How Will the Protest Movement Evolve?

How Will the Protest Movement Evolve?

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Protesters shift their tone — if not their demands — as polls show a hard road ahead for President Trump. It’s Thursday, and this is your politics tip sheet.

  • All four of the police officers involved in the death of George Floyd last week have now been criminally charged — and Derek Chauvin, the officer who pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, even after Floyd had gone unresponsive, faces an increased charge of second-degree murder. Those announcements were made yesterday by Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s attorney general, who took over the case this week from the Hennepin County attorney. But with protests across the country continuing to command the nation’s attention — and, by and large, its sympathies — it remains unclear whether any single development in the Floyd case will alter a movement that has come to represent a wholesale demand for systemic change.

  • Protesters held vigils in memory of Floyd in cities nationwide on Wednesday, embracing a newly somber tone but doing little to quiet their demands. In New York, hundreds of demonstrators sat in silence outside the mayor’s house for roughly 30 minutes. In Washington, about 700 members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division had been dispatched to nearby bases, according to an Associated Press report, but their services were not needed: The city’s largest Floyd protest yet drew thousands to the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon and evening with little incident. Later in the night, in those cities and others, smaller but still formidable groups gathered to thumb their nose at local curfews, insisting on a strategy of civil disobedience against police brutality.

  • Alongside scenes of marchers raising their fists in salute, statues have been tumbling down. In Philadelphia, a likeness of Frank Rizzo — the former police chief and mayor, who was often accused of unjustly targeting African-Americans — came down for good on Wednesday after protesters had defaced it. The governor of Virginia said he would remove a statue of Robert E. Lee in downtown Richmond. And in Birmingham, Ala., the Democratic mayor has pledged to take down a Confederate monument, despite threats of a lawsuit from the state’s Republican attorney general. (A statue of a Confederate officer in a nearby park has already bitten the dust: Protesters in Birmingham clawed it to the ground over the weekend.)

  • The defense secretary, Mark Esper, publicly rejected President Trump’s proposal to invoke the Insurrection Act, which would allow the president to send active-duty military troops into cities to combat protests. “The option to use active-duty forces in a law-enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations,” Esper said yesterday. “We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”

  • Hours later, Esper’s predecessor, James Mattis, who resigned as defense secretary in 2018, issued his most public condemnation yet of the president. Calling himself “angry and appalled” at the unfolding events, Mattis said Trump was “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try.” Esper and Mattis’s voices joined a rising chorus of current and former officials in the military and the C.I.A. who have publicly criticized Trump’s escalating threats against protesters.

  • Snapchat announced yesterday that it would no longer promote Trump’s messages on its Discover home page, the latest indication that he will face a new level of scrutiny from online platforms this campaign season. A week ago, Twitter attached warning labels to some of Trump’s incendiary tweets for the first time. A Times review of the 139 tweets the president sent over a one-week period in May found that one in every three messages contained false statements or questionable accusations. Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has refused to put any limits on promoting Trump’s messages, but that decision has been widely criticized by Facebook’s workers, a number of whom staged a virtual walkout on Monday. Former employees wrote an open letter to Zuckerberg this week, calling his decision “cowardly.”


Credit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

Protesters gathered outside the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Wednesday to demonstrate again racism and police violence.

The Floyd protests have not been kind to Trump in the realm of public opinion.

While he has treated the urban uprisings as an opportunity to exert his powers as commander in chief, various polls released this week have found that most Americans say they see where the protesters are coming from.

Surveys also show that most Americans have doubted the president’s ability to handle matters of race relations from Day 1 — and they’re no more confident in him now.

None of this bodes particularly well for Trump as he looks ahead to a hard-fought re-election campaign. In multiple national polls released this week, he trailed Joe Biden by double digits.

And in crucial battleground states — some of which were solidly Republican as recently as 2016 — Trump is showing signs of vulnerability.

A Quinnipiac University poll of Texas released yesterday found Biden and Trump neck-and-neck in a state that has not voted Democratic for president since the 1970s. That was in large part because of a decline in Trump’s support from white voters with college degrees. Trump beat Hillary Clinton by a two-to-one margin among those voters in 2016, according to exit polls; in the Quinnipiac poll, among educated white voters, he and Biden were statistically tied.

The results are striking, but they are not an aberration. In most presidential polls of Texas this cycle, the difference in support between Trump and Biden has been within the margin of error.

Fox News released surveys yesterday from three other states that Trump won in 2016: Arizona, Wisconsin and Ohio. In each case, the results were forbidding for the president. Biden led by nine percentage points among registered voters in Wisconsin, and four points in Arizona. The Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona, Mark Kelly, was also 13 points up on his Republican incumbent opponent, Martha McSally.

Until recently, most political observers considered Ohio to be rather safe territory for Trump. But the Fox poll there found Biden with 45 percent to Trump’s 43 percent.

In each of the three states Fox surveyed, voters who expressed a high level of interest in the election tended to support Biden.

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