From the days of the Klan, through Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery and now George Floyd, the U.S. has been saturated with black lynchings—daily, weekly, however you can count them. When I was in college in the 1950s a guy I knew named Clark Eubanks made jokes at the local bar about the recently murdered and mutilated Emmett Till. I was appalled and have never forgotten or forgiven him. My parents, great aficionados of black jazz, would not hire black household help. They could never explain that preferential prejudice.
Such deep strains of racism and fear go back forever in the American culture. They surface especially when the country is in crisis as it is now. The U.S. desperately needs a cultural climate change, and it’s not likely to get one. Trump advocates violence against looters, and the protestors face angry, ill-trained cops. A friend from Minneapolis thinks the police union is at fault, indoctrinating the force in tactics of intimidation and violence.
More than that, it’s the power of the state and the federal government that is exercised against the most vulnerable and persecuted, those it should be defending. A black NY Times opinion writer puts it clearly: “ . . . the fact that Mr. Floyd was even arrested, let alone killed, for the inconsequential ‘crime’ of forgery amid a pandemic that has taken the life of one out of every 2,000 African-Americans is a chilling affirmation that black lives still do not matter in the United States.” The pandemic’s attack on black populations has been simply horrifying. And the trend to lynch innocent people in the street is accelerating. If we needed proof of how the infection spreads, there’s the case of Amy Cooper in Central Park.
Trump called the protestors “THUGS,” a term better applied to his cabinet. May the protestors finally succeed—at least for a moment—in bringing the country out of its racial trance. The natives are restless tonight, and the chickens have come home to roost.