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We are living in a complicated “new normal” wherein we are going to have to learn to process and handle multiple existential threats simultaneously. The murder of George Floyd was a horrendous, racist killing. The protests, sans the looting and rioting, are more than legitimate forms of protest. The murder and the protests are happening in the context of an ongoing pandemic which has killed more than 100,000 of us. The COVID-19 deaths are taking place in the midst of severe tribalized politics. The partisan politics are happening at a time when Constitutional protections are under assault from the government. If we are to keep our Democracy and our way of life all of these things must be addressed simultaneously. They cannot be compartmentalized. As I said, this is our “new normal.”
The protests we are witnessing and participating in are not just a cry for justice for George Floyd, they are calling for reform of a system which has enslaved, brutalized, and marginalized African Americans since before the founding of this country. The racism is baked in to our way of life. It has to stop. We are also going to have to confront the brutalization and marginalization of all peoples of color: Latinos, Native Americans, and Asians, along with the LBGTQ community. If we don’t do this, we will not be able to maintain our democracy. We will not be able to do this until the Trump administration is removed from power and the full Congress returned to Democratic control.
COVID-19 is not going to magically disappear. It is among us. This reality cannot get lost in the power of the protests. While the lack of social distancing during the protests was and is inevitable, it has to be understood as more than just an inevitable spike in virus infections and deaths the protests will cause. Crisis like the Floyd murder and resulting protests are going to occur while the virus is raging. We need to prepare for how to respond to this.
Once the protests end, public warnings on the need to social distance, shelter and mask need to be strenuously resumed. Our hospitals will need to be updated with the staffing and equipment needed to handle the inevitable spike. This too will not happen while the Trump administration is in power, and the Republicans control the Senate.
This brings me to the other casualty made visible by the murder and resulting protests: the danger of losing the constitutionally protected guarantee of the right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate. The First Amendment guarantees the right of citizens to “assemble peaceably and to petition their government.” This is exactly what was happening on June 2 in Lafayette Park when the federal government emptied the park by gassing, flash bombing and shooting rubber bullets into the assembled protestors so Donald Trump could walk to a campaign photo op in front of Saint John’s Church.
It is an understatement to say that none of the above will be addressed while Trump and crew are in power. The lethal virus has all but been ignored in the rush to open the economy so the president will not have to run for reelection during the worst economy since the Great Depression. Racism has been and will continue to be one of Trump’s main campaign tactics. He began his bid for the presidency by talking about Mexican rapists and criminals, continued this appeal to his base by referring to African countries as “shithole” nations and that America Nigerian immigrants would never “go back to their huts.” He said of Charlottesville, ” there were “good people on many sides,” referring to neo-Nazis and white supremacists. He caged Latino children at the southern border, and on and on.
Regardless of all this, it’s still our Democracy. If we exercise it, we have the power to stop all of this by voting in November, and then demanding that our government: protect our constitutional rights, stop racism, and act to protect us from viruses like COVID-19. In the “new normal” we have to learn to do all of this simultaneously.