Flunking the Test of Character

Donald Trump
Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.

The body cam video of the Milwaukee police officer who initially confronted Sterling Brown is difficult to watch. But you should. The full video is 30 minutes long but you’ll get the picture right away. It’s the story of a small man who abuses the power he is entrusted with. And the same thing is playing out across the country on a daily basis in different forms.

There is no doubt that Brown did something wrong. He parked across two handicapped spots outside a Walgreens. However, as the video shows, this was at 2:00 am and the parking lot was deserted. So, while he broke the law, he didn’t take anybody’s spot away. Still, it was wrong and the cop would have been completely justified to give Brown a ticket.

He didn’t. Instead, the officer kept escalating the situation and, within minutes, a handful of police cruisers had shown up, Brown had been wrestled to the ground, and then tased, even though he had displayed absolutely no aggressive behavior.

Watching the video, I couldn’t help but think that I would have gotten off with a warning in the same situation. After all, no harm was done. But I’m white. Sterling Brown is not.

He is young, black, and drove a nice car — the kind this officer would never be able to afford. It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what caused him to go on a power trip that ended up with the mayor having to apologize, but that’s probably a good place to start.

And we might never have heard about this instance of police brutality if Brown had been just another black man. But he is a professional basketball player for the Milwaukee Bucks and therefore he has a platform to raise awareness of this incident.

As did the Associated Press reporter who tried to do her job of covering an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) event this week but was first prevented from doing so and then manhandled by a security guard.

But most people aren’t professional athletes or reporters, so when an agent of the state violates their rights, roughs them up or worse, nobody will hear about it.

There is no better example than the families torn apart by Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on a daily basis, as the Trump administration cracks down on undocumented immigrants — some of whom have lived in the US for decades and have American spouses and children.

Or the families of migrants coming across the border who are now separated as part of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s inhumane “zero-tolerance” policy.

As diverse as the victims — a wealthy black athlete, a white reporter, and nameless and faceless Hispanic migrants — are, all of these cases have more in common than just being examples of small men abusing their power.

Because these types of people only dare to oppress if they think they will get away with it. So what in the world would make them believe there would be no repercussions here? That’s the wrong question to ask. The right question is: Who would make them believe there would be no repercussions?

The answer: President Donald Trump, who routinely rails against migrants, journalists, and (black) professional athletes.

Just this week, in response to the NFL’s new policy on how players must conduct themselves during the playing of the national anthem, the president suggested that the players who did not stand maybe “shouldn’t be in the country.” Trump has also suggested in the past that cops should treat the people they detain more violently. So surely there can be no harm in roughing up one of these privileged, ungrateful millionaires, right?

Of course, hardly a day goes by in which Trump doesn’t complain about “Fake News,” and at his rallies he has ratcheted up that rhetoric much more, calling journalists “sick people” and “liars” and referring to the media as the “enemy of the American people.” So why wouldn’t a security guard manhandle one of these liars — for the benefit of the American people?

And, triggered by a complaint from Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, who lamented at a White House meeting that California’s laws make it difficult to coordinate with ICE even if she is holding a suspected MS-13 gang member, Trump launched into a rambling statement on people coming into the US.

We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.

The White House insists that Trump was only referring to gang members as “animals,” but his answer isn’t really related to what Mims was talking about. And, in light of the president’s many other statements on Hispanics, there certainly is at least some ambiguity as to what he meant. So why would an ICE officer feel bad about separating those people from their children?

The answer in all of these cases is that the abusers acted in a manner that they figured their ultimate boss, the president of the United States, would condone. That assumption emboldens people with just a bit of power to mercilessly abuse it.

Obviously, some of these abuses have been going on for a long time and it would be foolish to place all the blame for things like police brutality at the feet of Trump. But a moral leader would inspire others to be moral as well. Or, at the least, his words and actions would make them worry that acting immorally would have repercussions.

“If you want to test a man’s character, give him power,” President Abraham Lincoln once said. By that measure, men across all levels of the executive branch are failing miserably — starting at the very top.


The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Donald Trump caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Las Vegas (Gage Skidmore / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Cedar Rapids (Max Goldberg / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), Brentwood, New York (The White House / YouTube), and Sanctuary State Roundtable (The White House / YouTube).

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6 responses to “Flunking the Test of Character”

  1. MacKenzie says:

    Yet Who What Why is (from what I can tell) pro-gun control. So you don’t trust law enforcement (or maybe feel they’re easily swayed by the moral character of POTUS) but yet you want to take away a person’s right to defend themselves?! Does anyone else see the problem with this?

    By the way, back in 1996 Hillary Clinton (who Who What Why seemingly endorsed for POTUS), called gang members “super predators”. I’d say it’s a little “odd” how that was not mentioned in this article, considering Hillary and Trump were the only 2 realistic candidates to win the presidency. For the record, I’m not defending vicious/evil people either (gang member or otherwise). I’m just saying that Who What Why is not telling the whole story here.

    Also you can do a YouTube search for “Hillary Clinton Brags About Voting For A Border Fence To Keep Out Illegal Immigrants” where she says “I voted numerous times, when I was a Senator, to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in.”

    Having said the above, I absolutely do NOT endorse Donald Trump. My point is that Hillary and Trump are BOTH terrible. I just get a strong sense that Who What Why pushes the “democrats are the solution” narrative and I’m trying to show how ridiculous that angle is.

    • Seattle Progressive says:

      You think guns will protect you against the police and the government? Are you insane? Good luck using that AR-15 against the Marines, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, Special Forces, Drones, Nukes, or even just a militarized SWAT team. The whole argument that we need guns to keep our government in check might have worked a century ago. Today? Good luck with that.

    • MacKenzie says:

      I wonder if you’d feel the same way if you lived in North Korea.

    • Augustus says:

      Interesting non-response from MacKenzie. I have an uncle who is career military (retired, chief warrant officer) an avid hunter and gun collector. He’s long been conservative, although now calls himself independent. He made the EXACT same point as you. I think he’d know if he and other gun owners are outgunned (and outmanned) by the police and military. The case is easy to make, and impossible to refute.

      If every 2nd Amendment gun-owning person in this country got together as a militia, they’d still have their asses trounced within a very short span of time. I think the problem with these people is that they are emotionally immature, and unable to acknowledge that they are powerless and vulnerable. Most of these people haven’t served in the military or have any sense of the weaponry the military (and now, police) have. I’ve talked to many who have been in the military, many have concurred with my uncle, that gun owners don’t have a chance against the armed forces. All of these people I’ve spoken with have been gun owners.

      How could a militia with automatic weapons and some explosives hold their own for any length of time against the high tech weaponry of the armed forces? Planes, helicopters, FLIR, advanced explosives technology, the ability to track human beings, highly skilled snipers and Special Forces. These people laud our military for being the best in the world, and nearly invincible, yet think they can muster a fair fight with them?

      Not even laughable.

    • HobeSoundJay says:

      Spot on, mate. If ever Abrams tanks rolled down the street with Apache gunships hovering overhead, my guess is many of the authoritarian-submissive gun owners would quickly become collaborators with the ruling junta regime.

  2. James M Nunn says:

    this is how cops should act/react
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byE5HAdWAuE