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A Crowd of Whites, A Sea of Blue

A Report from Cleveland

This past week hundreds of residents gathered in downtown Cleveland for a “Sea of Blue” rally to show support for police officers and law enforcement official across the nation. The rally, held in Public Square in response to the recent shooting of two NYPD officers and to counter months of anti-police protests and civil unrest linked to the murder of three young Black men — Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice — at the hands of white police officers, one of which took place in Cleveland. Rally organizers claimed the event was meant to show support for all lives, but it was obvious from one look at who attended the event that it was really about white people showing their support for white cops, all under the guise of defending law and order. One local TV station described the rally as “the largest pro-police rally in Cleveland’s history.”

As one attendee at the rally said, “This has been a peaceful show of — the silent majority is coming out. I think people are just tired. They are tired of what is going on across the country.” Unfortunately he’s not talking about a “silent majority” being tired of white cops killing people of color, but rather tired of protest marches calling attention to police brutality. This is not the first time we have heard such rhetoric, nor is it the first time we have found ourselves in such a position of civil unrest as a nation. If one thing is certain, it is that the “silent majority” in the US is still as wedded to its reactionary cultural politics today as it was back in 1969.

It’s worth recalling part of that infamous speech by Nixon on Nov 3, 1969, where he rejected protests across the country that were part of a growing anti-war, counterculture movement in the US calling for the immediate withdrawal of all US troops from Vietnam.

Well, one of the strengths of our society is that any American has a right to reach that conclusion and to advocate that point of view. But as President of the United States, I would be untrue to my oath of office to be dictated by the minority who hold that point of view and who try to impose it on the nation by mounting demonstrations in the street…So tonight, to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans, I ask for your support.

Much like that moment in history, the nation is once again on the cusp of major civil unrest from growing opposition to domestic and foreign politics. Once again the conservative, white middle class — Nixon’s famous silent majority — seems posed to regaining control of Washington. For example, right-wing talk radio personality Bob Frantz, one of the featured speakers at the Sea of Blue rally, dismissed any charges of police misconduct in Cleveland, particularly a Dec 4th DoJ Civil Rights Division report detailing widespread misconduct in the Cleveland police department, as nothing more than “a fictional story” meant to demonize hard working police officers who put their lives in harms way. Nevermind that law enforcement isn’t even among the top ten most dangerous jobs — being a fisherman, a logger or a trash collector are far more dangerous jobs in reality — because we are trading in the stuff of myths here, and fighting crime must be a dangerous job for heroes.

As was the case in 1969, many Americans are still in denial about the reality of this country. In discussing the DoJ report, the Washington Post described the sixty-page report as “jaw dropping.” The DoJ press release describes the situation in Cleveland as one where “trust between the Cleveland Division of Police and many of the communities it serves is broken.”

The cover letter from the DoJ to Cleveland Mayor Jackson reads in part:

We have concluded that we have reasonable cause to believe that CDP [Cleveland Division of Police] engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies and practices — including insufficient accountability, inadequate training, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the community — contribute to the use of unreasonable force.

It should be no surprise, then, that those in attendance at the Sea of Blue rally were all white (I was only able to see 3 black people not there as part of the counter-protest contingent), since the central contention in Cleveland, as elsewhere, is largely about white cops policing and profiling communities of color. We are constantly urged to believe, via statements from police unions and law enforcement sympathizers, that the police are really angels who only have the best interests of the community in mind, and any excessive force was required and for the safety of the officer and the public.

The real people with blood on their hands, law and order supporters keep telling us, are the protesters, people like NYC Major Bill de Blasio, and those Democratic members of the Senate who released the recent CIA torture report expose. As is usually the case in such matters, truth is the first casualty. Cleveland rally organizer Mary Jo Graves was quoted as saying: “Our family and our communities are really one hundred percent behind our officers, and I think the people for police are going to greatly outnumber the people that are against it.” Consider this excerpt from the DoJ report on the Cleveland police force in light of her remarks:

Instead of working with Cleveland’s communities to understand their needs and concerns and to set crime fighting priorities and strategies consistent with those needs, CDP too often polices in a way that contributes to community distrust and a lack of respect for officers even the many officers who are doing their jobs effectively. For example, we observed a large sign hanging in the vehicle bay of a district station identifying it as a ‘forward operating base,’ a military term for a small, secured outpost used to support tactical operations in a war zone. This characterization reinforces the view held by some — both inside and outside the Division — that CDP is an occupying force instead of a true partner and resource in the community it serves.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that something is deeply broken in America when a crowd of Ohio suburbanites rallies behind those sworn “to serve and protect,” while that same body views parts of its community as a hostile force to be subdued with forward operating bases on Lakeside Ave. Whatever else the Sea of Blue rallies hoped to achieve, public reconciliation was not among them.

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Chris Crews

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