American terror, trauma, and Trump

19th Jun 2020
American terror, trauma, and Trump

Demonstrators gather at Lafayette Park across from the White House to protest the death of George Floyd, in Washington, US on May 30 | (Credit: Yasin Öztürk/Anadolu Agency) inset Herb Boyd.

 

Herb Boyd, Harlem, New York

Besieged by a triumvirate of trauma—a pandemic, soaring unemployment, and now upheaval— America is caught in an unrelieved and seemingly irresolvable tumult.

And this situation is exacerbated by a so-called leader who stokes the fires of discontent, choosing to hail the flight of SpaceX rather than address the mayhem raging across the nation, even as it simmers and seethes outside his doors at Trump Tower and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

In an act of brazen bravado, Trump lived up to his autocratic tendencies and promises by ordering his Secret Service personnel to action, to put down the demonstrators. Now his incendiary rhetoric was being manifested physically, disregarding his comments that “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

The match that ignited this tinderbox of pent-up emotions now belching convulsively from Los Angeles to Philadelphia began in Minneapolis, but that was merely the most recent provocation of an outrage that has been percolating for centuries.

The 400 years of oppression that was being commemorated several less volatile ways was suddenly given a turbulent turn with fires raging like any slave uprising, though now principally from Molotov cocktails hurled by white anarchists.

Panic is embedded in the word pandemic, just as vile can be extracted from violence, and when these combustible elements converge the outcome can be catastrophic. Once again we witness the terrible destruction of property, the bitter and often brutal exchanges between protesters and the police, all this as the nation’s derailed democracy is most brutally illuminated.

The race is on to find a vaccine to stifle the coronavirus pandemic, but there is no elixir, nor even a panacea for curbing the behaviour of malevolent trigger-happy police officers, who kill randomly and recklessly whether in broad daylight or under the cover of darkness. It is a tragic irony that the servants employed to protect us from danger and rescue us from peril become the assailants.

There is no need to tick off a litany of atrocities endured by Black Americans and people of colour, they are marked on our historic calendar, milestones of tragedy, unfulfilled promises, and systemic racism that all too often surfaces taking more innocent lives in its baleful hook.

An autopsy report on the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis concludes that the cop’s knee on his neck was what killed him, and for his life to expire in that fatalistic fashion evokes imagery of a ghastly past when countless number of black men were hanged on trees with nooses around their necks.

Several writers and reporters in their accounts of this current tragedy cited the incident in 1955 when Emmett Till, 14, was lynched in Mississippi, his body found in a river with a cotton-gin fan around his neck.

Eric Garner, who died as a result of a choke-hold administered by a police officer in New York City in 2014 most closely resembles the situation that took Floyd’s life— both being apprehended by a seemingly harmless encounter but ending up dying in police custody. Protests were mounted in the wake of Garner’s death, but not like the paroxysms of outrage ripping across the nation now.

The destruction of property, including police cars and a precinct, is a convulsion less to do specifically with Floyd’s death, but an accumulation of disgust and injustice, compounded by the current social and political inequities.

And as usual, what happens in America has global implications and reactions as we witness other cities experiencing massive upheavals—Paris, Amsterdam, Sydney as well as the hundreds marching to the American Embassy in London, are just examples of the outbreak of anger and unrest, much of it precipitated by longstanding racism.

One wonders in this time of peril, which is most deleterious, the pandemic or police brutality? Taken together they are a lethal combination, and the poor, dispossessed people of colour suffer disproportionately from both menaces.

Here in our country, it’s good to read some impressions delivered by a few enlightened commentators who have cited the powerful voices of the past such as Langston Hughes, Malcolm X and James Baldwin. “It is not a chip on my shoulder, but your foot on my neck,” one elected official said, quoting Malcolm X and that foot can be a knee.

“Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind,” Baldwin wrote, as if referencing Trump. And to these significant individuals undaunted in their passion to speak truth to power we add basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who said in a recent op-ed article that ‘What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.’

Echoing the great skyhook master, the women founders of #BlackLivesMatter on their website noted “We call for an end to the systemic racism that allows this culture of corruption to go unchecked and our lives to be taken,” among other demands.

The only unsettling thing for me personally about the current unrest is that I am not able to be in the streets with the masses, marching with them and documenting their fury. I was still a child in Detroit when I arrived from Alabama just in time for the riot of 1943.

As a journalist and activist in Motown, I covered countless incidents of police brutality, a practice I did even more seriously in New York City from the murders of Amadou Diallo to Eric Garner, so I know the anger that seethes in crowds of protesters, and I know the frustration that comes when police officers kill with impunity.

Yes, the officers involved in Floyd’s death have been fired, 3 are charged with aiding and abetting and one of them Derek Chauvin, is now facing upgraded charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter — if it goes like those indictments in the past — he will not be convicted, and a grand jury, as in the Garner case, will refuse to bring federal charges that Floyd’s civil rights were violated.

To expect a quick remedy from any of the traumas we face is unrealistic, given the amount of time and circumstance taken for them to accumulate and metastasize. But just a speck of concern and human decency from the Oval Office would provide at least a glimmer of hope, though that too can be added to our bag of wishful thinking.

Herb Boyd is a teacher, activist and author of over 20 books, most recently of
Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination.

He has also edited with the daughter of Malcolm X, Ilyasah Al-Shabazz,
The Diary of Malcolm X 1964.

 

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