Black protester gets punched in the face at Trump rally. Will it hurt Trump?

Jonathan Drake/REUTERS
A black demonstrator raises her fist in protest against U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as police officers approach to remove her from a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina on Wednesday. Trump was interrupted repeatedly by demonstrators during his rally.

Donald Trump’s bombastic reputation could come back to haunt him after reports that an anti-Trump protester was punched in the face at a Trump rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Wednesday.

Rakeem Jones, a 26-year-old African American man, attended the rally with a “diverse group” of friends, including a woman, a gay man, and a Muslim. Although Mr. Jones says that his group did not begin the violence, his female friend began to yell during Trump’s speech.

The protester was being escorted out of the Trump rally by men in Sheriff’s deputy uniforms when he was suddenly punched in the face by a Trump supporter. Videos taken from several angles show Mr. Jones being handcuffed by officials while on the ground.

“Boom, he caught me,” Jones told The Washington Post. “After I get it, before I could even gain my thoughts, I’m on the ground getting escorted out. Now I’m waking up this morning looking at the news and seeing me getting hit again.”

What some observers found to be the most disturbing part of Jones’ story is that police chose to handcuff him after he was punched, instead of pursuing the man who punched him.

“It’s like this dude really hit me,” Jones told The Washington Post, “and they let him get away with it. I was basically in police custody and got hit.”

Ronnie Rouse, one of the men who attended the rally with Jones, captured one of the many videos of the violence. Mr. Rouse said that somehow the crowd knew immediately that he and his friends were not Trump supporters, and they were quickly escorted out by police.

As they were leaving, Rouse says that somebody in the crowd shouted at them, using a nasty racial epitaph.

Trump campaign events have been known for their violence in the past. At one event on February 22, Trump said that he would like to punch a protester in the face. At another event last November, Trump said that one particularly obnoxious protester should be “roughed up.”

Will Wednesday’s incident (and Trump’s immediate lack of comment) help advance the idea that he is a racist, spurred in recent weeks by his initial failure to disavow former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s endorsement?

Some political scientists say no. “I don’t think that the racist label will stick,” says American University professor Dr. Jan Leighley in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor, “regardless of what he says or does.” She added that his less ardent supporters may be less willing to support him as a result, however. 

It all stems back to Trump’s anti-politically correct reputation. Dr. Leighley says that although Trump has made some comments that many believe are racist, his support base is of the mindset that “racist” is a label that is emblematic of the very forces of political correctness that they are fighting.

Others, like Dr. Timothy McCarthy of Harvard University disagree. “Donald Trump is definitely a racist,” said Dr. McCarthy in a phone interview with the Monitor.

There is also disagreement on whether or not Trump incites violence at his rallies. “I certainly wouldn’t say he’s doing anything to promote it,” says Leighley, but “he’s made emotional appeals to individuals that encourage strong reactions and scapegoating from a lot of people with unhappy attitudes towards the system and the world.”

Usually, says McCarthy, it is difficult to determine cause and effect between political rhetoric and violence at rallies like Trump's, “but with Donald Trump, I think it is a lot easier to find that cause and effect. There are acts of bullying and violence that are being justified by the same language Donald Trump is consistently using at every turn.”

While Leighley cautions that this mindset is not indicative of every, or even most, Trump supporters, she says that the candidate’s emotional strategy certainly has some appeal.

Dr. Leonard Steinhorn, also of American University, says that although there are many voters who are uncomfortable with Trump’s divisive racial rhetoric, he is tapping into resentments that have long been under the surface. We’ve seen this before, he says, from former President Richard Nixon’s appeal to the Silent Majority, and former President Ronald Reagan’s talk of the welfare queen.

Ilya Sheyman, executive director of Political Action, a progressive public policy group, issued a statement in response to the video, saying, “The footage of a Trump supporter punching a nonviolent protestor in the face is deeply disturbing. This shameful and disgusting act is just the latest in a pattern of violence at Trump's rallies that's been incited by the candidate himself.”

Cumberland County (N.C.) Sheriff's detectives arrested John Franklin McGraw, the man who allegedly punched Jones, this morning. 

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