America convulses amid a week of protests, but can it change?

Black Lives Matter

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All week, the images of an American reckoning accumulated — peaceful demonstrators calling for racial justice; phalanxes of riot police poised for clashes; urban centers aflame with scattered violence; a moat of metal erected around the White House; a president demanding military suppression of an “angry mob” before theatrically brandishing a Bible.

The scenes laid bare the struggle for unity against deepening division in America 2020. By week’s end, the unfolding events — at times uplifting, at times shocking — crystallized around one overriding issue: What kind of country are we, and what kind of country do we want to be?

The knee on the neck became as real as it has long been symbolic. The viral image of George Floyd gasping for breath, a policeman atop his limp body, fused with the historic metaphor that for 400 years has described the violence and racism aimed at black Americans — the original sin of a great nation.

A series exploring the political dynamics surrounding the crises facing America.

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Whether these events will move the country closer to its long-cherished ideal of equality may be years in the answering, but the past days have suggested that something is changing. The protests reached into every corner of the United States and touched nearly every strand of society.

What began as one more outpouring in reaction to one more killing of an unarmed black person seemed to take on a desperate, new urgency in a year of cascading crises: impeachment, pandemic, massive unemployment and racial upheaval.


[Voices of Protest: People speak about the moment and what it means to them]

President Trump caused the first of these crises and compounded the others with his conduct. His often incendiary words, his divisive record on issues of race, seemed to act as accelerant to the forces that swept this week across the American landscape. It was the president who echoed the words of a racist police chief from the 1960s in a tweet saying that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Image: Thousands of protesters march through downtown streets in Minneapolis on May 31.

The protests began in Minneapolis, where Floyd died, but soon migrated to the doorstep of the White House. Crowds multiplied, and among them were people who said they felt compelled to turn out only after seeing protesters gassed and bludgeoned to clear a path for Trump’s photo op outside St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House.

As Trump yet again threatened to undermine constitutional norms — this time by turning the nation’s military against its citizens — he faced an extraordinary backlash. His own military advisers voiced muted dismay. Several of the military’s most distinguished retired commanders, including the first defense secretary of the Trump administration, rebuked the sitting president in unprecedented fashion, effectively describing him as a threat to the country.

The coronavirus pandemic and the battered economy will be on the ballot in November when Americans pick a president, and those issues will be on the agenda of whichever candidate, Trump or former vice president Joe Biden, wins the election. But so, too, now will issues of racial justice, racial inequalities and the persistence of racism. If the past seven days have proved anything, it is that those issues will not easily be ignored and that the time of choosing is underway.

Since Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, public protests have erupted in every state in the nation as well as in the District — at least 700 in all, according to a count compiled by USA Today. Demonstrations as small as a few dozen people to some numbering in the many thousands have taken place not just in the country’s biggest metropolitan areas, but also in smaller cities, towns and suburbs, from Boise, Idaho, to Fargo, N.D., from Appleton, Wis., to Belfast, Maine.

More than 30,000 National Guard troops have been activated across more than two dozen states. More than 10,000 people have been arrested, according to an Associated Press tally. The eyes of the world watch uneasily as America burns with outrage. Demonstrations in the memory of Floyd and in protest of police violence have taken place in roughly two dozen countries around the world.

In the District, Merianne and Louis de Merode were among those in the crowd near Lafayette Square on Tuesday. Merianne, 64, and Louis, 71, had been sheltering at home since the coronavirus began to spread several months ago. With compromised immune systems, they feared that falling ill with covid-19 could become a death sentence for one or both.

Then they saw the park forcibly cleared of peaceful demonstrators on Monday afternoon, ultimately to make way for a presidential appearance. “We were not coming down here for four days, because we were frightened it was going to be too compromising for our health,” Louis de Merode told The Washington Post’s Peter Jamison. “Then things started piling up in our brains and our hearts, and we both decided that we couldn’t not do it.”

Image: A police cruiser burns during a protest in Philadelphia on May 30.
Officers converge on a protester in New York City on May 30.
A gas station convenience store in Minneapolis is broken into on May 29.

LEFT: Officers converge on a protester in New York City on May 30.. RIGHT: A gas station convenience store in Minneapolis is broken into on May 29.

