Last night, I went to a Black Lives Matter protest in Port Jefferson, New York. More than 300 people marched from the railroad station through the village and ended up in front of Village Hall. We stopped midway and all took a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds. It was a peaceful protest. People were respectful of each other and everyone had a mask on. No one seemed particularly angry.
When we reached the intersection of Main Street and West Broadway, there was a counter-protest. This was in front of a bank of shops where pro-Trump banners often hang and where a pro-Trump rally was held a few months ago. None of the counter-protesters were wearing masks. They were waiving pro-Trump flags and playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” Being me, I approached them to let them know they were not playing the patriotic anthem they thought they were.
This went over about as I expected. One woman yelled at me, “The song says BORN IN THE USA, IS THAT NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU?” Well, no but that’s beside the point. The people supporting President Trump and opposing the #BLM protest were angry. Very angry. As I walked away they shouted, “Wake up! This is not about black lives! This is about anarchy! You are going to end up needing the police soon!” Their anger was visceral, raw. They are mad and they aren’t going to take it anymore.
The right turns to gaslighting
They are not alone. After Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by police in a Wendy’s parking lot, the place was torched by two white women. A self-proclaimed member of the Boogaloo Bois Steven Carillo killed a security guard in Oakland, California during a #BLM protest. Chevy McGee had a stockpile of weapons confiscated by Denver police. He has said he part of the “Boogaloo movement.”
If you are not familiar with the Boogaloo Bois, they are a right-wing extremist group that wants to usher in another civil war. They are angry and they are armed. They are also not alone. The Proud Boys and American Guard are two other right-wing extremist groups who promote armed conflict and violence.
Meanwhile, in the ultimate case of gaslighting, right-wing groups perpetrate violence and looting and then blame it on the left. Both President Trump and Attorney General William Barr have blamed Antifa (anti-fascist) groups for violent acts even when the FBI has found no such link. Anecdotally, I know people who have expressed sympathy if not full-throated support for the Proud Boys. The people I know are beyond angry. They love Trump because he expresses the same anger they feel. They look around and are angry that white, straight men are no longer the only ones with any control over things. Thousands of years of having power over everyone else just wasn’t enough.
Black anger makes sense
I get black anger. I do. Think about it, if you haven’t already. Africans were pulled from their homes and brought to the New World in the worst conditions. By some estimates, two million died making the crossing.
Once they arrived, they were property. This original sin of the United States went on for hundreds of years. Then African-Americans were forced to endure Jim Crow laws, segregation and lynchings. Today, in addition to the brutality they experience at the hands of police and others, we incarcerate more black people than anyone else. The sentences given to African-Americans are much harsher. Dylan Roof killed nine people in a church in South Carolina. He was not killed, he was arrested.
This video is a must-watch if you care about racial justice
Tamir Rice. Brionna Taylor. Amadou Diallo. Bothan Jean. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Sandra Bland. Michael Brown. Ahmed Arbery. We know these names because of how they were killed. One of the speakers last night said she was scared of becoming a name on a list. If I thought sleeping in my bed, eating ice cream on my couch, playing in a playground, walking down the street, going to the store and other normal activities could wind up with me dead, I would be angry all of the time.
But people on the side of Black Lives Matter are not plotting against the government and stockpiling weapons. People on the right stockpile weapons. People on the left stockpile books.
Today is Juneteenth. This should be a national holiday. To the people who think, but I’m not racist, all white people have benefited from white privilege. It took me a long time to see how I benefited because my life has not been what people think it is. It is now up to us to move the country past racism and deliver on the promises of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.