Republican Sen. Mitt Romney joined anti–police brutality protesters in Washington Sunday, a symbolic rebuke of not only the current state of policing in the U.S., but of President Donald Trump’s handling of the civil unrest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. On the 10th day of protests outside the White House, the Utah senator, wearing a mask, spent an hour and a half at the demonstration near the Capitol, an aide said. During an interview, Romney said he showed up because “we need to end violence and brutality, and to make sure that people understand that black lives matter.”
Whether Romney’s presence is significant or just symbolic likely depends on if it prompts others in his party to speak up. Romney has stepped up and spoken out against Trump in the past, most recently voting for his impeachment for abuse of power, but it failed to galvanize any meaningful principled opposition to the president. That is likely to be the case once again, but it’s hard to overstate the massive shift in popular opinion not only supporting the demonstrations but acknowledging the deep and destructive racial inequality in the country. One need not look further than the NFL’s rapidly evolving stance on police violence and systemic racism, the same league that three years ago froze out Colin Kaepernick for kneeling in protest during the anthem and then condemned those who followed in his footsteps. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said on Friday. “We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter.”
Romney’s affirmation that “black lives matter” is further evidence of what has been a sweeping change in how much—though not all—of America views the Black Lives Matter movement and the issues that underpin it. The former GOP presidential candidate is the highest-profile person in his party to not only come out in support of the protests over police brutality, but to literally say the words black lives matter. Elected Republicans have shown an unfamiliar willingness to condemn the police response that killed George Floyd last month, and some have even expressed support for the right to protest, but they have almost uniformly stopped short of a wider critique of American policing.