‘It was heartbreaking’

May 31, a Sunday, opened on a tense note. In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz (D) appealed for calm and healing after another night of violence in the Twin Cities. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D), struggling to prevent more violence in her city, urged the president to keep quiet. “He should just stop talking,” she said. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Trump’s rhetoric was “the opposite” of what should be coming out of the White House.

Saturday had been a night of mayhem in many cities, as peaceful protests during daylight hours turned to rioting and looting after dark. Law enforcement clashed with protesters in city after city. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County. Police cars were set on fire in New York City. In Omaha, a white business owner shot and killed a black protester. In Dallas, a machete-wielding business owner was badly beaten by protesters.

The protests that Saturday night were a repeat of what had happened on the Friday, as anger over Floyd’s killing gathered force and spread far beyond Minneapolis. In the District, surging demonstrators gathered in front of the White House. When a few were able to breach temporary barriers near the Treasury Building, Secret Service officers rushed the president and his family to the bunker beneath the White House compound for safety.

Later in the week, after his trip to the bunker had become public, the president, apparently stung by charges that he was hiding out in the White House, claimed that he had merely gone to the bunker for an inspection tour.


[With White House effectively a fortress, some see Trump’s strength, but others see weakness]

Trump tweeted on the Saturday morning that he had watched “every move” of the protests. Had the demonstrators managed to get onto the White House grounds, he tweeted, they “would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have really been badly hurt, at least.”

On Saturday afternoon, after celebrating the successful launch of two U.S. astronauts aboard a commercial SpaceX rocket, marking the resumption of manned space missions from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly a decade, Trump’s tone softened. In remarks at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, he said:

“Yesterday I spoke to George’s family and expressed the sorrow of our entire nation for their loss. I stand before you as a friend and ally to every American seeking justice and peace. . . . Healing, not hatred, justice, not chaos, are the mission at hand.”

Back in the White House on Sunday morning, the president shifted his focus once again to the protesters, announcing in another tweet that the federal government would designate antifascists known as antifa as a terrorist organization, accusing the loosely organized group of stoking violence, though without offering evidence.

Many of those protesting on the streets decried the violence as well, with some demonstrators trying to stop those engaging in destructive conduct. Some business owners whose property had been trashed sought to express sympathy with the underlying motivation of the protesters even as they surveyed what had happened to them.

Michelle Brown heard just after midnight that her Teaism restaurant in the District had been badly damaged. As she prepared to head to the restaurant, she sent out a message on Twitter: “Before anyone puts a single word in our mouths. Black lives matter.”

The damage to the restaurant was severe. Police would not let Brown enter the property. “It was heartbreaking” to see what had happened, she told The Post’s Emily Davies. “But this moment is not about us.” She added: “I think the protests are great and I think they are warranted.”

Whatever hope might have existed for a cooling of temperatures quickly evaporated overnight that Sunday. Once again, streets erupted with demonstrations that turned violent and in some cases deadly. New York was hit hard again. There was gunfire in Detroit and Indianapolis and Chicago. By the end of the weekend, more than 4,000 people had been arrested across the country.

In Louisville, David McAtee, the black owner of a popular barbecue restaurant, was shot and killed as police and National Guard troops clashed with protesters. They opened fire after being fired upon, according to local news reports. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) ordered an investigation. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) fired Police Chief Steve Conrad after learning that police officers had not activated their body cameras.

In the District, protesters vandalized or broke into businesses in several parts of the city. Lafayette Square across from the White House became the scene of more violent protests as demonstrators and law enforcement clashed. Protesters pulled down an American flag at St. John’s Church, and a fire was set in the church basement. Though quickly extinguished, the church fire added to images of a nation in flames, with local officials and law enforcement appearing overwhelmed.

Image: Police carry off a protester on I Street NW near 16th Street NW in Washington on June 1.

‘This is our time’

If the anger continued to build on the streets, the same thing was happening inside the White House as the president monitored developments on television. On Monday morning, his anger boiled over as he berated the nation’s governors on a conference call. “You have to dominate,” he said. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you. You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”

A person monitoring the call, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share observations, said it was “the most unhinged, insane thing I’ve ever heard out of Donald Trump.” An audio recording of the call was obtained by The Post.

