For the vast majority of Americans, the real menace is not Putin. It’s much closer to home: the gendarmerie who brutalize people of color, banks that swindle borrowers out of their life-savings, schools attempting to lobotomize our children, and a health-insurance cartel that makes more money the sicker we are.
CHICAGO — Hoisting placards that read “Stop Killing Black and Brown People” and chanting “Who Do You Protect? Who Do You Serve?” hundreds of demonstrators poured into the streets of this city’s South Shore neighborhood Monday for a third consecutive day to protest the latest fatal police shooting of a black man.
Known as “Snoop,” 37-year-old Harith Augustus, a popular barber in the neighborhood of aging brownstones and low-rise apartment buildings that straddles Lake Michigan, was gunned down Saturday afternoon by patrol officers who stopped to question him. Police body camera footage released over the weekend shows Augustus lifting his shirt at one point during the encounter to reveal a holstered gun and extra ammunition. Activists say that the audio portion will reveal that he was not reaching for his waistband as police allege.
Yesterday’s protests were peaceful but demonstrators Saturday threw rocks and bottles of urine at officers who retaliated by wading into the crowd swinging batons indiscriminately. At least four people were arrested and several officers were taken to hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. On one video, a young man can be seen taunting the police officers in a curious fashion:
Vladimirs. A lot of Vladimirs. A lot of Putins. Look at them.”
What an anonymous young man shouted from a Chicago street corner should send a shiver through an American ruling class that took to the airwaves in droves Monday to excoriate President Trump’s joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which both men differed with the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump, Treasonous, Traitor,” read the headline of Charles M. Blow’s New York Times column. “The president fails to protect the country from an ongoing attack,” read the subhead.
With his attempt at satire, the Chicago protester spoke for millions of Americans — mostly but not entirely people of color — from Chicago to Sacramento, Pittsburgh to South Florida, whose response to the elites’ demagoguery is essentially the same as Muhammad Ali’s poetic resistance a half-century ago:
“Vladimir Putin ain’t never called me ‘nigger.’ ”
Is Russia responsible for American poverty, injustice, racism, suicides?
For the vast majority of Americans, the real menace is much closer to home: the gendarmerie who brutalize people of color, banks that swindle borrowers out of their life-savings, schools attempting to lobotomize our children, and a health-insurance cartel that makes more money the sicker we are.
By the government’s lights, 43.1 million Americans are poor; a third have no savings at all; and the percentage of Americans struggling just to eat increased from 11 to 14 percent, or 48 million people, between 2007 and 2014. Suicides are up, life expectancy is down, and the police just keep on murdering black and brown folks.
On his Monday podcast, the African-American video blogger Tim Black noted that a politician had Tweeted “Today was the darkest day in U.S. history since 9/11” in response to Trump’s defense of Putin:
Bullshit! It wasn’t the darkest moment when Tamir Rice had his brains blown out by a cop in less than three seconds . . . or even when that same cop got off . . .or when the indigenous people of North Dakota at Standing Rock were pummeled with water cannons in below freezing weather, Ah, not a dark moment looks bright to me I need my sunglasses. Ninety percent of our drone attacks hit innocent civilians killing them. The Darkest moment is when Donald Trump talking to a world leader doesn’t go along with the CIA.”
Nearly 20 months after the presidential election, the media has yet to unearth any evidence of Russian manipulation. Most often cited is a cache of damning emails published before the elections by WikiLeaks, but a 2017 forensic examination by retired American intelligence officers indicates that the emails could only have been downloaded by someone with direct access to the DNC servers rather than external hackers.
The best available evidence suggests a strong correlation between Clinton loss in key states and her unpopularity among the Democratic Party’s key constituency. Trump made few inroads with African-Americans but he managed the next best thing: black voter turnout in 2016 declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6 percent after reaching a record-high 66.6 percent in Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election bid.
Turnout was lowest in the critical state of Florida and in the “blue wall” of Rust-Belt states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania — won by Obama in 2012. By the time Clinton addressed South Florida’s Haitian community, Trump had already campaigned there twice, and she went on to lose the critical state by roughly 120,000 votes, or just about the difference in black voter turnout from 2012 to 2016.
