THE sight of Liverpool players taking the knee in memory of George Floyd at Anfield on Monday was remarkable and moving. Anyone who remembers how racism besmirched British football only a couple of decades ago could only watch in amazement. Cue David Beckham tweeting his solidarity with the protesters on the streets of American cities.

That racism is now socially unacceptable represents huge progress, and should be celebrated, even as we recognise that racial injustice still exists and that atrocities still happen, especially in America. Black people there are twice as likely as whites to be killed by police.

Footballers, like Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, say they want “justice” for Mr Floyd, killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25. But unusually, in this instance, there has been justice – of a sort.

Unlike in previous cases of police brutality, like the savage beating of Rodney King in 1992, the murder of Trayvon Martin in 1995 or the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, there seems very little chance of the Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, escaping justice for what he did.

He was promptly arrested and charged with murder and manslaughter. His fellow officers, who apparently stood idly by while Mr Floyd was asphyxiated, have also been fired.

There was universal revulsion across America last week at the footage of the Minneapolis martyrdom and great public sympathy for Mr Floyd’s family. Even the conservative Fox News was appalled. For a few days it appeared as if we’d seen a turning point in white middle America – which traditionally supports the police come what may.

That was until they saw businesses being looted, churches burnt and protesters charging police barriers. No one should underestimate just how much these scenes of violence, whoever is responsible, benefit the police and right-wing demagogues like Donald Trump, now presenting himself as the “law and order President”.

These have been the worst race riots since 1968 – 17,000 heavily armed National Guard soldiers deployed in 23 states. Some on the left have been openly celebrating the “uprising” as it is being called. Justifiable anger, they say, at social inequality in a country where blacks, on average, earn a third less than white people (though Asians now top the US earnings league).

Many blame the police for starting the violence, or claim that it has been fuelled by white supremacist agent provocateurs. The difficulty with that argument is that if it really is white interlopers, it should be even more important for the police to enforce the law.

Those celebrating the revolt should remember why the civil rights leader Martin Luther King was a dedicated opponent of street violence. Not because he was a pacifist wimp, or an Uncle Tom, but because he knew it didn’t work. The forces of repression are galvanised when cities burn, and that invariably fuels the politics of reaction.

After the long hot summer of race riots in 1968, which followed King’s assassination by the white supremacist James Earl Ray, it was the right-wing Richard Nixon who went on to win the presidential election that November. Mr Trump doesn’t know a lot of history, but he sure as hell remembers that.

Yesterday my colleague Neil Mackay speculated that Mr Trump might refuse to leave office if he is defeated. I don’t think that’s on the cards: the US constitution, with its separation of powers, is designed to prevent the emergence of an unelected dictator. What I worry about is an elected dictator.

Yesterday Mr Trump promised to deploy the US army to “dominate” the state governments who had shown themselves to be “weak” and led by “jerks”. This is deeply worrying because it takes control of the means of violence out of the state governors and into the hands the Commander in Chief, one Donald Trump, in Washington.

It is supposedly illegal to deploy the standing army on US soil, as anyone who has seen the 2015 film Sicario will recall. But Mr Trump has invoked the 1807 Insurrection Act to combat what he is now calling “terrorism” in the US. He calculates that imposing effective martial law will help salvage his sinking presidency.

His Democrat rival, Joe Biden, has finally emerged from coronavirus lockdown and joined demonstrators in Wilmington, North Carolina. But Mr Biden is in a bind. He can’t afford to alienate the many white and black voters, like Mr Floyd’s brother Terrence, who are appalled by violence and looting. Nor can he appear to be echoing Mr Trump in condemning it.

Members of Mr Biden’s campaign donated funds to the defence of those arrested in the Minneapolis riots. That was manna to Fox News and the legions of Trump supporters who’d been looking for reason to keep faith with the POTUS despite his evident failings. Mr Trump’s approval rating among Republican voters is running at 80 per cent.

Mr Biden failed to stamp his personality on the coronavirus epidemic, which of course is still raging and likely to cause another spike among African Americans who’ve been gathering together in protests in precisely the concentrations that spread the virus. He desperately needs to clarify his message if he wants to defeat the incumbent.

He won the Democratic primaries with the help of the black vote, but he can’t win the Presidency without the whites. According to the latest US Census, 76% of Americans are white against 13% African American or black. And not much more than half of blacks actually vote.

From our viewpoint it may seem incredible that Mr Trump has any prospect of re-election. The European media is firmly with the protesters, on moral grounds at least. Twitter is in meltdown. Here, even Conservative newspapers like the Times and the Telegraph have muted their criticism of righteous anger on the streets.

But America is another country. It’s not hard to find the large numbers, not just on the alt-right, talking about “tooling up” and “defending their neighbourhoods” now the police have “given up”. There’s growing support for #2A, which refers to the Second Amendment to the US Constitution asserting the right to bear arms. Americans are buying guns right now in unprecedented volumes.

America is not a country with troubles to seek: 100,000 dead from coronavirus, 30 million out of work and now a race war. It would be a tragedy if all the protests achieved was the re-election of Donald Trump.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

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