Black Lives Matter protesters need to pack up and go home.  

Yes, protesting against racially motivated police brutality is a righteous cause. But at this fragile moment in time — eight weeks out from the most important election in American history — the rioting, violence and looting swirling around the protests presents a danger that is too high a price to pay.

President Donald Trump has made restoring order to riot-torn streets across the country a cornerstone of his campaign. It effectively distracts from his failure to control the mounting coronavirus death toll, insane unemployment numbers, 360 degrees of self-dealing corruption, and veteran-trashing comments so grotesque they rival Trump’s infamous remark that his celebrity permits him to grab women’s genitalia.

Anyone with a lick of common sense understands that Trump’s efforts to blame the current cross-country upheaval on former Vice President Joe Biden are bunk. But that didn’t stop Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas from tweeting an ad with images of the protest pandemonium happening during Trump’s presidency, and selling it as the future under a Biden presidency. 

Trump’s substantial blame for turmoil

Trump’s attempt to foist responsibility onto Biden is cause for concern. Longtime racial equality activist Isaac Wallner, who has been protesting in his hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin, worries that the street violence will help Trump’s reelection campaign. CNN host Don Lemon told his viewers that the riots were working in Trump’s favor: “It’s showing up in the polling. It’s showing up in focus groups. It is the only thing … that is sticking.” And two friends of mine, both diehard Democrats who look at Trump the same way they do a kitchen cockroach infestation, have wondered out loud whether Trump or Biden will be better at keeping the peace.

Part of Trump’s success in projecting his own failures onto Biden is the fairy tale that Biden could have used his time in the White House to end a problem that is 244 years old and an essential ingredient of the American stew. The other part is that when the streets are burning, people gravitate to the person screaming “LAW AND ORDER!” the loudest.  

End the chaos: When Black Lives Matter protests turn violent, Donald Trump gets just what he wants

Last week, Biden gave a full-throated condemnation of the rioting. But until recently he appeared hesitant to say anything that could be interpreted as criticism of protesters or their cause. People who live in some of the cities with the worst destruction are understandably angry at Democratic leaders who appear fearful of using force to restore order. In sharp contrast, Trump has been pounding the war drum, offering federal law enforcement assistance to squelch the unrest.  

The irony of Trump’s effort to cast himself as the law and order candidate is that Trump bears substantial blame for the turmoil. Less than two weeks ago, a caravan of his supporters descended on Portland. From trucks displaying “Trump 2020” banners, they shot BLM protesters with paintball bullets and pepper spray. Instead of condemning his supporters, Trump called them “GREAT PATRIOTS!” and characterized them as participating in a “peaceful protest.” 

And Trump sounded less like a president last week than a defense attorney for Kyle Rittenhouse, the Trump devotee charged with murdering two men in Kenosha. Trump all but announced that Rittenhouse was justified in shooting the men in self-defense. The violence has blown both ways. On Aug. 29, a member of the far-left Antifa movement allegedly shot and killed a right-wing activist from a pro-Trump caravan that was clashing with BLM supporters in Portland. 

President Donald Trump talks to business owners in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sept. 1, 2020.

As the protests move into their fourth month, it’s evident that they are not just about the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, or the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, at the hands of police. The protests persist because the man at the top has refused to acknowledge the broader social ill they reflect. Identical incidents would not have resulted in four months of chaos if Barack Obama were still president, or if Bill Clinton or one of the Bushes were in power.  

Ignoring a worthy call for help only makes the calls louder, the anger greater, and the options more desperate. Trump has done worse than turn a deaf ear, he’s come down on the wrong side of the moral border — defending those he should condemn and condemning those he should defend.

No more excuses: It’s foolish and selfish to ignore COVID-19 precautions. You’re endangering the rest of us.

For all that Trump lacks, and the list is long, he has an innate ability to sniff out the fear and anger that exists to some degree in us all. Trump knows how to goad broad swaths of America’s population. Once he decided that chaos in the streets could help him get reelected, Trump repurposed himself as an accelerant. Violence and destruction were inevitable.

A week ago, Trump tweeted a campaign ad pledging greater funding for police expansion. The video showed Trump walking through Kenosha building rubble, pointing a finger at the aftermath of destructive protests.  What was notably missing was any recognition of the acts of racial inequality that prompted the protests in the first place.  Also missing was any criticism of the Kenosha Guard, a paramilitary group that organized a “call to arms” in the hours that preceded some of the most destructive and violent rioting in Kenosha and the shooting that resulted in the double murder charges against Rittenhouse.

Don’t give Trump traction in final days

As the election countdown begins, we should assume that Trump will continue to act as the political reptile he has always been — ignoring bad acts by his supporters while condemning virtually identical acts by his political foes. Trump will also continue to claim that he alone can bring peace to America’s streets, positioning himself as both arsonist and fire fighter.

In a tight election, in which Democrats are fighting against a coordinated federal effort at voter suppression that includes wounding the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to deliver mail-in ballots, every misstep can be fatal. Anything that gives Trump traction in these final weeks must end.  

That means Democratic mayors and governors need to come to grips with the fact that they can support Black Lives Matter and still use force to end the rioting.

That means Democrats need to keep their mouths shut, and Twitter fingers still, when they see news footage of law enforcement using reasonable force to end the destruction and violence. Arresting someone with a gun, brick or Molotov cocktail is never pretty, but it’s necessary.

And that means Black Lives Matters organizers need to tell legitimate protesters to go home. Let the streets of Portland and Kenosha be awash in a sea of MAGA hats, not BLM T-shirts.

I understand the danger of ceding the streets to white supremacists. But I predict they will disappear when there is no fight to be had and their presence exposes ownership of their misdeeds.

The idea of giving up any constitutional right, even momentarily, is difficult to stomach. But the battle for racial equality stands an infinitely better chance under a Biden administration than a second Trump term.  

So, to the protesters who understandably feel moved to do something today: Join a voter registration campaign, volunteer to drive voters to the polls, or help out at a call bank that reaches out to potential Democratic voters. But stop allowing Trump to use your image as the face of America out of control.

If there was ever a time when the greater good is best served by a strategic decision to refrain, it’s now. 

Michael J. Stern, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, was a federal prosecutor for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelJStern1 

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump law-and-order campaign would deflate without BLM street protests

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