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Americans in N.L. also feeling the pain
The aggressive ramping up of the military presence has turned Tom Mills’ Washington, D.C., neighbourhood into a war zone.
The world watched Monday night the scene across from the White House as peaceful protesters were fired on with rubber bullets and tear gas before U.S. President Donald Trump walked to St. John's Episcopal Church and hoisted a Bible.
His actions horrified church officials and worsened the tensions surrounding the days of protests and riots around the U.S. over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, even when he said he couldn’t breathe. (A deli operator had called police May 25 on 46-year-old Floyd, accusing him of using a counterfeit bill. Four officers were fired over the death).
“Unbelievable,” Mills said Tuesday of Trump’s Monday night photo op.
Mills is a former Newfoundland and Labrador prosecutor from St. John’s who now is a U.S. citizen living in Washington, D.C., with his husband, Paul F. Scott III, who is African-American.
They live on the edge of the epicentre of the D.C. protests, five blocks from the White House.
The scene he described on a walk Monday evening before curfew was of a parade of Homeland Security vehicles, and more and more buildings over many blocks with their ground floors covered in sheets of plywood.
Police vehicles have filed past their building while helicopters flew overhead.
“(Tuesday) started off subdued, but has become increasingly tense,” Mills said.
“The military-type vehicles and uniformed/armed federal officers blocking the streets, like ours, in the downtown areas makes you feel more trapped than secure. The curfew starts at 7 p.m., but they started blocking traffic lanes before 3 p.m.”
The miltarization of the police in the U.S. was something he noticed quickly when he relocated there.
Mills said a climate of racism pushed Black Lives Matter (the movement drawing attention to the oppression of African-Americans and the deaths of black people at the hands of police) to the backburner since the Trump administration began.
It is disheartening and discouraging, he said.
“As Newfoundlaners and Labradorians, we have not been immune to racism opurselves," Mills said Monday.
"But the history here is so strong and it is so widespread and rampant. It is so tied into the police.”
There are numerous police forces in D.C. — everything from the Secret Service down to the subway police and the park police.
Even a minor traffic offfence under normal circumstances would elicit the response of two or three cars and hand-cuffed arrests, Mills said.
The area where Mills and Scott live is home to high-end shops like Gucci, which have been targeted by vandals.
But many protests are peaceful, as was the Monday night event.
“If we don’t see some kind of political change, the situation just has to get worse." — Tom Mills
Data has also been reported from various organizations showing black people have been more devastated by COVID-19. (CNBC and others, for example, reported nearly 23 per cent of the 100,000 reported Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. were African-American as of May 20, even though black people make up roughly 13 per cent of the U.S. population.)
Many of those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are in jobs in which they cannot work at home, Mills said.
He said it is understandable why so many people are angry and want to fight back, with Trump threatening military retaliation instead of calming the situation, and his supporters behind him in those remarks.
“If we don’t see some kind of political change, the situation just has to get worse,” said Mills.
In Atlanta, Maya Keiser, who is from St. John’s, finds the U.S. situation overwhelming.
“I am devastated with the police brutality,” said Keiser, a choral teacher who lives there with her American husband and family.
"Living in the South, I can tell you racism is rampant. A lot of it gets swept under the rug.
"Society has reached a boiling point. There has been situation after situation after situation where black people have been murdered with no consequence."
She is 100 per cent behind the peaceful protesters and those who have tried everything possible for so long to advance a message of anti-racism and tolerance.
“They have done everything right,” she said. “They are fed up. What Trump did last night (hoisting the Bible for a photo op after peaceful protesters were attacked) was absolutely disgusting. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. … I feel so empty today.”
Keiser lives in the suburbs, about a half hour from Altanta proper, which has become like a war zone as well.
The fear of bloodshed in a country that feels like a dictatorship these days is intense.
Keiser fears that if Trump loses the presidential election in November he will not concede, which will lead to even more unrest.
Another thing she fears is that someone might try to assassinate Trump, which would ignite supremacist supporters to raise their guns in retaliation.
“The next couple of weeks will be telling. My grandchildren will read about this in the history books,” she said.
Angry at America
For Americans living in Newfoundland and Labrador, the turmoil is also unsettling.
“It is extraordinarily sad and I find that I don’t recognize the country I left, but then I left it,” said Richard Ellis, librarian emeritus from Memorial University, where he began work in 1971 after relocating from Seattle, Wash.
A year before, members of the Ohio National Guard fired at Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine Kent State students. The May 4, 1970, protest happened during the Vietnam War era.
“In Canada, we have immigrants from many countries. … They look back and see turmoil in those countries and it may not be the same turmoil,” Ellis said.
“We all of us who are immigrants wish that things, for the sake of our memories and the people who are still there, were different.”
Steve Carr was teargassed at Michigan State University in 1972 in a peaceful protest against the U.S. offensive in Cambodia — the students were chased into the campus buildings by police and hauled out.
The protesters thought they were modernizing the country.
“Forty-eight years later, it ain’t changed all that much,” said the Memorial University biology professor.
Donald Trump is demonstrating hubris, he said.
“The president is supposed to defend the country and he has attacked the country,” said Carr, who became a Canadian citizen last July, but retains his U.S. citizenship.
Carr also fails the president for not having done what he should have to prevent the 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, particularly as it has been most devastating among African-Americans.
“Historically they don't have (sufficient) access to private health care. They are being killed,” Carr said.
In a New York Times report, Trump is heard on a phone call with governors calling them weak and urging them to use force against protesters.
Carr said it is telling about how Trump's mind works, and the electorate, beyond Trump's supporters, were cheated of a president who would have known how to properly handle the situation.
“I sound angry because I am angry,” he said.