Shakespeare had it wrong. Summer has become the season of our discontent. We’ve been battered by one vicious storm after another: a pandemic, an economic collapse that teetered toward another Great Depression, the resurgence of vicious racism, and the sight of our cities erupting in paroxysms of protest. Each day brings another head blow to the body politic and I, for one, am getting dizzy.
I keep asking, “Can this get any worse?” And then it does.
As I write this, the White House complex is surrounded by concrete barricades placed behind exterior black fencing, adding to the 8-foot fence erected two weeks ago. The bunkered-down president is tweeting that a 75-year-old protester who was knocked to the ground in Buffalo and is still hospitalized is really an ANTIFA provocateur who was trying to jam police communications. Of course, he’s not and he wasn’t. He’s a devout Catholic and a member of the non-violent Catholic Worker movement who was simply holding his cell phone. What lunacy!
Compounding this miasma is the stance of conservative media that’s focused too much on the violence of some protesters and the need to “open up” the country, as opposed to equal justice, public health, and the administration’s dangerous overreaction. Don’t be distracted by their yelling, “Squirrel” while Attorney General William Barr tramples on your rights. Remember both he and Trump took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and that this founding document includes “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
According to eyewitnesses, the protesters in Lafayette Square who were cleared away by PepperBalls (an eye irritant), smoke canisters, and low hovering military helicopters were not threatening. The proof is in multiple photos and videos of the forcible push-back that are reminiscent of Chile’s Pinochet regime. I am also troubled by the mysterious soldiers salted among the police, Park Police, Secret Service, and National Guard. Their uniforms were shorn of any insignia and ID badge so their actions could not be traced and accounted for. Who were they and who ordered this deception?
I’ve always wondered what it would take to topple this president, and now we are finding out. Not obstruction of justice. Not violating campaign finance laws. Not abuse of power. Not extorting a foreign leader for political favors. Not profiting from the office. Not advocating violence. Not attacking the free press. It’s the threat of using our standing army against fellow Americans that did it. They were quite rightly protesting the long history of rogue police playing judge, jury, and executioner of unarmed black men. The nation’s demonstrators are simply demanding equal justice before the law.
Some friends have suggested that violence against black arrestees could easily be avoided if only they followed the instructions of officers to stop; get in the squad car; or whatever. What whites don’t appreciate is that a black man is two-and-a-half times as likely as white Americans to be killed by police officers, according to the Statistica website. That’s a potent reason why blacks might be a bit less likely to go along to get along.
I bemoan the senseless violence and property damage some protesters caused, and I hate the ugly images of ravenous looters. They too easily distort the honest efforts of the many who cry out about the incessant presence of institutional racism in our country. We can’t lose sight of that. The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, adroitly summed up the situation when he said the U.S. has been besieged by two deadly viruses, COVID-19 and 1619 — the date when the first slaves arrived on these shores.
The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t end racism, nor did the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, nor the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, nor the 2006 Voting Rights Act. Like a virus, racism has morphed through the years from Jim Crow laws to redlining to the birther movement to the efforts of key legislators to thwart every single initiative of the first black president. And let’s not forget the disproportionate number of black incarcerations and the recent distribution of white supremacist literature in our own county.
Yes, renegade police must be held accountable, but we all must gaze within and consider our own attitudes and prejudices. What lies at the heart of our resentments and fear of the Other, and what will it take to wash out this wicked stain?
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Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears every other Friday. Email him at email@example.com.