As Jeffry Guerrero walked along Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday, he reflected on the things that had changed in the span of just a few days — and the things that had not.

“We live in a world where our voices don’t matter,” Guerrero, a 25-year-old from Gaithersburg, Md., who is black, told The Post’s Rachel Chason. “This that we’re seeing is the result of generations of feeling like we don’t have a voice.

He said he knew change would not come easily but was hopeful. “What I think is different in 2020 is a lot of the youth are participating,” he said. “This is the start of a revolution.”

Just after 4 p.m., hundreds of protesters stopped in front of the Capitol. Chants of “No Justice, No Peace” mixed with the music of Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino, which protesters blared from their smartphones. A group of young African Americans danced, stepped and swiveled to the deep bass of “This is America.”

Kenneth Hammond, 26, threw his hands in the air, then clapped and whooped for the dancers, all of whom he had just met. “More of the same from Donald Trump,” he told The Post’s Rebecca Tan, referring to what Trump had told the governors earlier that day.

He turned to his new friends, asking if any of them were worried about the potential escalation of force in the District. “Yo! Any of y’all scared?” The crowd responded: No.

“Look at these people,” Hammond said, gesturing to the crowd. “They’re mad as hell. Every generation has their time, and this is our time. We’re not going to stop until he’s gone.”

From there, events spiraled toward chaos and dissension. By Monday afternoon, protesters again filled Lafayette Square, peacefully assembling to air their grievances over the killing of Floyd and to demand action against discrimination and racism. At first, the demonstrators were well separated from the line of security forces guarding the White House.

Shortly after 6 p.m., Attorney General William P. Barr was spotted arriving near the square, where he huddled briefly with several other people, who gestured toward the square as one checked his watch. It was about this time that the White House announced that the president planned to make a statement from the Rose Garden.


[Barr seeks to calm unrest by ‘flooding the zone’ with federal firepower]

Barr later said that a decision had been made much earlier to extend the perimeter protecting the White House north to beyond Lafayette Square but that the order had not been executed. Justice Department officials said Barr issued the order to clear Lafayette Square, but on Friday, the attorney general told the Associated Press that though he had been frustrated that the perimeter had not been extended, he had not given the “tactical” command for it to be moved.

About this same time, White House staffers were telling the Secret Service that Trump planned to visit St. John’s Church after his remarks. Barr said he was not aware of those plans.

Barr soon left the park. About 6:27 p.m., the line of security moved directly in front of the demonstrators. Park Police said later that protesters began throwing water bottles and other projectiles at the security forces. Post reporters at the scene could not confirm that. Other people disputed the Park Police statement.

At 6:35 p.m., security forces moved aggressively to clear Lafayette Square, wielding their shields to attack the demonstrators and using pepper balls and chemical spray to disperse the crowd. Cable television captured it all live. The violent removal began just before Trump began to speak.

“I am your president of law and order, and an ally of all peaceful protesters,” he said. “But in recent days, our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, antifa, and others. A number of state and local governments have failed to take necessary action to safeguard their residents.”

Trump demanded that mayors and governors quickly restore order to their cities. “If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

When he spoke of constitutional rights, he did not mention the right to peaceful assembly but said he was prepared to mobilize all federal resources “to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights.”

He finished by saying he would soon “pay my respects to a very, very special place.” Within minutes, the gates of the White House opened and the president, accompanied by a group including Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, marched across the park to stand in front of St. John’s Church.

Image: President Trump passes a building defaced with graffiti by protesters in Lafayette Square across from the White House after walking to St John’s Episcopal Church on June 1 for a photo opportunity.

There, Trump held up a Bible as photographers and camera crews recorded the scene. He made no formal remarks. Asked for his thoughts by a reporter, he said, “We have a great country.” He then asked several of those in his entourage, including the defense secretary, to join him for another photo.

Trump’s actions — his words in the Rose Garden and his photo opportunity in front of the church — marked a dramatic escalation in tensions in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing. The president’s threat to deploy the U.S. military, without the consent of governors, onto the streets of American cities to battle against mostly peaceful demonstrators was almost unthinkable. And reaction came swiftly.

The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, had not been informed that the president intended to use St. John’s for the photo op.

