Staff Columnist

'Tread on thee, not on me'

When a black American was killed by a government official literally treading on him, many of my friends in the 'Don't Tread On Me' crowd went quiet.

Protesters gather outside Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz' official residence Thursday, May 14, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn., to cal
Protesters gather outside Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz' official residence Thursday, May 14, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn., to call on him to loosen restrictions imposed across the state because of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Americans are lashing out against the government’s belligerent use of force, but they are worlds apart.

First, there were gatherings staged against governors’ pandemic shutdown orders. I agree with the protesters who say the state should not rely so heavily on men with weapons to enforce executive edicts.

But when a black man was ruthlessly killed in the street — by a government official literally treading on his body, setting off tense but mostly peaceful protests in Minnesota and elsewhere — many of my friends in the “Don’t Tread On Me” crowd were nowhere to be found.


As conservatives and libertarians, we must recognize this is one of the greatest hypocrisies in our ideological movements — one that robs us all of credibility when we denounce state violence.


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Of course, I don’t mean all my fellow conservatives. Many politicians, commentators and regular folks on the political right were appropriately enraged by the scene in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died after an officer used his knee to pin down Floyd’s back and neck.

But we know the foot soldiers in the right-wing campaign against extreme police powers — from 2020’s anti-shut down protesters to the radical sovereign citizen types who have engaged in armed standoffs with the government — are not the ones organizing Black Lives Matter meetings.

The only explanation that seems to make any sense of the apparent selective outrage is racial bias. As conservatives and libertarians, we must recognize this is one of the greatest hypocrisies in our ideological movements — one that robs us all of credibility when we denounce state violence.

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My friend Khayree Duckett, a black man with ties to Republican politics in Iowa, aptly summarized the situation in a Facebook post: “The rank and file in the party of so-called limited government go missing every time black men and women lose their lives at the overzealous hands of state actors.”

I don’t believe all good people need to speak out against every injustice, nor that silence always means acceptance. People are allowed to pick and choose which issues they are most concerned with. But when the injustice is so grave and the stakes so high, we all are called to take sides.

Thanks to shows and movies on streaming services, there is renewed interest lately in the federal sieges at Ruby Ridge and Waco, where the killing of American citizens by federal agents became clarion calls for a rejuvenated right-wing anti-government movement in the 1990s. Those are complicated stories, but I am firmly on the side opposed to the government’s extremely violent responses.

If you can sympathize with Randy Weaver or David Koresh — armed white men targeted at Ruby Ridge and Waco — surely you can extend a little bit of grace to George Floyd, whose story isn’t very complicated at all: He was unarmed when he was accosted by police in suspicion of a non-violent offense.

If you think Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents are tyrants, but you blindly support your local police department, you are doing it wrong.

I believe in the “Don’t Tread On My” mantra — it’s even tattooed on my body — but what I’m really hearing from some flag-waivers is “tread on thee, not on me.” At this moment in history, our slogan is inadequate and it needs an update.

Don’t tread on black people. Don’t tread on the poor, the vulnerable or the outcasts. Don’t tread on anyone.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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