America is being rocked by passionate protests reflecting all the pent-up anger of those who have been the victims of racism since the day they were born: the guys who are guilty until proven innocent, suspect because of the color of their skin. I'd be angry, too. I've been researching policing since the early 1980s, when I joined a task force convened by Ed Meese at Harvard and including all the major police chiefs in the country. As the only woman, law professor and civil libertarian on the task force, 27-year-old me had no qualms about taking on the attorney general and the chiefs from Chicago and Los Angeles, who claimed they knew "who the bad guys are," even if they refused to tell me how they knew. How do you think? That's for another column.
I would have been out there supporting the peaceful protests of recent weeks if they didn't terrify me. It's not the looting that's terrifying — everyone involved is trying to control that — but COVID-19. Infection rates are rising in 21 states, mostly the ones that did not do what Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom did. Cases are rising around the world. And government leaders have concluded that the economic damage from keeping the economy closed is greater than the certainty that people will be infected and die.
It is a moment for leadership, for pulling the country together, for leading the fight against racism without forcing people in the street to express their anger. I have never missed Barack Obama more than I do right now.
We have President Donald Trump, who has announced indoor rallies with no confirmed social distancing requirements in four states, all of which are experiencing rising infection rates tied to early reopening and Memorial Day free-for-alls. The spikes are not the results of the protests, which at least took place outside, which is safer.
Not so for Trump's MAGA tour.
The first stop is Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 19. Black Americans observe June 19 as the anniversary of the day when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached the slaves of Texas, two years after Abraham Lincoln signed it. Their owners knew, but how were the slaves to find out?
But Trump didn't pick the day to honor and remember the terrible legacy of slavery. And Tulsa? Tulsa was the site of arguably the worst race riot of the 20th century.
A horde of white men stormed the Greenwood District to attack blacks, burning 35 city blocks to the ground and killing as many as 300 people who stood in their way. Obama might have chosen Tulsa as a place to talk about the legacy of racism. Not Trump. He has done everything he can to stoke the flames on the right, to encourage a backlash by whites and Latinos. Even as key Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee have agreed that military bases should not be named for Confederate leaders, Trump is adamantly against renaming the bases — ten of them, actually — already named, tweeting, "These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage." A Great American Heritage of racism and enslavement, perhaps.
And then there are the rules for the event. Trump likes a big crowd, and he'll get one. No social distancing, no masks required — those were the reasons Trump bolted from North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, for his convention speech. But before entering the Tulsa rally, every Trumper will be required to sign a waiver giving up any and all claims that might arise from their attendance. Like contracting COVID-19. If you need waivers because you know you are putting people at heightened risk, why do it?
For the same reason he doesn't wear a mask, doesn't observe social distancing and passes microphones around to embarrassed doctors. No one can tell Trump what to do, obviously. He acts like a man above the laws that apply to everyone else. And, of course, a mask might send the message that we are still in the midst of this pandemic. Had the president acted even a week earlier, 36,000 lives could have been saved. We haven't done "great," as Trump keeps saying, even as the number of infected Americans tops 2 million — 2 million and climbing.
Oklahoma is about as red as a state can be. If a Republican nominee is worried about Oklahoma, he might as well concede. Trump doesn't have to go there to boost his reelection. He is in trouble, but not that kind of trouble.
So why is he going to Tulsa on Juneteenth?
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.