With elegant understatement, The Washington Post headlined its Monday afternoon email update: “This moment is not normal.” That truly does sum up the current state of the union: abnormal. On this — and perhaps only this — we all can agree.
A confluence of crises is overrunning the banks, and, like a natural flood, its damage is unpredictable, and devastating when it does strike. Our health and economy are both a mess, with only shaky steps forward out of the darkness. The nation’s spirit was already volatile, and it needed only a tiny spark to set it off. Instead, there was an inferno.
Anyone who thought the ubiquitous cellphone camera had made us immune to graphic content was proved wrong, as a life was needlessly snuffed out on a sidewalk like a cigarette butt, in full, defiant view of spectators recording it. We’ve seen it before, too many times, but that didn’t lessen the impact. You could feel the earth tilt on its axis for a moment, swaying as if slapped. It was sickening.
If there is one thing uniting all three existential crises America faces right this moment, it’s that there are solutions to each — and absolutely no guarantees that we’ll implement them.
The first two, the virus and the economic challenges it’s bringing, are in competition: What’s best for one is worst for the other. Balance is crucial, but we’re staggering at the moment to find it. The risks are significant to both. Still, we can look far enough out into the future and see a resolution to both problems, one day.
The death of George Floyd, on the other hand, feels crushingly familiar, and it’s a milepost that shows just how little progress we are making as a nation on a fundamental promise: “All men are created equal.” Inherent in that message is that all men and women are treated equally. What, in God’s name, does America stand for if not that?
What’s terrifying is not that we haven’t reached that point — it’s that it feels like it’s slipping further away. The litany of names of men and women of color killed by police grows longer. Had those cellphone images not been available, it’s frightening to think that the name of George Floyd, killed for being suspected of handing over a bad $20 bill at a convenience store, might not even be widely known. It’s that common. And there is precious little progress in changing police attitudes and tactics, on a national level, to address this cavalier attitude toward some lives.
This, too, is sickening.
Talking heads, both on television and in certain official houses of residence, will deflect the attention now away from the throngs of peaceful protesters and toward the tiny number of agitators and opportunists; it’s always easier to get upset about looters, though store windows and wares all can be replaced, and human lives cannot. It’s an easier conversation, worthless as it is. It’s like criticizing weeping at a funeral as a way of expressing grief. This is an expression, too, of something unspeakable. It shouldn’t happen — because its cause shouldn’t exist. That is where the focus should be.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” It doesn’t excuse the explosion of violence in so many American cities to note that it is a natural occurrence when people feel powerless. Talking turns to shouting, and eventually shouting can become a fist, a rock, a bullet.
But shout we must. Here on the South Fork, passionate protests have sprung up, and no community in America should be immune to the difficult conversation about the nature of justice and the utter failures that have left so many needlessly dead, and so many more understandably nihilistic. That conversation should be held in more civil circumstances very soon. But it starts as a shout in the street. Protests can, and will, bring change.
We have to believe that, because the alternative is too awful to even consider.