Similarly, she won 50,000 fewer votes in Detroit than had Obama four years earlier, and 27,000 fewer votes than had Obama in the majority-black city of Milwaukee — which accounted almost entirely for Trump’s margin of victory in Wisconsin, even though he won roughly the same number of votes in the state – about 1.4 million – as had the GOP’s 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. Clinton did not make a single campaign appearance in Milwaukee.
Poking the bear, then blaming the bear
Moreover, historians, academics and documentarians like Oliver Stone note that the U.S. has always antagonized Russia. Gary Leupp, a history professor at Tufts University, wrote Monday in Counterpunch that the Obama administration sought to expand NATO by organizing a coup against Ukraine’s democratically-elected president Viktor Yanukovych — who opposed Ukraine’s NATO entry — and replace him with a pro-NATO government:
In February 2014 a coup plainly conceptualized in Washington, amply documented by intercepted calls between Victoria Nuland and the U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, succeeded in toppling Yanukovych, who fled to Russia. Ethnic Russians who dominate in the eastern Donbass region predictably rebelled against the fascist-tinged new Kiev government. Russia predictably annexed (re-annexed) Crimea to insure its continued control over its bases.
Look at the map. Look at how big Russia is. Look at where it has naval bases. Russia is not like the U.S. with coasts dotted with naval bases. It has some on the Baltic Sea, one in Vladivostok on the Pacific, Murmansk on the Barents Sea in the far north. The Black Sea Fleet present in Crimea from the 1770s is important to what any objective professor of international relations would call “Russian national security.” Of course the Russians were angry and concerned.
That I think was the decisive point. Yes, February 2014. The relentless drive of the U.S. to complete the expansion of NATO, to integrate the largest nation on the European continent, which some neocons call “the crown jewel,” into the alliance — using in this case the cause of “the Ukrainian people’s European aspirations — failed. It invited an immediate, decisive Russian response. An investment of $5 billion and preposterous interventions such as the visits of Nuland, John McCain and Lindsey Graham to the Maidan Square in Kiev had produced a new government of dubious legitimacy as well as a frozen conflict.
Russia became an “adversary” because it refused to accept massive U.S. intervention in the politics of a neighboring country more closely integrated into Russian history and civilization than Mexico is integrated into the U.S. in such respects. It’s an adversary because it opposes NATO; which is to say, it resists its own military encirclement. As any U.S. leadership would under similar circumstances. (Imagine an existing Russia-centered military pact including most of Central America, Cuba and Venezuela moving to include Mexico. The “Monroe Doctrine” forbids colonization and the establishment of military bases by Old World powers in the New World. But the U.S. expects Russia to accept NATO bases on its very borders. And no TV journalist bothers to raise this, or think historically, critically, comparatively.)”
Met the enemy and it’s us
It’s ironic that 2014 was the same year that protests against police violence exploded following the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in a St. Louis suburb, and the videotaped police mob lynching of Eric Garner on a Staten Island street corner for selling unregulated cigarettes, a misdemeanor.
Before his conviction on corruption charges, Jesse Jackson Jr. represented the congressional district where Augustus was killed. In underscoring government’s unresponsiveness to poor and working-class people, he was fond of saying that in his lifetime he’d seen the costly renovation of the commercial State Street corridor, and the relocation of iconic Lakeshore Drive, but “I have never seen a working light bulb at the 47th Street L.”
The activist and 2016 Green Party vice-presidential nominee Ajamu Baraka tweeted Monday:
Israelis shoot down unarmed Palestinians with U.S. weapons, Yemen is experiencing a genocidal war assisted by the U.S., black and brown people still being murdered in the streets by homicidal police, Libya destroyed, Syria bleeding & you tell me Russians are my enemies. A joke”
In his podcast yesterday, Black echoed that sentiment:
Any politician listening who is running in 2018 if you are dumb enough to go in front of a crowd and start talking about Russia be prepared for tomato and eggs and I ain’t talking about omelettes I’m talking about people throwing that shit at you.
Real people got real problems . . . and Russia ain’t it.”
Top Photo | Actress Alyssa Milano speaks at a protest outside the White House, July 17, 2018, in Washington following President Donald Trump’s meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Andrew Harnik | AP
Jon Jeter is a published book author and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist with more than 20 years of journalistic experience. He is a former Washington Post bureau chief and award-winning foreign correspondent on two continents, as well as a former radio and television producer for Chicago Public Media’s “This American Life.”