President Donald Trump was criticized for not mentioning the killing of two good Samaritans in Portland who tried to intervene when a man yelled hate speech towards two women, one of whom was wearing a hijab. Trump was similarly pilloried earlier this year for not speaking out more forcefully against a rise in anti-Semitic acts.
The president finally mentioned the Portland crime in a tweet – but several days later and only after spending much more time decrying fake news.
While the criticism of Trump may have been warranted, the president’s slow response to publicly comment on hateful acts committed by someone other than “radical Islamic terrorists” is far less disturbing than what the Trump administration is planning to do to civil rights enforcement.
Oversight of police departments, to ferret out brutality and excessive use of force, and schools, to investigate complaints of discrimination, is being scaled back. The arm of the Environmental Protection Agency responsible for addressing pollution risks that pose particular challenges to minority communities may be discontinued. A division of the Labor Department that for the past four decades has examined discrimination perpetrated by contractors may be on the chopping block. Voting rights and LBGT protections may also be imperiled by the Trump administration’s view that the Obama administration provided too much civil rights enforcement.
As the Washington Post reported, “the Trump administration is reducing the role of the federal government in fighting discrimination and protecting minorities by cutting budgets, dissolving programs and appointing officials unsympathetic to previous practices.”
These changes come at a particularly worrisome time for the United States. White supremacists and white nationalist groups have felt emboldened recently, and their ranks have been increasing the past several years. Racial disparities remain a fact of life in our educational and criminal justice systems. The country has just experienced multiple bouts of social unrest because of questionable police shootings and a growing distrust that has taken hold between police departments and the communities they serve.
While Dylann Roof’s decision to commit a massacre in an African-American church in Charleston didn’t spark the “race war” he wanted, the stabbings in Portland haven’t been the only disturbing event since Roof’s killings. There were the nooses found at a Maryland middle school; an anti-Asian assault in Brooklyn; an anti-Muslim rant and anti-gay assaults in Texas; and a Louisiana high school teacher using racial epithets among such seemingly daily incidents being catalogued by Slate magazine. That’s in addition to the nearly 1,100 incidents documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the month following November’s elections.
There’s never a good time to get lax on the protection of civil rights. They are the bedrock of our democracy. There is no true democracy if Americans can be threatened, discriminated against, assaulted, or even killed for simply being who they are or for trying to exercise those rights.
While campaigning, Trump asked African-Americans what they had to lose if they voted for him. Apparently, a lot. Other Americans will also lose out if the Trump administration goes through with its plans.