George Floyd Protest in Washington, DC
Credit: Rosa Pineda/Wikimedia Commons

On Monday night, Donald Trump told the nation’s governors that they would look like jerks if they didn’t use force to dominate protesters. Later that day, his unidentified security forces attacked peaceful protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets so that he could stage a photo op in front of a church. Those security forces have now multiplied and increased the perimeter around the White House.

So how did that attempt to dominate protesters work? On Tuesday, the numbers grew. And by Wednesday, this was happening:

Something similar was going on in Minneapolis.

That scene was repeated in several other cities. What’s up with all of that?

David Frum took a walk around Washington, DC Wednesday night and tweeted what he saw. He correctly noted that the whole point of Trump’s “domination exercise” was to instill fear. But here’s what he wrote about the people in that video singing “Lean on Me.”

What you are hearing is people singing, “We are not afraid of you. We are not afraid of your tear gas, and your no-insignia Trump paramilitary, and your upside-down Bible photo op, and your crazy lies about mob vandalism of the Lincoln Memorial. In fact …we know, YOU are afraid of US.”

I was reminded of something Hamden Rice wrote a few years ago titled, “Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King did.” He explained what the Civil Rights Movement was really about.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

What did Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders do to challenge that reign of terror?

They told us: Whatever you are most afraid of doing vis-a-vis white people, go do it. Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter. Sue the local school board. All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we’ll be okay.

They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad…

Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicced on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened?

These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail.

That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south.

I’m not going to suggest that the violence unleashed on protesters lately is the equivalent of what those brave souls faced back in the 60s. But we’ve all witnessed attempts by people in both the White House and police departments to intimidate protesters with batons, tasers, tear gas, and rubber bullets. In response, not only did the numbers grow, but these magnificent young people started singing and dancing. That is precisely how they can ensure that the dominators lose.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.