Leading Up to the RNC: An Astonishingly Violent and Tragic Week

By heat-wave standards, Sunday began as a beautiful morning. I said as much to a checker at a Safeway in my neighborhood.

“Really nice today,” I offered. “And nothing bad has happened.”

“Yeah,” the checker said, and paused. “Not yet.”

My wife and I went to the Dupont Circle market, bought some hefty tomatoes and peaches and scones and those great crab cakes they serve up there.

We didn’t realize “something bad” had already happened.


I turned on the computer and there it was, another “oh, no” moment in the Google headlines: Three police officers dead in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, others wounded, one critically.

For Baton Rouge, this was yet another horror in a time of horrors. This was the town where police officers had shot Alton Sterling, a black man, under controversial circumstances only two weeks before. This event, and the similar shooting of Philando Castile in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, had sparked demonstrations, many of them under the banner of Black Lives Matter, all over the country. In the wake of those shootings, five Dallas police officers were murdered by a lone black sniper at the end of a demonstration that police had been watching over.

Last Wednesday, an eloquent but frustrated President Barack Obama had presided over a nationally televised, emotionally wrenching memorial service for the slain officers.

Two days later, a man — described later by Islamic State sources as a ‘soldier’ — drove a jumbo-sized truck onto the promenade in Nice along the French Riviera, a prized vacation spot in the midst of Bastille Day celebrations, killing more than 80 people (including several Americans as well as 10 children) before being killed in a shootout with police. While the world recoiled in shock from yet another apparent terrorist attack in France — the third in two years — news sources were reporting the beginning of a military coup against the government of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, creating more shock and confusion, before it appeared to have been quelled, with significant casualties and mass arrests, by Monday.

Almost drowned in the increasingly disturbing news from everywhere else was Donald Trump’s both awkward and somewhat anticlimactic selection of Indiana Governor Mike Pence to be his running mate. The choice, leaked at flood levels on Friday by the ubiquitous anonymous sources “who asked not to be identified” (on account of the likelihood that they’d be fired), was seen by equally ubiquitous strategists as Trump not being Trump, but yielding to appeals of reasonableness by his new handler (or his daughter Ivanka).

The big-splash announcement came in the evening at a hotel, with a rambling introduction of Pence by Trump in which he talked mostly about himself. Pence, who sounds like Ted Cruz Light in his evangelistic moments but has the appearance of a Roman senator (albeit probably not Cicero), accepted in what seemed to be a come-to-Trump moment loaded with gratuitous gratitude.

Except for the fact-checkers, and the delegates and Trump-watchers gathering in Cleveland for the GOP convention that began today, this rollout was soon more or less forgotten in the wake of the shootings in Baton Rouge. The murder of three police officers — one of whom was an African American, Montrell Jackson, 22, who had become increasingly anxious in his role as a police officer — coming so soon after the murder of five Dallas officers in one night, was increasingly hard to fold into our daily lives. For most of a day, CNN was the principal source of coverage, which came complete with the CNN ticker-tape-on-the-bottom-of-the-screen bells and whistles that only add to the confusion of the day: updates from reporters mixed in with the latest from Istanbul, the motives of the killer in Nice, the sad reports about the victims and interviews with law enforcement officials from all over.

CNN anchors were split between Cleveland — where barricades in the open-carry city were being put up as the city braced itself for the arrival of all manner of demonstrators as well as delegates — and Baton Rouge — where reporters listened to a confused account by an apparent “witness,” who talked about the man with the gun, a body in red lying in the sidewalk, coming face-to-face with the killer, the killer running, the witness running.

President Obama called for an end to the violence and for people to come together and unite. “This has to stop,” the governor of Louisiana cried. “This is not about black and white,” Jesse Jackson said (although a large part of it surely seems to be). “We must come together.” Unity, and finding ways to work together, overcome hate, race, violence — just about everyone had something to say, including, it turned out, the killer, one Gavin Long, a black ex-Marine from Kansas City, who talked about not having any problems with a brother killing police, and who was celebrating his 29th birthday.

Most eloquent was a relative of Alton Sterling, weeping loudly and yelling: “Stop the killing, stop the killing, stop the killing.”

A different tone was adopted by Trump. “We grieve for the officers killed in Baton Rouge today,” he said. “How many law enforcement and people have to die because of a lack of leadership in our country?”

The president continued his note of empathy and sympathy for law enforcement officers. “We may not yet know the motives for this attack, but I want to be clear: there is no justification for violence against law enforcement. None. These attacks are the work of cowards who speak for no one. They right no wrongs. They advance no causes.”

The week — beginning with the memorial services for the officers in Dallas — was by any standards an astonishingly violent and tragic, momentous-news-filled span of time. Other things happened, to be sure, from the mindless pursuit of Pokemon figures to the ascension of only the second female to the office of prime minister of the United Kingdom. In Washington, Baltimore and elsewhere, police officers would be patrolling in pairs. In Orlando, a man walked into a medical office and shot and killed two people early Sunday.

Leading up, as the week did, to the much anticipated by some and dreaded by others GOP convention, promising the nomination of Trump, it served to further unsettle almost anybody paying attention to events of the day. It’s a difficult time for media types, especially on television, where gathering up a nugget of information before anybody else is often more important than achieving clarity and sanity. On television, and on social media, all events are fluid, and ongoing. Catch phrases, new and old, zoom through the airwaves and the internet with the speed of FiOS, a touch on a keyboard, a screen lighting up.

We might begin to achieve just a little dose of normalcy by foregoing the supremely annoying phrase “the new normal,” particularly when it comes to describing terrorist mass murders and the killing of police officers. They are neither new, nor certainly not normal.

In Cleveland, the long hot, really hot, summer begins in earnest today.

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