Column: Today’s ‘civil war’ is an attack on the rule of law

By: - November 5, 2021 4:01 am

Trump supporters protest at the state Capitol on Nov. 8, 2020. Many of the protesters were motivated by baseless allegations that Joe Biden cheated to defeat Donald Trump. | Jeremy Duda, Arizona Mirror

There is a civil war underway in America.

It’s not the same sort of war we fought more than 150 years ago, when Americans took sides on whether slavery was good or evil, donned blue and gray uniforms, then  slaughtered each other on the battlefield.

This is a war that’s happening in slow-motion, a largely low-intensity conflict in which one side is guided not by a concerted military strategy but a Civil War-era mentality that asserts that only white people — preferably white men — have a right to determine our country’s destiny.

It’s an anachronistic view I thought we’d begun to leave behind nearly 60 years ago with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the federal legislation that ordered (but obviously did not achieve) an end to racial discrimination in America.

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This is a war where a woman named Heather Heyer was murdered in the streets of Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 by a white supremacist who rammed his car into a crowd of peaceful anti-racist protesters.

The night before, a group of neo-Nazi protesters, who then-President Trump later described as “very fine people,” had marched through the streets of Charlottsville chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”

The man who killed Heyer was convicted of first-degree murder. This week, a separate civil trial began for racist extremists who prosecutors say conspired to wage violence against Blacks, Jews and other people of color that weekend in Charlottesville.

This is a war where a white man drove a van to Pittsburgh in 2018 and opened fire, killing 11 people who had gathered for prayer in a neighborhood synagogue. The incident was the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

This is a war where a white man in 2019 drove a pickup from a Dallas suburb to El Paso and shot and killed 22 people. Almost all of them were brown, almost all of them of Mexican or Mexican-American origin. They were killed because he considered them “invaders,” instead of what they were — ordinary people with jobs and families shopping at a local Wal-Mart.

This is a war where a white man drove around Atlanta in March and perpetrated a killing spree that left eight people dead, including six people of Asian descent. The Atlanta killings are among thousands of hate crimes recorded over the past year and a half since Trump began erroneously blaming Asian Americans and Asian immigrants for the spread of COVID-19.

This is a war where police officers, almost always white, have been killing unarmed Black and Brown people — especially Black men — in a decades-long wave of violence that’s laid bare the institutional racism that pervades so many of our country’s law enforcement agencies.

Most of us have come to know their names: George Floyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Elijah McClain, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Dion Johnson, Antonio Arce and so many others.

And names keep getting added to the list.

This week, three white men are going on trial for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man who was shot and killed while jogging through a white neighborhood. In this case, the defendants weren’t cops, but claimed they were making a citizen’s arrest under a Civil War-era Georgia law that Cornell University criminal law expert Joseph Margulies described to National Public Radio as “basically a catching-fleeing-slave law.”

The thing about today’s civil war is that virtually all of the threats, violence and killings are being perpetrated by one side.

It’s the same side that mounted the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 when a mob of Trump supporters intent on overthrowing the government tried to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election because of Trump’s false claims of mass election fraud.

It’s the same side that’s behind a growing wave of violent threats against election officials across the country who disagree with unsubstantiated claims that President Trump won last year’s election.

The targets of those threats include Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who told a U.S.  Senate Committee recently about a woman who left a voicemail in which she said, “I am a hunter — and I think you should be hunted. You will never be safe in Arizona again.”

It’s the same side that’s threatening school officials nationwide in opposition to the masking rules meant not to infringe on people’s liberty but to save the lives of children — and their families — by stemming the spread of the deadliest pandemic in over a century.

The proper response to this escalating one-sided civil war and its mounting threats of violence is not a wave of counter-violence, but an adherence to the rule of law.

Despite today’s disturbing trends, I still believe the great majority of Americans trust that we can resolve our differences without having to resort to violence in the streets.

But it’s time for the country’s elected leaders and our justice system writ-large to stand up to those whose real objective is not the preservation of freedom, but an attempt to quash the constitutionally established rights so many in our history have fought to preserve, including the right to be treated equally no matter our religion, origin or the color of our skin.

Today’s war is one in which our faith in a fair and just society, and, yes, our civility, must win out if we expect to avoid the unimaginable alternative, America as a 21st Century battlefield.

This column first ran in the Advance‘s sister outlet, the Arizona Mirror. Read it here.

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James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia

James E. Garcia is a journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ.