The recent death of civil rights icon John Lewis, of Georgia, has myriad lessons for America in today’s situation, including the vital importance of standing up to injustice, if necessary in the streets.
But too many are losing another vital lesson of Lewis’ life, nonviolence, even when provoked.
That is why, in a volatile political atmosphere this year, what should be unifying expressions of ordered liberty have been able to be manipulated by President Donald Trump into a needless confrontation with local authorities, who have the principal roles in law enforcement.
The president, ever eager to sharpen political lines, ordered more federal action in cities where he discerns a breakdown in law and order. Unfortunately, there are cases where protests have gone off the rails and turned into mob actions. Portland is a case in point.
The Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse is named for a late, moderate GOP senator. It’s now a boarded-up graffiti-scarred victim of mob action — not protesters, but vandals. That’s the last thing that a disciplined tribune of nonviolent protest like Lewis would approve.
And that lack of discipline is what gives Trump an opening to sharpen political lines.
He happily ignores realities on the ground — Portland protests had been dying down of their own accord — to make political points with federal “action.” In some cases, state and local officials say that the federal officers have acted unlawfully, and the U.S. Department of Justice is appropriately investigating.
As the acting head of U.S. Homeland Security — this administration is full of “acting” replacements — rightly said, attacks on federal officers as “Gestapo” or other odious comparisons are offensive. But it's foolish to blindly send federal agencies into cities where the locals have the manpower, connections and knowledge to work their own streets.
We believe in local leadership and initiative. The president’s notions are the opposite. In fact, he is sending other agents to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
What should happen? The president should offer federal agencies’ help, whether in Oregon or anywhere else. Joint federal-state task forces are common in fighting drug trafficking and gun cases, among other things.
Most federal agents and their bosses, like U.S. attorneys — presidential appointees, but typically prominent local lawyers — live and work in the cities involved and can provide valuable assistance to local law enforcement. They don’t want to take over from Portland police or those in any other city in this country. For one thing, it’s a responsibility if things go wrong.
We deplore this whole federal vs. local issue and wish it had never been raised. But those who protest to provoke violence, or damage property, are failing to understand the difficult path of John Lewis, and play into the hands of shrewd politicians.