These are certainly unusual times. We are in the midst of the worst pandemic in a hundred years while downtown areas all around the country are being burned and looted in the wake of more horrible police brutality which resulted in another dead black man. These seemingly unrelated issues have coalesced into a stew of anger that has reached the boiling point.
On the fringes of the boil are opportunists looking for a place to act up and finding it behind a smoke screen of confusion. I have seen videos of several major cities, including Raleigh and Charlotte, where protestors have found themselves swept up in the chaos of confrontation with police as curiosity seekers add to the mix. Media outlets add fuel to the fire as their reporters desperately seek the scoop of the night, running in meaningless circles. The destruction and violence is being partially blamed on hate groups that want nothing more than to shout at the top of their lungs and smash property with impunity.
Each mayor, while quick to condemn the actions of the police involved in the death of George Floyd, walks the fine line between a leader pointing out bad behavior and a politician partially responsible for managing the systemic problems which have erupted. Constituent consoling while damage controlling! There may be a song in there. Each police chief walks a similar line, but where does the buck stop? How does an officer that has been reprimanded multiple times find himself in the position where he can slowly snuff out a life while three of his fellow officers stand by? Rushing to judgment is generally not a good thing, but there better be some convincing evidence if there is no conviction. I just hope it is not an insanity plea, followed by a month suspension and return to duty!
It appears that the culture of many police departments contains underlying aggression. When the police show up in riot gear for a protest, what could possibly go wrong! Apparently both the chicken and the egg can go wrong. Is one thrown water bottle enough, are three too many? Is one rubber bullet OK? I heard this morning that one rubber bullet put out the eye of one person in a crowd. Can you imagine going to a peaceful protest and losing an eye? Who is sending what message?
Back to the pandemic—this chaos in the streets certainly cannot be helping the cause of social distancing. Some areas in New York City were dangerously crowded while trying to recover from COVID. It has become pretty apparent that we will just wade into the reopening of society and the economy with limited guidance, but even that guidance is being scorned by those who feel their superficial freedom is worth more than a societal effort to control a situation that threatens everything. Business owners have a different perspective. Why don’t we just let insistent business owners open up and let the customers make a choice? ( Fine Print – Each participant will have to sign a contract saying that they will not seek medical help if they contract COVID-19 and need hospitalization. They will also have to monitor their temperature each morning and wear a bright badge signifying that they are in the higher risk group and will not be allowed within six feet of anyone else under penalty of a mandatory 14 days in jail. Coughing in public will be 30 days in jail. )
When I woke up this morning, five days after George Floyd died, I went into the office. Traffic was approaching pre-COVID level. Every drive-thru in Fayetteville had a long line; the only indication that things are different. I was soon told that a crowd of protestors had attempted to burn down the Fayetteville Market House the night before. All of sudden, this felt more immediate. Is the tsunami of discontent finally reaching the shore?
While I have anguish over police brutality, empathy for those oppressed, scorn for those who perpetrate needless violence and dismay over the careless actions of citizens who disregard the health of others, I go home to an isolation that they don’t quite penetrate. I wish I knew of something meaningful to do, but I have no direction and action is not urgent.
Amid all this, our leaders seem impotent, if not resigned. Will anyone do anything, or will this fester until a real war breaks out?