Like pretty much everyone on the planet, I think 2020 sucks. So much for a year that sounds a lot like the measurement used to describe perfect vision… But maybe the description fits better than we ever expected. This year has brought our failings into sharp focus, from how we handle social services in the midst of a global disaster to how we mistreat and murder American Citizens on a daily basis.
No one could have expected the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or the global shuttering of public gathering places ranging from hair salons to restaurants to sports arenas. The impact of “lockdown” on everyone in terms of lost business revenues, lost jobs, and lost dreams is incalculable, although I know lots of people try to quantify it and will continue to do so for years to come. Fear of the virus, chaotic and contradictory reactions from government officials and agencies added to the trauma, both tangible and psychic, leaving people huddled in our homes, uncertain, frightened, and all too susceptible to despair.
Then we had, not one, but multiple killings of black people within a few short weeks in different parts of the United States. The death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, caused by a police officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 48 seconds, was the last straw. The killing was like that final grease drop on a barbecue that causes the whole thing to go up in flames. And our country is still burning, thanks to a Commander in Chief who has encouraged police to use excessive force, hid in a bunker, then lied about everything. Again.
I’m sure there are playbooks on how to handle civil unrest. If Donald Trump knew how to read (I’m not convinced he does), I would think he found the best of them and chose to do the exact opposite of what was recommended. Not only has he sent uncounted tweets inciting violence against American Citizens, he has done everything according to a dictatorship playbook. I honestly believe he wants more blood in the streets, American blood shed by American soldiers. It’s something a tyrant would do, to call out active duty military to murder their fellow citizens in cold blood. And that is what he is. A tyrant.
Or rather, that’s what he would be.
The good news is that this is not the first round of civil unrest this nation has gone through, nor is it the worst. Our one and only Civil War still holds the record for that, at the moment. More good news comes from the fact that we have amazingly dedicated people in our military, people who understand what our Constitution says and why its words matter. Words like what is written in the First Amendment:
Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Forty-five words, 272 characters (including spaces). Unlike modern bloated legalese, these words were crafted, honed to concise near perfection by the people who set them down on parchment as guidelines for a young and uncertain nation. This simple paragraph grants American Citizens the freedom to worship (or not) as we please, to gather in peaceful assembly, and to tell our government when it has screwed up.
And it has. Massively and repeatedly. The consistent persecution of people of color, most especially black people, is constant and chronic. And it must stop.
Since the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 (the disease you get from the virus) forced so many of us to lock ourselves away, shuttering ourselves in our homes to reduce the spread of the disease, about 61% of Hispanics and 44% of African-Americans said they or someone in their household was laid off or had their wages cut in April, according to a Pew survey. The number for white people were significantly lower.
It’s now June, and I doubt the job loss numbers for anyone have gotten any better. That means months without income, months without knowing when or if you will be able to do basic things like pay rent, cover utilities, or buy food for you and your family. I know how much of a whack job I feel like these days, and I’m fortunate enough to have those basics covered. I cannot imagine the mental and emotional torment that millions of my fellow Citizens are feeling right now.
“Ok, fine, I get it,” you say. “So what does all this have to do with the riots?”
For those of you who still don’t understand what the protesting and riots are about, let me break down how this perfect shitstorm came to pass…
- Systemic economic hardship in the United States for anyone who isn’t white.
- Constant and chronic persecution by law enforcement and white supremacists, both of whom are barely prosecuted for their crimes, if at all.
- A history of police brutality and killings of young black men, often without probable cause or provocation.
- A President who, for over 1,200 days in office, has incited violence against anyone he doesn’t like, which includes all people of color, women, and anyone who disagrees with him.
- The intense fear factor (read: terror) created by COVID-19.
- The loss of jobs, businesses, and any plans for the future because of social distancing and lockdown.
- Multiple high-profile killings of black people within the past few months, most involving current or former law enforcement personnel.
- The death of George Floyd.
The question really shouldn’t be, “Why are blacks so angry?” A better question is, “What can we do to stop this?”
I’m hearing that second, better question being asked more and more. And I’m hearing people suggesting positive actions to take, as well.
Now, I’m not going to go all Pollyanna on you. We are far from being out of the woods, but I am seeing signs that the People have had enough. They are hearing the voices of the legitimate protestors, and finally they are taking a stand.
Earlier this week George F. Will penned a scathing op-ed article calling, not only for the removal of Trump, but also for the removal of all GOP Congresscritters from office. Then former Secretary of Defense USMC General James Mattis issued a public statement defending the protestors and calling Trump out for deliberately working to divide us. Businesses, large and small, have issued public statements in support of #BlackLivesMatter and calling for an end to white supremacy in this country. (One of the best is from Ben & Jerry’s, IMO.)
Better than all of this, however, I have seen people I know and work with, people I don’t discuss politics with, asking questions, GOOD questions, about what is really going on and what we can do to make things better.
So, for the first time in months, I have hope. It is still a fragile and vulnerable thing, but it’s there.