In the midst of a year’s worth of scandal in a week, it’s hard to squeeze in the obvious, even when it’s captured on video in living color. But in almost any other time in history, Turkish goons beating and kicking protesters on American soil would have shocked a nation.
It’s a mark of these tumultuous political times that an act of outrageous viciousness this week by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bodyguards on peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C., has barely caused a public ripple.
There’s a very important bit of insight hidden within this observation. No one who can spell his name would think Recep Tayyip Erdoğan anything other than a vicious authoritarian. When that’s your reputation, it alters expectations. After all, what kind of people would such a guy have protecting him? Just because Erdogan is in the United States doesn’t mean he stops being Erogan, or that his “security” detail stops being thugs.
But when it comes to beating protesters on American soil, that’s the job of our police, not theirs. They don’t know their place.
The videos of the attack are disgusting. Two black-suited security men, one after the other, kick the face of a protester holding a bullhorn as he lay defenseless on the ground. They punch other protesters indiscriminately, chasing some around the park as police try vainly to separate them. Two women huddle on the ground, an overturned baby stroller nearby.
While the video of Erdoğan’s black-suited thugs kicking a protester in the head as police gingerly try, to little avail, to prevent it, is shocking, it’s even more shocking that they allowed their own to be harmed without pulling a weapon.
In all, 11 people were injured, including a police officer and two Secret Service agents, as police monitoring the protest were overwhelmed by the speed, ferociousness and scope of the attack.
It’s one thing to have a foreign dictator’s bodyguards following orders by attacking protesters, but to allow it at the expense of police and Secret Service agents is a direct violation of the First Rule of Policing. That’s almost inconceivable, as any inkling of a threat is good enough to kill. Yet, not a goon was harmed or arrested.
And what was the official response to this outrage?
The State Department communicated “our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms” and summoned the ambassador for a discussion, some members of Congress expressed outrage, but the White House has remained silent and three days later news coverage has faded.
Well, a condemnation “in the strongest possible terms” will surely make Erdoğan feel the sting, though it’s hardly surprising that the White House had nothing to say. They’re kinda busy over there lately, and the State Department’s job is to speak for the administration on issues of international relations. They did. They expressed their “concern.” Doesn’t it make you swell with pride at our effectiveness in addressing authoritarian abuse by foreign government thugs on our soil?
That the police were ill-equipped to deal with this attack against protesters, against the right to protest and the right of free speech, appears obvious. What were the chances that a small group of protesters would present a need for a more significant police presence? What were the chances that a foreign dictator’s bodyguards would do something this outrageous? Obviously, far better than the police anticipated.
But then, Erdoğan is what he is, and Turkey, despite its value to the United States as a strategic ally, lacks our constitutional values of protest and free speech. What’s outrageous here is what they do normally there.
It’s a reminder of the value of free speech and what becomes of it when black-suited goons decide that people with whom they disagree don’t deserve to be heard. Or more to the point, deserve to be silenced, attacked and beaten.
It’s not as if we would want, not less tolerate, black-suited thugs of our own to do anything like this to silence speech because they disapproved. Much as we might expect no less from the thugs that “protect” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from the unpleasant sound of protesters, and its incomprehensible tolerance* by our law enforcement, we certainly expect far better of ourselves.
*The media reports that the bodyguards are protected from prosecution under diplomatic immunity. Whether or not that’s correct, they are not protected from a club to the head or a well-aimed bullet when they are threatening harm to a police officer who must defend himself from the swarthy hordes.