Already high racial tensions in the United States could boil over this weekend, as African American protesters and their white supporters, marking “Juneteenth” in Tulsa, Oklahoma, confront Trump supporters holding a campaign rally on Saturday.
The city of 400,000 and its violent past has become a lightning rod for conflict, following global protests over police brutality and racial injustice, in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis while in the custody of a white police officer.
On Friday protesters took to the streets in Tulsa and across the country to mark Juneteenth, when on June 19, 1865, enslaved African Americans in Texas were given their freedom. The day is widely celebrated as the end of slavery in the United States.
But Tulsa is taking on extra importance due to the approaching 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa massacre, when an estimated 300 black people were killed during a race riot.
Reporting dozens of activists and protesters marching Friday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal recounts that dark period of US history:
The details of the 1921 massacre that destroyed Greenwood lay dormant for decades. Now, as the 100th anniversary approaches, the city is finally reckoning with its history of racial violence. A bipartisan contingent of state lawmakers created the 1921 Commission, which is building a history center commemorating the community that once existed and the massacre that destroyed it. It is financially supporting black artists and entrepreneurs and training teachers in how to tell students about its blighted past.
Greenwood, on the north side of Tulsa’s downtown, was once a thriving black business district, nationally known after World War I for its affluent African-American community, according to the Tulsa Historical Society. But in 1921, a young black man was accused of assaulting a white woman in an elevator, sparking a confrontation at the courthouse over his fate.
In response, white mobs destroyed the black neighborhood’s 35 blocks and killed as many as 300 people, historians believe. The rampage was dubbed a riot, which kept insurance companies from having to pay for any of the destroyed buildings, according to the historical society. For decades, even most Tulsa natives knew nothing about what had happened.
Tulsa officials on Friday were preparing for the arrival of up to 100,000 anti-police (and anti-Trump) protesters by boarding up stores and setting up metal fences around the location of the rally, a large arena that Trump says is the kickoff to his re-election campaign.
In a threatening remark similar to his “when the looting starts the shooting starts” the unconventional president tweeted, “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or low-lifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!”
The rally is being held following a string of losses for Trump, including two Supreme Court decisions that went against him – one that blocked the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the other delivering a landmark opinion in favor of LGBTQ workers – along with withering criticism of both his handling of the George Floyd protests and the pandemic, and the release of John Bolton’s book in which the former Trump national security advisor makes a number of allegations.
Only 42% of Americans approve, and 55% disapprove, of the Trump presidency, according to the latest polls.
Despite states being in various stages of reopening their economies, the United States is nowhere near recovering from covid-19.
As of this writing, there were 2,178,710 cases and 118,365 deaths, with 38 jurisdictions reporting greater than 10,000 cases. On the CDC map below, there are 16 states with > 40,000 cases.
This week 10 states saw a record number of coronavirus cases, including Florida, which had the largest one-day count since the pandemic began.
White House officials have ignored warnings from members of Trump’s coronavirus task force, about the health risks of holding large-scale indoor campaign rallies, such as the one planned for the 19,000-seat BOK Center in Tulsa, Saturday.
The Trump campaign is not requiring that masks be worn, and I don’t to see many worn voluntarily among Trump supporters, nor the far-right who attend such events including white nationalists, skinheads, neo-Nazis and armed militias.
An article published earlier this week said there is growing consensus that the major culprits of catching covid-19 are close person to person interactions, for extended periods, crowded events, poorly ventilated areas and places were people are talking loudly (eg. bars, noisy restaurants, protests, campaign rallies).
Key your eye on US news this weekend. A dangerous showdown is forming in Tulsa that could become very ugly in a hurry – as two angry mobs clash in a flammable mix of politics and race, likely resulting in a level of violence and bloodshed not seen in America in decades.
I fully expect to see gold prices soar, as the country slides further into chaos amid a national health crisis – made worse by tens of thousands of people gathering in an enclosed space – ratcheted up racial tensions, and political divisions that Trump, ever the polarizing figure, appears eager to fuel and powerless to stop.
Richard (Rick) Mills
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