COVID-19, Now George Floyd, What’s Next!

I tried to write posts that are informative and positive.  I think that there is enough shocking news in the world.  I attempt to avoid controversial pieces, as they tend to alienate readers. I’m not sure if this piece will be considered controversial, or it will alienate others.  However, this is what I feel compelled to write about today. It is as simple as that.

This year has started with a bang, and it continues to spiral out-of-control.  The COVID-19 pandemic has altered how we function in our society, killed countless individuals, and divided our country.  That last statement surprises me the most, but it is sadly true.  

Social distancing and the wearing of face masks have been demonstrated to reduce infection rates. Sweden’s approach to social distancing was laxer than its neighboring countries. Deaths in Sweden due to COVID-19 were almost 40/100,000 residents compared to 6/100,000 residents in adjacent nations that had stricter orders. In the U.S., we have seen individuals and groups promote behaviors contrary to good public health.  These forces were countered by health officials and media outlets that emphasized the importance of viral containment. However, coronavirus news has been pushed aside and replaced by another crisis. 

On May 25, 2020, a black man, George Floyd, was detained by police under suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. He was unarmed and did not appear to be a threat, yet a police officer obstructed his airway for 9 minutes.  This action killed him. Watching the video account of his arrest was horrifying to me, but it also haunts me. It is a vision that I can’t get out of my head. That video launched a world-wide protest against police brutality.  There has been a surge of other videos of police violently attacking citizens who appear to be of no physical threat to them. The officer’s attacks in these videos seem to be rageful and out-of-control. Like everyone else on the planet, I watched in astonishment as the police and military used chemical agents and bullets to disperse a peaceful demonstration in Washington, D.C., so that the president could take a photo-op. Equally disturbing are officers without name tags or organizational insignias who were part of the military force in Washington. Where are they from?  Who are they accountable to? There was no way to identify them. Scenes like these have made me feel like I am witnessing events in a totalitarian state, not the USA.

Not all police have acted brutally.  In my hometown of Naperville, a protest for George Floyd/BLM was scheduled.  The authorities had determined that there was the potential for violence.  Based on this information, many businesses boarded up windows and secured their establishments. I walked down to witness the protest and saw a peaceful assembly.  The police were en masse, but they were off to the side.  Their presence was undeniable, but they were agents of calm, not violence. I continued to follow the evening’s events on a video feed from our local cable T.V. channel. The peaceful protest transitioned, and a different element roamed the downtown, breaking windows and looting stores. At some locations, the police formed a physical barrier to protect stores; at other spots, they pushed out looters and sealed them off from those areas. I am in no way supporting the looters’ actions, and I feel terrible that over 30 businesses suffered damage.  However, the police’s sensible and calm behavior in Naperville contained the problem and did not escalate it. There was damage to property, but no one died on either side. It was a fantastic example of the excellent work that thoughtful police do.

I have known a few police officers well, and two generalities have stood out.  They are just regular people, and they have a strong commitment to serve and protect their communities. So how is it that we see videos of police officers practicing such terrible brutality?  I feel that rogue cops represent a tiny percentage of the police force.  Unfortunately, some police follow a code of protecting their fellow officers at any cost. Because of this, these bad apples continue to abuse their power.  Cover-ups can be systemic in organizations. Former Chicago mayor, Rahm Emmanual was implicated in suppressing video evidence of the fatal shooting by police of  Laquan McDonald. Initial police reports said that Laquan was acting aggressively, but the court-ordered release of police video showed that he was walking away when he was shot 16 times by officer Jason Van Dyke. 

I believe that we have mostly peaceful protesters with a small percentage of looters and we have primarily good police with a small percentage of corrupt cops.

A small group of bad apples can spoil the reputation of the larger bunch.

As protests have continued, some choose to focus on the protesters rather than the reason for the protests.  It sickens me to hear leaders talk about dominating others to justify abusing their power. It also upsets me that thousands feel that they need to put their lives on the line for our leaders to hear them. Every protest group offers the potential of becoming a COVID superinfection zone.  It is a frightening prospect. 

You may think that this post is a veiled condemnation of President Trump. I will not deny that I feel that has continually stirred the pot of divisiveness to the detriment of our country.  However, I believe that a more significant issue is our societal views of different minority groups. As a nation, we spend an extraordinary amount of time identifying groups who we perceive as different from us as our enemies.  We determine that entire categories of individuals should have fewer rights than ours and that their very existence poses some threat to us.  Some use this separation to incite fear in others to gain power and influence. They make our country weaker. However, we, as a society, accept these lies. Can you think of any minority group that has not experienced prejudice? Women? Hispanics? Blacks? Gays? Jews? Chinese? Fat people? Muslims?  It doesn’t take much to qualify as an outsider, and with this designation comes fewer rights than the majority.

If you are in any minority group, it becomes more challenging to achieve your goals. The American Dream is that you can determine your destiny. I do believe that the individual is responsible for their fate. If you want a good job, you need to obtain the skills necessary to achieve it. To get accepted to a top university, you need to study hard.  If you want a beautiful house in a safe neighborhood, you have to save the down payment.  However, for the American Dream to be real, everyone needs to be on the same playing field. If we are all dealt the same cards, it is up to us to play them.  However, if the deck is stacked, some players always lose.

Groups in power want to keep their power, that is a fact. They justify their actions to maintain control.  Their fear of losing power may cause them to act in ways contrary to their values. A fellow officer may feel compelled to corroborate a false story thinking that someday his own life may depend on the lying officer’s protection. Politicians and others may justify their prejudicial and inhuman behaviors of groups by dehumanizing them.  Children in cages become unlawful, illegal invaders.  Muslims become terrorists.  Women are labeled frumpy, ballbusters, dumb blonds, and girls. Once designated as “less than,” it becomes OK to treat these groups as “less than.”  

As a country, we gained world power status because we were a melting pot of creativity and ideas.  Our diversity has always been our strength; it is foolish to think otherwise. The limitation of large segments of our population may temporarily benefit a few. Still, its overall effect is the weakening of our country. The more we divide and alienate, the more we erode the basic tenets of our Constitution. The Constitution is the foundation that our country is built on.  Erosion of a foundation results in the collapse of the overall structure.      

We are creatures of novelty.  Now that there is a new story to capture our attention, the ongoing pandemic has receded into the background.  I fear that the same will happen with police reform.  The protests will end, and our collective minds will focus on the next big story.  We cannot let this happen.

I grew up in the 1960s, a time of great Soviet hubris. I remember a quote by Soviet Prime Minister, Nakita Khrushchev who said, “We do not have to invade the United States, we will destroy you from within.” Unity creates strength; division creates weakness. As we justify the abuse of others, we deem different; we move ever closer to his prediction. The group of marginalized individuals grows ever larger; it is only a matter of time that those who are marginalizing will become marginalized themselves.  Perhaps, that has already happened. Who will be left to protect our values and our country when we are all considered the enemy?

Some stores in downtown Naperville boarded up windows in anticipation of the protest.
Protestors in downtown Naperville.
Police en masse, present but allowing the protestors to do their thing.
Late-night damage and looting.
Some high-end stores that didn’t board-up their windows were targeted.
I can’t imagine the force that it took to break this super-thick glass.
A view to the inside.
The next morning legions of volunteers spontaneously came to the area to clean up.
A hovering helicopter is seen during the cleanup.
Some people ripped down hearts supporting BLM and the community reacted by covering stores with hearts in support of BLM.
I love this photo.

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