The following article was submitted to Where the River Frowns by Clara Voyant
The President announced his August 30, 2018 visit to Evansville with only a week’s notice. In that week of preparation, residents braced for the onslaught of such an infamously entitled and obtuse crowd of Trumpsters. The preparations resulted in a reactionary protest of 500-600 people, as estimated by the Evansville Police Department.
The last active president to speak in our city was Reagan in 1986. Some folks speculated as to why a presidential appearance now, feeling suddenly relevant and simultaneously paranoid to what the attention means for the political future of the region. Indiana’s Republican Convention was also held in Evansville this year breaking protocol of its usual home in Indianapolis.
Although tickets to this event were free, Evansville residents are stuck paying for the addition law enforcement and public safety agencies employed to police it. According to the Courier and Press, “A total of 368 law enforcement officers were present during the event. This number does not include the Secret Service or federal agencies that protect the president.” According to other press releases, Trump’s visit was to promote Republican candidates for upcoming elections and there is speculation that he intends to do so again in November.
What follows are firsthand observations from the event illustrating the cult of personality of the president and how removed he is from the ordinary lives he presides over.
In the early morning, on the day of Trump’s arrival, the perimeter of the Ford Center was closed off and “swept” several times for security drills and clearance. Police and sheriff presence appeared to triple throughout the entire city accompanied by fine-tailored secret service agents calling out directions. Roadblocks, closures and detours made a labyrinth of residents’ routines and work routes. Multiple surveillance cameras and guard posts were set up on downtown rooftops overlooking a one-block radius from the Ford Center. A privately owned grounds crew consisting of mostly brown and black workers combed the landscaping for cigarette butts and litter. Black and brown merchants were first to set up, followed by traveling vendors in what became an outdoor mall of Trump’s unaesthetic branding. Event-goers lined up hours before the doors opened claiming public benches, walkways and storefronts spiraling around the arena; in doing so virtually camping amongst each others garbage. Police funneled attendees into three different sections: one for ticket-holders at the entrance to the Ford Center, the second, was off to the side of Ford Center, on Locust and 9th Street to separate protesters from Trump supporters as designated by organizers and the police, and the third area was on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard across from the Ford Center entrance for random congregating public. Meanwhile, the president arrived at the Evansville Regional Airport on Airforce One and was escorted by Secret Service through secured and restricted highways and streets to the Ford Center’s private back entrance. There haven’t been any candid images or sightings of the visiting President published.
The Evansville Police Department Vanderburgh County Democratic Party chairman had stated that they would not tolerate “troublemakers” and expected protesters to gather in the designated area far from sight of the Ford Center entrance and Trump supporters. Several Evansville groups totalling hundreds followed those suggestions and found themselves only amongst themselves for a better part of their collected effort. Anarchist protesters stood visibly in opposition to Trump on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard with an elaborate, unforgettable Trump effigy calling out “Different fascist asshole, same old fascists tricks,” and they were dancing to songs such as “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump) Pt 2” by YG featuring G-Eazy & Macklemore and “This is America” by Childish Gambino.
Naysayers were plucked from the audience inside the Ford Center as their challenges to the administration became apparent. One rogue protester who wore a garment inspired by Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was removed from inside due to the conveniently unannounced private status of the event, which allowed organizers to eject attendees at their discretion. Another protester was removed without given reason after interrupting the President’s inaccurate claims of the nation’s financial security. One more almost made it through wearing a cleverly altered Trump hat stating “Make America Gay Again.” Each rejected audience member was welcomed and consolidated by the protesters on the street.
Eventually the two counter-events merged in front of the Ford Center, which resulted in a rupture of proclamations chanted as confrontation against Trump, his supporters, and the fleet of law enforcement standing between supporters and protesters. Protesters shouted to police, “Whose community do you serve?”
On her way to join other protesters, a woman walking alongside the police station was punched in the face by a Trump supporter who fled into the waves of merchandise and peddlers while officers overlooked the incident.
As the night went on, more people filled the streets and voices grew louder. The police escalated their barricade with airsoft rifles, smug faces and a horse-mounted unit leaving horseshit where the police established a blockade.
Predictably, the threshold broke when police allowed a man (Jeff Hamm) wearing a Trump shirt to cross into the protesters’ front line as he taunted and waved a Trump flag. A protester snatched the flag and dodged as the Trump supporter followed and threw punches. Both men were brought to the ground, arrested and separated by police.
Another protester anonymously wrote to Where the River Frowns about the incident as well, saying:
At the Trump Rally, a man clad in Trump merchandise, Jeff Hamm, gallivanted across a wall of police to wave a Trump flag on the protesters’ side of the street. This was obviously an antagonistic tactic to rile up the protesters. A protester slipped the flag out of the the Trump supporter’s hand and tried to run off with it, but Hamm ran after the protester to attack him. The police grabbed Hamm by his arms, detained him, and removed him from the vicinity. As for the protester defending himself from the attack, police officers brought him to his knees as if he were the initial threat. The crowd was yelling things like “Black Lives Matter” and “don’t shoot,” as this man complied and remained calm. When asked why they were detaining this innocent black man, EPD commanded us to “back the [expletive] up,” using their pellet guns to intimidate us into submission. The protester and Hamm were both detained at the same time, but Vanderburgh County did not post Hamm’s mugshot on their recent bookings webpage. I’m assuming this was done to protect his identity. IndyStar released an article on this incident, in which EPD completely reversed the roles of these men with their statements.
Complaints were called in to the department to address why both men were charged with battery when only the Trump supporter was physically violent, why the Trump supporter’s mugshot didn’t appear on recent bookings although the mugshot of the protester who was attacked did, and, further, why the two are charged with the same crime, when the Trump supporter’s Facebook page shows his premeditated intent to “be rolling coal on those bitch ass protesters as soon as I get off lol”. It’s worth mentioning in our racialized social climate that in both cases of assault, the assailant was a white Trump supporting man and the two folks who were attacked were people of color.
The activities of the day were combined with frustration and release as hundreds of diverse people strongly opposed the standing president and his mass of supporters in plain sight. Many protesters’ after thoughts during after parties were of political invigoration and worth-it-ness, new or closer bonds and acknowledgement of the importance of inclusive direct action and experience in what community can feel like–something quite new to so many in Evansville, IN.
In the weeks following, folks have ruminated about Trump’s visit on social media as they recollect and share their experiences. In anticipation of future political participation, Evansville Critical Thought Collective hosted a Know Your Rights event by the Civil Liberties Defense Center, which consisted of a video training and discussion focusing on activism and confrontation. Nothing further has been released on the two arrests during the August 30th protest or when or if to expect another visit by Trump. However, there is much still to do.