There’s a war out in the streets

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The death of George Floyd is an American tragedy. The image of a white police officer putting his knee on the neck of a black man—until that man’s life has been literally snuffed out—is painful to watch. Like every right-thinking person in this country, I am saddened for this man and his family an friends, and for the community that has suffered a similar loss, over and over again stretching all the way back to the birth of this nation and even before that.

The rage that has taken over the streets of Minneapolis, and other cities, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder (and it can’t be called anything but that) must be addressed. Arresting one of the officers is a start, but the announcement that charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter feel terribly insufficient to the terrible crime that was committed . The other officers who stood by and allowed this to be done are guilty as well, and the loss of their jobs must not be the end of the punishment that is given to them. Much more needs to be done, including a trial of each of these officers, in full and clear view of the people of the Minnesota and the United States of America.

None of this will bring back what was stolen from George Floyd, for the supposed crime of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. But what can be done, must be done. And all of us will be riveted on this case, as the justice system (hopefully) does what it is supposed to do.

Donald Trump’s outright refusal to utter George Floyd’s name in person, or to take any questions at the end of his supposed “press conference” at the White House this afternoon, is entirely in keeping with his cowardly demeanor. He faked bone spurs to avoid serving in Vietnam as a young man, and now—with the power and the responsibility to address this issue head on—he walked away, instead. That’s simply unforgivable.

The president’s job, in a nutshell, is to lead this nation. And scapegoating China and the “previous administrations” (read: Barack Obama) for the current pandemic does nothing to accomplish this. Nothing whatsoever.

Pointing a finger at China, and throwing some bellicose language their way, is akin to ignoring an infection and hoping it will go away on its own. Trump tried that approach with COVID-19, and it failed miserably. But this infection, this stain upon our history that almost everyone agrees is the “original sin” that America has committed, won’t simply go away. It took an awful civil war to finally end the practice, but the legacy it left behind is something that all of us—white, black, and every shade in between—live with every day of our lives. And the smoking ruins of Minneapolis are a powerful reminder that we, as a nation, haven’t made much progress on settling this account.

The “but I never owned any slaves” dodge that I’ve heard so many white people use rings hollow to me, because the happenstance of where and when we were born might be the only reason why that’s true. Anyone whose lineage on American soil goes back to 1860 and before is descended, with almost zero exceptions, from people who either willingly owned slaves, or were content to keep any reservations they may have had about this “peculiar institution” to themselves.

Unless we know of an ancestor who fought and shed blood on the Union side during the Civil War, or who spoke out and acted out in favor of the Abolitionist cause or the Civil Rights movement, and then lived with the aftermath of this opposition, we’re all complicit with the long American tradition of devaluing Black Americans. And smashing out the windows of a police car doesn’t count as settling this score, either. In fact, this behavior only makes things worse.

Is writing a blog post going to do anything to right these injustices? Of course not, but it’s all that I can do, at least until Election Day comes around. Peaceful, nonviolent protest is all that we have until then. I can promise that mayhem in the streets will be broadcast into the homes of fearful white Americans, who will instinctively turn to who they perceive as the strongman who can quell all this dissent. And Trump has spent his entire term in office building up the image of himself as a strongman.

He’s anything but strong, and everyone who watches his actions knows this to be true. But the violence will help him politically, and he’ll continue stoking fears of black and brown people, along with “Radical Left” white people like the mayor of Minneapolis. And, I suppose, people like me.

So call me Radical Left, or whatever other name Donald Trump wants you to use. But understand that I know what has been done to George Floyd, and to black and brown people across the totality of America’s existence, is wrong, and that November 3 is an opportunity for all of us to address these in an orderly and peaceful manner. And I, for one, am not going to be deterred.

(NOTE: The title for this post comes from an old Sammy Hagar song. Have a listen, if you’re so inclined. I think it fits in well with the tenor of this moment.)

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