize the conversation and turn this into a debate over protests. Don’t let him fool you. Protests are not the problem. Systemic racism is.

  • Trump is stoking vicious racism with his tweets and the way he speaks about protesters, and is making tensions worse, not better. This isn’t new — he’s spoken about arrests and being “tough on crime” in disturbing terms many times over the years. In 2017, Trump told a group of officers in a speech that they shouldn’t be so careful when handling detainees and suggested the officers injure people while putting them into their cars.
  • Meanwhile, we have a leadership vacuum in our executive branch — one that it’s hard to imagine Trump filling in any productive way. As protests grew near the White House on Friday, Trump reportedly hid out in an underground bunker, and he’s planning another golf outing this weekend. While some have suggested Trump make a speech to unify the country, we know based on his history of racist, violence-inciting comments in the wake of Black Americans being killed by police: Anything Trump might say on the subject would only make things worse.


  • In a press conference this afternoon, George Floyd’s attorneys announced that an independent autopsy had concluded Floyd’s death was the result of asphyxia and loss of blood flow. According to a summary of the findings, the autopsy concluded that Floyd diednot just because of the knee lodged at his neck by a Minneapolis Police officer, but also because of the other officers who helped hold him down.” These findings contradict the government’s initial autopsy, which did not find any of the above to be causes of Floyd’s death. Later this afternoon, the county medical examiner released an updated report officially declaring Floyd’s death a homicide.
  • Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced that the state’s Attorney General, Keith Ellison, will oversee all prosecutions related to the death of George Floyd. Floyd’s family had requested Ellison be in this role, which the Governor cited in his announcement of Ellison’s appointment.
  • A Black protester was shot to death outside an Omaha bar this weekend. James Scurlock, 22, was killed by the bar’s white owner, whose claim that he acted in self-defense was echoed by the prosecutor’s office today when they announced that he wouldn’t face charges. Conflicting witness reports have raised the possibility that the gunman used racial slurs before the shooting.

As we work to make sure all officers involved in Floyd’s death are held accountable for their actions, it’s important to remember that this is about more than just George Floyd. Black people have been murdered time and time again in this country without real consequences for those responsible. This fight won’t be over once the news stops talking about George Floyd, nor will it be over with the conclusion of a single court case or the arrest of a specific officer. Racism and police violence are systemic problems, and dismantling them will require systemic solutions.


If you’re able to donate and are looking for a way to support activists on the ground fighting for a more just America, here’s one: This fund allows you to split a donation between various bail funds to help arrested protesters get out of jail.

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