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Shattered state of mind

SoVaNow.com / June 03, 2020
Since we’re all supposed to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, it also shouldn’t be too hard to hold two different thoughts in mind at once. First, the looting and rampant destruction that has beset America’s cities this week is a horrible sight to see: contemptible, dispiriting and utterly counterproductive. Second, police escalation of the street violence — wielded deliberately, with no outward defensive purpose — is worse, since we as a nation entrust law enforcement with the singular authority to inflict state-sanctioned violence as a tool to maintain order and uphold justice. For all its powers, a police force can’t expect to uphold the former without honoring the latter.

The scenes we’ve all seen on TV — of armor-clad officers dispersing peaceful protestors with tear gas and flash bang grenades, of police vehicles barreling into crowds, of reporters bloodied and maimed by rubber bullets fired at their heads — this stuff is indefensible and only serves to inflame a country already ablaze. What day is it today? Time seems lost in a sea of hatred and dread. Nighttime riots have shut down American cities for what already seems like an eternity. No purpose is served by anyone cranking up the violence further.

This is not, by any means, a call for police to stand by as mayhem unfolds in front of their eyes. Anything but. Yet just as every tragedy circles back to an original sin, let’s remember the act that lit up a nation — four Minneapolis police officers smothered a black man in the street, knee pressing down on neck, in a nearly nine-minute countdown to death that presaged many more deaths to come. That’s an outcome the officers had full ability to reject. They didn’t. You can almost see why — following the death of George Floyd, the local prosecutor’s office gave every indication of slow-walking the investigation of the officers’ conduct, or not walking it at all, until the crowds started to shout and march.

So what do we have now? A third-degree murder count against officer Derek Chauvin. A committed prosecutor could file a more aggressive charge and likely win the case going away. In normal circumstances, of course, it’s prudent to give the local criminal justice system the benefit of the doubt, in the sure belief cases will be handled with deliberate speed. What have Minneapolis police and compliant local prosecutors done to deserve the benefit of the doubt? Nothing that a simple viewing of the George Floyd arrest video can’t easily dispel.

Cops have tough jobs. I’ve known many fine officers over the years, count some as friends, and appreciate the work all of them do. Many are doing brave and inspiring service in the city streets right now, as these words are being written and read. But it is no show of disrespect to demand the highest standards for police conduct, by all officers, since no one is discredited more than honest men and women in blue when members in their ranks commit cruel and callous deeds. (Especially when those deeds are caught on video. Not that the Minneapolis police officers seemed particularly to care about that.) The death of George Floyd looks for all the world to be a pre-trial execution, full stop. The impunity of the crime invites comparisons to the worst episodes of America’s white supremacist past. Is it any wonder that black people might fear encounters with police, no matter how seemingly mundane the circumstances?

As a white person, to express shock at the death of George Floyd is to evince a certain degree of naivete, which is hardly the worst character trait one can possess in these dark times. It is, however, a luxury that must be cast aside if people of goodwill — black, white, brown, irrespective of identity — ever hope to reach a common understanding and put our broken country back together again.

“I just want to say — you know — can we all get along?” pleaded Rodney King, the African-American man who survived a vicious beating by LA police a generation ago. King spoke those words as he appealed for calm in the midst of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The question King asked then is one we haven’t done a very good job of answering since. Maybe as a prerequisite for change, the next person who makes the request needs to be someone other than a black person experiencing the wrong end of a billy club.

***
Headlines from The Washington Post on Tuesday, Day 7(!) of the demonstrations ...

“Protests intensify across U.S.”

“Las Vegas officer in ‘grave’ condition, suspect dead in two separate shooting incidents”

“Violent clashes between police and public escalate”

“Anger and anguish across America”

On Monday, four St. Louis police officers were wounded in a shooting. A New York state trooper suffered a shattered pelvis and broken leg after being struck by an SUV in Buffalo. Cops doing their level best to protect public safety are as endangered as much as almost anyone by a tit-for-tat spiral of violence whose only requirement for continued spread is more kindling.

