My hero for this week is the police chief of Atlanta, Georgia, one Erika Shields. While other police chiefs and mayors in the 20+ cities that saw protests of the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, were behind closed doors, calling out National Guard troops to try to quell the violence, and while Donald Trump cowered behind the White House doors, tweeting ridiculous lies and not so much as mentioning trying to bring the country together, Erika Shields was calming the protests in her city.
Chief Shields waded right into the crowd of protesters, and here’s what she said to them …
“Let me tell you something, I am standing here because what I saw was my people face to face with this crowd and everybody’s thinking ‘how can we use force and diffuse this’ and I’m not having it. I’m not having that. You have a right to be upset, to be scared, and to want to yell. And we’re going to have everybody doing what they need to do and we’re going to do it safely. That’s my first commitment. And I hear you. I have heard from so many people that cannot sleep, they’re terrified, they’re crying, they’re worried for their children – there’s a problem.”
She gently touched the arms of the protesters, and one by one they came and thanked her, with tears in their eyes telling her of their fears.
Now, granted, in and of itself, a few kind words won’t fix the problem, won’t stop the violence, but it’s a damn sight better start than Trump threatening to have them shot! I give Chief Shields two thumbs up for showing empathy, for understanding that threats are not the answer, for remembering that the protestors are there for a reason and that their voices have been ignored for a very long time now. They are saying … “No longer will we be ignored and treated as second-class citizens!”
The solutions to these problems will not happen overnight, and they will not happen at all as long as we have people in the upper echelons of our government who simply do not care. Until the very real concerns are taken seriously, until there are steps made toward real solutions, not band-aid fixes, the protests, riots, and violence will continue. In September 2016, San Francisco 49ers football player Colin Kaepernick chose to take a knee rather than stand for the national anthem. He was protesting the exact same thing the protesters today are protesting: police brutality and murder of black people. Yet, his very peaceful protest was met with derision, insults, and eventually loss of his job. Since then, police killings of blacks have continued and now people are tired, they are sick of protesting peacefully and nothing changes. Until this nation makes changes, there will be protests, some will be violent, some people will die. It’s a fact, not a speculation. I don’t condone the violence, but I do understand it and I fully support their cause.
I have long said that Trump’s constant battle with the press would have a disastrous outcome. When he declared the press the “enemy of the people”, my jaw dropped. Every president has had his difficulties with the press, but none in the history of this country has ever used the venomous rhetoric that Trump does, and in the last 48 hours, we have seen the results.
On Friday morning, the day began with the chilling arrest of a CNN crew in Minneapolis — two of whom were people of color — even as their cameras rolled. Omar Jimenez, Bill Kirkos and Leonel Mendez were simply doing their jobs, covering the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. They identified themselves to police, but to no avail. Then later in the day, CNN headquarters in Atlanta were attacked and vandalized by protestors. In between, all around the country, journalists were harassed. In Louisville, a police officer shot pepper balls at a local TV reporter, Kaitlin Rust while in Denver, police fired paintballs and tear gas, hitting a news photographer and his camera. The seeds for these incidents were planted long ago, when Donald Trump declared the press the “enemy of the people”, but this is only the beginning, my friends. According to Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of PEN America, the nonprofit organization devoted to free expression …
“By denigrating journalists so often, he has degraded respect for what journalists do and the crucial role they play in a democracy. He’s been remarkably effective in contributing to this topsy-turvy sense that journalists are the opposition.”
During the 2016 campaign, Trump was interviewed by CBS reporter Lesley Stahl, who asked him why he was constantly denigrating members of the press. His reply?
“You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.”
Well, folks, just like it’s time for the black people to stand up and say, “Hell no, we won’t sit down and take it any longer”, perhaps it’s time for this entire nation, at least those of us who value democratic principles, to say the same about Trump’s abusive denigration of our press. Please remember that the free press is the only thing standing between a full-fledged dictatorship and a relatively democratic nation. THE. ONLY. THING.