To Rakeem Jones, flanked on all sides by uniformed sheriff’s deputies, it was more than just the shock of being ejected from a political rally for Donald Trump. The black man felt as if he was being transported back in time.
“It’s not the America they portray on TV,” the 26-year-old said, the day after he was wrestled to the ground by officers and punched in the face during the campaign event in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
But to friend Ronnie Rouse, who caught the incident on video, it was “totally American.”
“This is the America everybody wants to ignore,” the music producer told The Associated Press Thursday. “This is the America, when people tell you, ‘Oh, racism doesn’t exist.’ It’s here.”
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What should we make of scenes like this Wednesday evening at Crown Coliseum?
They have become a regular thing at Trump rallies, and while security experts say Trump has every right to quash dissent at events he’s paying for, they say the Republican front-runner is playing with fire by not tamping down uncivil behavior and assault.
“I would go so far as to say that I find that abhorrent,” security consultant Stan Kephart, a former police chief in Arizona and California, says of Trump’s failure to call out his pugnacious followers. “To me, he’s pressing the line. He’s doing things that you would see a showman do.”
What’s Trump’s attitude about all of this?
He once said he’d like to personally punch a protester in the face, and has pledged to pay his supporters’ legal bills if they get in trouble.
He’s spoken fondly of the “good old days” when police could rough protesters up without fear of backlash. “But today,” he said Wednesday in Fayetteville, “they walk in and they put their hand up and they put the wrong finger in the air … and they get away with murder. Because we’ve become weak.” Trump also told the Fayetteville crowd about one past protester, “a real bad dude,” who punched people. “And we had some people — some rough guys like we have right in here — and they started punching back. It was a beautiful thing.”
In Fayetteville, strong words between Trump supporters and protesters quickly ignited.
Rouse said his group was reacting to an insult against one of their party when they were suddenly swarmed by officers, and Jones was thrown to the floor. As he was being led away, Jones said he could hear Trump shouting, “Go home to your mama.” Jones’ mother died eight years ago.
Jones said the man who hit him was allowed to stay, but on Thursday, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department charged John Franklin McGraw of Linden, North Carolina, with assault and disorderly conduct.
The role of law enforcement in these situations is not simple.
“We respect folks’ First Amendment rights to free speech. We’re not there to police the protesters,” said Robert K. Hoback, a spokesman for the Secret Service, commenting on reports that Secret Service agents escorted protesters out of a recent Trump event in Georgia. He said they only act on threats to the “protectee.”
Crowd control expert Paul Wertheimer, who has been keeping track of Trump events, said he hasn’t seen any instances where law enforcement or private security have overstepped. But he thinks the candidate should show more tolerance for protest.
“Mr. Trump is a wise and wily man,” said Wertheimer, head of Los Angeles-based Crowd Management Strategies. “I think he, in general, knows what he’s doing, and he does this intentionally to stir up the crowd.”