So what does our president do on Monday? Proclaiming himself “an ally of peaceful protestors,” he had military and police forces clear out a peaceful assembly of protestors, observing the District’s curfew rules no less, with tear gas and flash bangs exploding in the street. Then he saunters uninvited across the street to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square to offer his usual unhelpful remarks and hold up a Bible he clearly doesn’t read, just another prop in our ongoing reality show nightmare of a presidency.

A cheap stunt by a small and frightened coward.

***

Also from The Washington Post on Tuesday, this from an article headlined “White instigators to blame for mayhem in some protests, local officials say”:

Violence had erupted in some of the early demonstrations starting last week, with protesters in Minneapolis setting several businesses on fire along with the police precinct.

But from Baltimore to Sacramento, black protesters also were filmed protecting storefronts and placing their bodies before police barricades to preserve principles of nonviolence, and to prevent backlash disproportionately aimed at them. Videos emerged, too, of them confronting white demonstrators who had usurped the mantra of “black lives matter,” which gave birth to a movement for racial justice and police accountability, in seemingly random acts of defacement.

“Don’t spray stuff on here when they’re going to blame black people for this,” a black woman admonished two vandals outside of a Starbucks in Los Angeles.

In East Liberty, a gentrifying neighborhood of Pittsburgh, a young black protester delivered a case of bottled water to a phalanx of police officers standing guard at a demonstration on Sunday outside of a Target store.

“With all this stuff going on, I just wanted to spread the positivity,” said Alexander Cash, 23, who lost his job at a nearby Residence Inn because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. “It doesn’t matter if it’s one or 45 cops standing there. I can walk up to them and still be peaceful.”

That sort of caution was being undermined by intentionally destabilizing acts, warned Tim Stevens, a longtime civil rights activist in Pittsburgh.

“People who do not have the social justice commitment at heart, people who really don’t care about George Floyd — they care only about an opportunity to cause disruption — how many of those people were in Pittsburgh over the weekend?” he asked. “How many were out across America?”

Similar questions have become acute from Austin, where a racial justice group on Sunday canceled a planned assembly for fear of violent escalation by unaffiliated activists, to Fargo, N.D., where police questioned four men carrying assault rifles to a protest site in a bid to protect businesses. In Denver, police officers commandeered firearms from anti-government gun enthusiasts who self-identify as “Boogaloo Boys,” part of a far-right militia movement.

“These are people who are agent provocateurs,” Chas Moore, the executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition, said of the extremists joining the protests. He canceled his group’s demonstration, originally planned for Sunday, after the chaos of Saturday night. “These are extremists and anarchists, not right or left. They want complete annihilation of the system, and they’re at the forefront of the fires and the breaking of vehicles.”

Moral of the story: Let’s be careful in making assumptions about who’s doing what out there ....

***

Let’s sign off with this Monday blogpost by Kevin Drum, who writes for Mother Jones (http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum):

The year 2020 in a nutshell:

Crisis #1: The United States is hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Donald Trump insists it’s no big deal and fritters away months of time that could have been used to prepare for it. In April, having done almost nothing as cases and deaths continued rising, he begins demanding that lockdowns end — almost certainly far before they should have been. In May the number of COVID-19 deaths goes over 100,000.

Crisis #2: Congress ponders how to respond to the economic recession caused by the virus. Trump and his Republican enablers propose a bill that helps out businesses but ignores the devastation that unemployment has caused for individuals, hospitals, and schools. They agree to add provisions that help individuals only after Democrats force them to. In May, as the epidemic continues to get worse, Trump shrugs and resists any further help.

Crisis #3: In late May, protests and riots over the death of a Black man in the custody of a white police officer engulf the country. Trump stays silent because “some of his advisers calculated that he should not speak to the nation because he had nothing new to say and had no tangible policy or action to announce yet.” Instead he rage tweets about calling out the National Guard and blaming Democratic mayors for not being tough enough. Even many Republicans are appalled, admitting that Trump is doing nothing but making things worse.

This is how our president has responded to the three great crises of 2020. And we still have half the year to go.

It’s so helpful of Mr. Drum to end his rundown of the year up till now on such a soul shattering note. One thing we do know: there is no bottom to be found in the Age of Trump, a.k.a. King of American Carnage. Heaven help us all.





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