“I am outraged,” Budde told The Post. “Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence. We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.”

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) called Trump’s action “truly shameful.” But former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker (R) lauded Trump, saying it would be hard to imagine any other president “having the guts to walk out of the White House like this.” The conflicting reactions of the two politicians symbolized the hardening of views about the president.

The immediate response that night was only a small sign of what was coming.

Image: Demonstrators near the White House on June 1.

‘It sickened me’

As Tuesday dawned, debris from clashes littered the streets of the nation’s capital where rolling convoys of military vehicles and new fortifications going up around the White House made clear that authorities were girding for more.

As if to symbolize the sense of foreboding, a woman strolling along the streets a few blocks away leaned over to pick up a shiny black object, only to find herself clutching an unexploded “flash bang” grenade.

There were also signs of a profound shift in mood and mind-set, indications of a broader awakening.

Across the Potomac River, work crews took advantage of the early quiet in Alexandria, Va., to remove a statue of a Confederate soldier that cast his gaze to the South. For years, black residents had chafed at the presence of the marker. By 9 a.m., it was gone.

Other statues would soon also be toppled, among them a likeness of Philadelphia’s race-baiting mayor of the 1970s, Frank Rizzo. And the governor of Virginia announced plans to take down a towering memorial in Richmond to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

In Annapolis, retired U.S. Navy Adm. Michael Mullen had spent Monday evening in a state of agitation, scribbling his thoughts onto pieces of paper. By midday Tuesday, he was sharing drafts of an extraordinary statement condemning the president, his voice the first in what would become an unprecedented chorus of former senior officers condemning the commander in chief.


[CIA veterans who monitored crackdowns abroad see troubling parallels in Trump’s handling of protests]

Mullen had joined the Navy in the late 1960s at the height of an earlier period of racial turbulence in the country, and of Vietnam-era protests that turned millions of civilians against those in uniform. He had risen through the ranks to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Through nearly a decade of retirement, he had adhered to a long-standing code that flag officers and general officers should stay out of the political fray, at times even scolding peers who had spoken out for or against Trump.

But Mullen was troubled by images of National Guard units sweeping into Washington. Concern became alarm when he learned that Trump and Esper had used words like “dominate” and “battlespace” in their call with the nation’s governors on Monday morning.

Mullen’s first draft was written before armed units fired gas and rubber bullets to clear the path for Trump’s walk to St. John’s. He found himself staring in disbelief at images of protesters being pummeled with batons and shields, of Esper and Milley striding beside Trump as if part of some conquering contingent, culminating in Trump’s triumphant, Bible-raised pose.

Mullen tore up the first draft and rewrote it with language of visceral outrage, according to former officials close to the admiral.

“It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel — including members of the National Guard — forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square,” he wrote in the first sentence of the statement he published in the Atlantic on Tuesday. Trump’s conduct “laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces.”

His confidence in the military remained unshaken, Mullen said, but “I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief.”

It was an astonishing rebuke that ricocheted through Washington. But it was only the beginning of a broader backlash from an echelon Trump claimed to revere and often referred to as “my generals.”

For many Americans, the “Battle of Lafayette Square,” as one columnist dubbed it, was upsetting in purely visual and emotional terms. But to Mullen and others, the offense was far deeper.

The use of military force for political ends is a defining characteristic of tin-pot despots, a practice regarded with revulsion by Mullen and his peers. Adding to their disgust was the fact that the White House had made a video of the visit to the church and promoted it, campaign-style.

Trump had gone further in trying to politicize the military, and test its constitutional allegiance, than any president in memory, one former U.S. military official said. “That’s what made Monday such a precipice moment,” he said.

Image: National Guard troops near the White House on June 2.

‘Angry and appalled’

Those who had joined Trump in approaching that precipice spent much of Tuesday backpedaling.

At the Pentagon, unnamed subordinates to Esper began telling reporters that he did not know that he was accompanying Trump to a photo op when they crossed Lafayette Square, or that the park had been forcibly cleared to enable their sojourn.

Esper has been mocked by some at the Pentagon as “Yesper” for his perceived desire to please the president. In a news conference on Wednesday, he broke with Trump publicly over the response to protests, declaring that he was against the use of active-duty forces in American cities.

