THE shooting of Jacob Blake, seven times in the back, by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin 10 days ago was one of the most appalling acts of police violence ever recorded on video. The casualness with which officers used lethal force against a black man, who appeared to be offering little threat, was truly shocking.

Yet the response to this atrocity has been strangely muted. We didn’t see the outpouring of anger and protest that followed the killing of George Floyd in May – at least not outside Kenosha, and the war zones of Portland and Seattle.

After Floyd, Black Lives Matter rocked the planet. Young people in American and British cities defied pandemic social distancing and held mass demonstrations claiming: “Silence is Violence” and “No Justice; No Peace”. The call to defund or even abolish the police was embraced by a number of Democrat-led city administrations in the US, like New York and Minneapolis.

That was then. The climate has changed on Black Lives Matter in America. Public tolerance of the riots and looting that have followed the protests has worn thin as cities have been torched night after night. Often, as the New York Times has reported, it has been black and minority ethnic areas that have been hit hardest. Businesses have boarded up their premises and plastered them with appeals to spare them from arson. Then came the vigilantes with their guns.

In cities like Seattle and Portland, Antifa militants and right-wing groups like the Proud Boys have been rampaging around the streets firing pepper sprays at each other. In Kenosha, the pepper sprays became automatic weapons. Groups of white “defenders” waded into the protests over Jacob Blake. Two people died when a young white man, Kyle Rittenhouse, opened fire on Black Lives Matter activists.

Enter President Trump. He has defended Rittenhouse, claiming that he acted in self defence, even though he has been charged with murder. Watching videos of the incident it is clear he was being pursued and attacked, but the men he killed did not appear to be armed. It was a confused and deadly melee, with shots fired by both sides. But one thing is clear: violence has moved to a new and more dangerous level.

The call to defund the police is beginning to lose its lustre. If the police weren’t around, who exactly would have arrested and charged Rittenhouse? Wisconsin is an “open carry” state and, like many American cities, awash with guns. Since the BLM call to abolish or defund the police there has been a notable increase in crimes of violence in many of America’s cities – especially those with Democrat mayors.

Joe Biden has woken up to the possibility that American voters may not be entirely happy with the idea of replacing the police with social workers and conflict-resolution consultants. The Democratic candidate sought to upstage Mr Trump’s mission to Kenosha yesterday by burnishing his own law and order credentials. “You know me,” he told voters in Pennsylvania, “Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters?”. Not perhaps to anyone who knows him , but this was a strikingly direct condemnation of BLM militants like Antifa. Democrats have generally followed the line that BLM demonstrations are “mostly peaceful”– which in general they are, at least during daylight.

The political threat to the Democrats is not just the torching and looting of businesses, which is localised and doesn’t really have an impact in suburbia. It is middle class families worrying that, without the police, they will be left defenceless against crime and that armed vigilantes will take over city streets.

Mr Biden may not have endorsed defunding the police, but many prominent Democrats have adopted it for him. In New York, the Democrat Mayor, Bill de Blasio, cut the NYPD budget by £1 billion. Yet Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most prominent Democrat Congresswomen in America, insisted that this wasn’t enough. “Defunding the police means DEFUNDING the police,” she said, insisting that the cuts were largely reallocations of the police budget.

She is not alone. Democrat mayors in cities like Portland, Seattle and Minneapolis are actively dismantling police resources. They hope to use enlightened, community-based organisations to cure violence by treating it as a health issue. Their problem is that violent crime has increased dramatically in precisely those cities.

In Minneapolis, there has been a 95 per cent increase in violent crime – 42 homicides are currently being investigated, twice as many as this time last year. In New York, a 166% increase in shootings were recorded in August. In Seattle, the city’s first black police chief, Carmen Best, resigned last week over cuts in police budget and “lack of respect for officers”.

Mr Biden has sought to blame Mr Trump. “He’s rooting for chaos and violence,” he said in Pennsylvania. There may well be some truth in that, given Mr Trump’s confrontational style. Sending armed federal agents in military fatigues into cities like Portland may well have inflamed tensions in the streets.

However, it is stretching voter credulity to claim that Mr Trump is responsible for the rioting and looting that has attended Black Lives Matters protests. Liberal academics and politicians, not the President, have sought to portray the violence as a justified response to white supremacy, the legacy of slavery and racism in the police.

It is going to be difficult for the Democrats to pivot to law and order. But crime is now a central issue in this Presidential election. Mr Trump hopes to emulate the Nixon campaign in 1968, which capitalised on race riots. The President has been far behind in opinion polls largely as a result of voter disenchantment with his handling of the pandemic.

The irony of all this is that Mr Biden is arguably tougher on crime than Mr Trump. He was an author of the 1994 Crime Bill with its infamous “ three strikes and you’re out” policy, which incarcerated vast numbers of young black men. Mr Trump’s First Step Act is an attempt to reduce the prison population.

Democrats can only hope that the violence abates in the next 11 weeks and that voters focus again on the pandemic. It would be a tragic irony if, after the shooting of Jacob Blake, Black Lives Matters helps Mr Trump to remain in the White House.

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