The first night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention on Monday probably went about as well as possible from the party’s point of view. The overriding aim was to present a united front, and all wings of the party, including its ever-more-powerful Republican wing, turned up to intone the same message: Donald Trump is an existential threat, and Joe Biden is the only answer. Bernie Sanders showed how much of a team player he is. Michelle Obama gave perhaps the most lacerating speech of her political life. The whole thing wrapped up just four minutes over schedule. (Of course, this is how the 2016 convention went too, so.)
For those of us who are not fully Ridin’ with Biden, however, the evening unfolded as a series of increasingly pointed indignities. (Please save your comments about how the DNC isn’t “for me” and that the message likely worked for “normal people.” Duh. I am not doing punditry right now.) The most abject moment probably came when Sanders had to make a pitch for Biden’s laughable healthcare plan, but John Kasich assuring Republicans that Biden wouldn’t move to the left if he got into office was pretty grim too.
Nothing was more insidious and hypocritical, though, than the way the convention handled this year’s mass uprisings. 2020 has seen a national campaign by police and their partners in power to suppress the growing protest movement through mass brutality. Most of the brutality has occurred in cities run by Democrats. There is simply no getting around that, just as there’s no getting around Biden’s deep complicity in the creation of the modern carceral state.
So instead of trying, the DNC pretended that none of it had ever happened. Just about the only time that this summer’s police brutality got specifically mentioned was when speakers, including Michelle Obama, referenced the federal officers who tear-gassed protesters in front of the White House. To hear the Democrats tell it, this was the only instance this summer when cops got out of hand. Their preferred message looked more like this:
Worse, the DNC actually gave some of the people overseeing police brutality a platform, and used them in conjunction with the families of martyrs like George Floyd and Eric Garner in enraging ways.
Floyd’s family, for instance, was introduced by Washington, DC mayor Muriel Bowser, who was filmed overlooking the recently christened Black Lives Matter Plaza. Left unmentioned was the fact that Bowser’s police force pepper-sprayed protesters near that very plaza, or that she vigorously opposed attempts to cut her city’s police budget.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, appeared in a roundtable segment with Biden himself, along with Houston police chief Art Acevedo—whose history is, shall we say, checkered—and Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose government is still going after protesters, like, right now. That led to this excruciating moment:
I am not here to tell the Garner or Floyd families what to do. But they deserved better than to be used in this way.
Conventions aren’t the world’s most important events, but they are signposts about what a party supposedly stands for. The hollow cynicism of the DNC’s approach to policing suggests nothing good about what it will do if it ever gets into the White House.