Milley, who occupies the job that Mullen once held, also moved into damage-control mode. He issued a memo on Tuesday afternoon to leaders of the Army, Navy and other service branches that “every member of the U.S. military swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution and the values embedded within it.” Among them, he said, is that all people should be treated with dignity, and possess “the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.”

Though it did not mention the name of the president, the memo was widely interpreted as a rebuke of Trump and the way protesters’ rights had been trampled at Lafayette Square.

One more prominent military voice was yet to weigh in.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis had, like Mullen, resolutely refused to comment on politics after resigning 18 months ago as secretary of defense. He had chafed under Trump as the president trashed U.S. allies and threatened to abandon battlefield comrades in Syria, but Mattis had also endorsed controversial missions such as deploying troops to build barriers at the border with Mexico.

Mattis’s resignation letter to Trump delivered a thinly veiled parting shot, saying the president needed to find a Pentagon chief “whose views are better aligned with yours.”

But even in his subsequent memoir, Mattis mostly refrained from direct criticism of the commander in chief. When he saw Milley patrolling Washington’s streets in a battle fatigue uniform after taking part in Trump’s trip across Lafayette Square, Mattis reached what those close to him described as a boiling point.

“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” he wrote in a statement also published by the Atlantic. He had by then read Mullen’s statement, and his rhetoric was equally strong.

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us,” he wrote. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort.”

Though their messages were not coordinated, Mattis and Mullen arrived at similar conclusions. Combined, they had spent nearly a century in uniform, a span that included wars from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. Now retired, each had come to regard the extreme polarization of the country’s citizenry as the greatest existential threat to the American experiment — with Trump serving as an agent of division and destruction rather than of unity.

As if to confirm Mattis’s assessment of the president’s temperament, Trump responded on Twitter with an amalgam of falsehoods and insults, saying incorrectly that he had fired Mattis and calling him “the world’s most overrated general.”

Image: Tracey Cox VanDyke prays on June 2 in Louisville near the intersection where David McAtee was fatally shot on May 31.

‘It is called the American Revolution’

The atmosphere in downtown Washington continued to crackle with tension. On Tuesday, one protester, Nicholas Hilliard, 25, saw a woman walk by in a construction helmet and asked if he could buy it. When she responded quizzically, he revealed a dime-sized wound on his forehead.

“I was hit with a rubber bullet,” he told The Post’s Jessica Contrera.

“Take it,” she said, tossing the helmet before walking away.

In the end, there was little need for such protection that evening. The crowds came back, despite a 7 p.m. curfew. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was among those who ventured downtown to take in the scene.

By 10 p.m., only a few hundred protesters were still gathered outside the barricades at Lafayette Square. Some brought out trash bags to pick up bottles and other discarded items, after waiting for a moment of intensity that never came.

On Wednesday, Haley Mahon was among the hundreds gathered on Capitol Hill, chanting Floyd’s name, her right fist raised toward the baking sun. Her first protest had been the Women’s March in 2017, but the 21-year-old African American generally never felt compelled to join other campus protests at American University.

“For me, this was a tipping point,” she told The Post’s Hannah Natanson. “I realized that I could actually get out and make a difference.”

She has started to sign petitions, donating to groups assisting victims of police brutality and is considering a change in her plans for the future. Until this week, she had intended to work as a teacher in Haiti. Now she would like to teach in the District, to help shape the next generation of Americans and to help shape a country she is newly confident requires her help.

“Whatever I do,” Mahon said, “I will keep this momentum going.”

Beyond Washington, the debate on racial justice was reaching with new urgency into every sector of society. Former president Barack Obama delivered an address online in which he gently upbraided those who would condemn the protesters, saying “just remember that this country was founded on protest — it is called the American Revolution.”


[All four living ex-presidents draw a sharp contrast with Trump on systemic racism]

There were also prominent figures who seemed not to grasp the way the terms of debate over race relations had shifted during the week, weighing in on the issue in ways they seemed quickly to regret.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in a video interview on Wednesday that he could “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.” His remark came after he’d been asked about the kneeling protests that swept the league in 2016, led by former quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Brees’ comments quickly went viral, drawing passionate responses across the sports world and from members of his own team. “We’re done asking, Drew,” said receiver Malcolm Jenkins. “And people who share your sentiments, who express those and push them throughout the world, the airwaves, are the problem.”

Brees issued an apology the next day on Instagram alongside a photo of clasped white and black hands. His comments, he said, “lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy.”

Image: Protesters march toward the Capitol in Washington on June 3.

The long struggle for change

The killing of George Floyd has tapped into society in ways no recent such event did. Condemnations have come from all directions, often with expressions of commitment to address not only issues of policing in minority communities, but also the more intractable problems of inequality and racism.

The voices calling for change include elected officials in both parties, leaders of religious, academic and philanthropic institutions, corporate executives on behalf of their organizations, law enforcement officials and others.

Many who appeared slow to grasp the significance of moment have drawn sharp criticism and, like Brees, have quickly sought to make amends. Brees later found himself criticized by Trump for doing apologizing, but late Friday, the National Football League issued a statement saying it was “wrong” not to have listened to players and now encouraged “all to speak out and peacefully protest.”

Some institutions have been convulsed by the roiling debate as issues have expanded beyond race to speech. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has faced an internal revolt over his decision to let stand rhetoric from the president that critics say violates the company’s policies. The New York Times was challenged by hundreds of its employees after publishing an opinion piece by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) headlined, “Send in the troops.”

Many people see the past week as the beginning of a turning point, in attitude if not necessarily in action, on the broad issue of race in America. But in a deeply divided country, where lines had formed before Trump was elected and have hardened since then, changes as profound as those being called for now come slowly, if they will at all.

As the week continued, even under the glare of a nation now fixed on police behavior, more disturbing videos surfaced. In Buffalo, cameras captured police shoving an elderly man, who fell backward onto the pavement, lying motionless as blood pooled beneath his head while the line of police keep walking by. On a hike-and-bike trail in Washington suburb of Bethesda, a video captured a man assaulting a young teen, tearing away leaflets that were being posted.

The ebb and flow of events, not just over the past seven days but over a much longer sweep of time, are a reminder of the long struggle for change, of the push for progress and the pushback by those resisting. The cries from the streets this week represent that demand for change, but history shows that the violence that sometimes accompanies otherwise peaceful protests can snuff out those calls for justice.

In 1968, after a year of assassinations, antiwar protests and a bloody clash at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that was later declared by a review board as a “police riot,” Richard M. Nixon won the presidency running as the law-and-order candidate and the champion of a silent majority. Trump, by virtue of his words this week, is making a bet that his path to reelection lies along the same road. Biden, meanwhile, believes that in November, America will want a healer to help stanch the bleeding.

In this moment, Trump is on the defensive. Recent national polls have shown Biden with a lead outside the margin of error. The RealClearPolitics poll average shows the former vice president ahead of Trump by seven points. Three new Fox News polls show Biden leading Trump in Wisconsin, narrowly ahead in Arizona and roughly tied in Ohio, where Trump won by eight points in 2016.

In the six states considered the most important November battlegrounds — Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Arizona — Trump is not leading in a single one, according to the RCP polling average of each.

Image: Cicely Parnas plays her cello on East Lake Street in Minneapolis on June 1.

The November election will determine who leads the country over the coming four years. It will not resolve the question of whether the current response translates into something concrete. Leadership from the White House will be vital in that effort, as the country witnessed in the 1960s when President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But that progress in the 1960s could not have come without the civil rights struggles that preceded those congressional debates and votes — years of struggle and of violence aimed at those speaking up for change. Today, the country appears united as never before on at least some aspects of an agenda to address the racial problems that still persist, despite measurable progress

Real change often happens only from the bottom up. The nationwide mobilization in response to the killing of George Floyd — and of other black men and women — is emblematic of the beginning of that kind of movement, but not yet of the realization of the changes those in the streets and others who share their aspirations are seeking.

A series exploring the political dynamics surrounding the crises facing America.

Swipe to view more stories.

Rachel Chason, Jessica Contrera, Alice Crites, Josh Dawsey, Emily Davies, Peter Jamison, Hannah Natanson, Missy Ryan, Samantha Schmidt, Patricia Sullivan, Rebecca Tan, Julie Tate and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

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