In fact, that was a really bad week to be black. An ex-cop and two others stalk and kill a young black man in Georgia named Ahmaud Arbery for jogging. A white woman calls 911 because a black birdwatcher told her that her dog had to be leashed in Central Park. Four white Minneapolis cops arrest George Floyd, a black man, who MAY have passed a phony twenty-dollar bill, wrestle him to the ground, handcuff him and then kill him by kneeling on his neck. Were it not for the invention of smart phone video that would have been the end of it: a few more statistics. Fortunately for justice, we do have videos and they went viral. In Georgia an accused accomplice in the murder appears to have been undone by his own eagerness to release his video and brag that he and his buddies killed another black man. In New York, Amy Cooper, the quintessential Manhattan Wall Street denizen, called 911 and dramatically claimed an “African-American male” was assaulting her. Pitching a fake hysteria in her voice she begged the cops to come and arrest (or, maybe, shoot?) the threatening birdwatcher who had only pointed out that Central Park required dogs on leashes. In her blind outrage she never noticed that the black man had a smart phone. (I hope she did not manage your investment portfolio.) In Minneapolis, a bystander took a video that demonstrated the banal brutality of a cop who looked bored, with his hands in his pocket, as his knee squeezed the life out of a black man.
It was also a really bad week to be an American, at least if you love your country. These incidents degenerated into riots that remind people my age of the April 1968 riots after Martin Luther King’s murder. For the umpteenth time, we tore the scabs off two unhealed national sores: the persistence of wide scale loathing of blacks and dysfunctional law enforcement that amplifies that hatred. The incidents also demonstrated once again the scary banality of a President who fans that hatred.
The privileged white Amy Cooper still has the effrontery to cast herself as the victim; she told CNN her life is being “destroyed” because too many people saw the video. She seems oblivious to our long history of white women getting black men lynched with false accusations. Or perhaps, she did know and called the cops because she expected they would come and shoot the birdwatcher. In Georgia, the press linked Ahmaud Arbery’s killing with articles describing minor run-ins with the law as a kid while ignoring the fact that the lead perpetrator had been relieved of his gun and badge for cause. The local district attorneys recused themselves because they knew the good ol’ boy ex-cop and told the press that he had done nothing worth arresting him for. Minneapolis demonstrated a particular ugly side of bad law enforcement. Confronted with the video the local DA admitted it did not look good but then claimed that some unspecified (and perhaps non-existent) “other evidence” showed that no crime was committed. The local U.S. Attorney’s anodyne disinterest rubbed salt in the wound. This disinterest in black victims, perhaps as much as the actual crime, ignited rioting that forced the DA to arrest one of the policemen involved. Minnesota police reaction to the riots made things worse. Policemen arrested journalists trying to get out of the way. In one middle class neighborhood passing police units opened fire at people in their homes taking videos with non-lethal but (I can personally attest) very painful antiriot paintballs.
The accumulation of anger and frustration, compounded by the disproportional harvest of black lives by COVID-19, came to my hometown Washington DC, the Nation’s Capitol, a city where the memories of the King Riots never went away. Unfortunately, our President proved himself to be both a coward and a bully. Cowering in the basement bombproof bunker of the White House, Trump issues tweet after tweet with racist slogans to mobilize his supporters. Conjuring up the ghosts of the 1950’s, he threatened to unleash “vicious dogs” on demonstrators. Quoting a racist 1960’s Florida sheriff he tweeted "when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” He calls demonstrators “THUGS” and threatens to crush them with military force. He accused the black mayor of Washington DC of refusing to allow DC police to defend him ignoring the fact that at least a dozen DC cops are in the hospital. He and Attorney General Barr have dredged up the ‘antifa’ as the villains while ignoring increasing evidence that the white supremacist crowds Trump has called up to his rescue are feeding the fire.
He has also managed to make the United States the world’s laughingstock and handed the Chinese a huge propaganda victory. China exploited Trump’s racist rhetoric to undermine our justified condemnation of their suppression of democracy in Hong Kong. Instead of rallying allies and contributing to the fight against the pandemic, Trump abruptly pulled out of the World Health Organization on the pretext that it was too friendly to China. The world sees only an unhinged American President sacrificing the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic that has already killed at least 100,000 of his own citizens for his reelection.
Trump apologists will no doubt take offense at the allusion to Mr. Trump’s racism, insisting, “there is not a racist bone in his body.” I will leave it to Mr. Trump to sort things out with His Maker on Judgment Day. In the meantime, we can only cite his repeated tweets and public statements meant to rally the white supremacist mobs.