In the last two weeks, America has, once again, turned its attention to the anti-Black violence that is built into every single aspect of American society. Protests have continued around the country for a week and half. Alongside those protests, police continue to instigate violence and our esteemed federal leaders are, essentially, calling for war against the people they supposedly represent. Despite how hopeless everything can feel, we’re already starting to see small changes with some transit workers and government agencies standing up to and divesting from police departments. It’s not enough — nothing will ever restore all the many Black lives that have been lost. But change happens, slowly, as long as we continue to use the power we have. We cannot turn away; we cannot ever fool ourselves into thinking that the problems have resolved themselves. They haven’t, and they won’t.
This week’s Extra! Extra! looks at what’s happening in this moment in America from all of those angles and more. Starting this week, we’re returning to a once weekly post and folding our COVID-19 coverage into this Friday column, so we’ll also look at the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on Black Americans because that crisis isn’t separate from the protests, either.
Himani: It’s hard for me to know what to say because it feels like all of this has happened before. The difference is that this time I, personally, am finally aware of what so many people have been saying for so long, that this has happened before – long before 2014. These two articles provide valuable context for that reality and touch on everything else that’s going on, everything else that’s covered below, including the election. If you don’t know where to start to make sense of what’s happened this week, I recommend these particular articles.
Rachel: I’m hesitant to make sweeping statements about the current moment for a number of reasons; I feel both more informed than many people I’m talking to and more biased/less reliable in some ways because I live in Minneapolis. That said, having covered stories like this for this very magazine since 2014 and before that, and having lived in so many cities now with so many deaths and so many marches and so many empty promises for justice, this feels like a week that both has and hasn’t happened before. The compounded grief and rage and helplessness of the years and decades and generation that precedes this are inarticulable.
At the same time, what it feels like in this city right now is like nothing I’ve ever seen or felt before; I feel (and many feel) completely devastated and shattered, and also in some ways more hopeful than ever. Maybe this isn’t new or insightful, maybe this is always the story of how things change; the same thing happens over and over and over again, inexcusably, and also it’s a little different each time; maybe this is something new. Maybe it’s both; maybe a new thing happens again and again, a reinvention of a paradigm that must then be reinvented. I keep coming back to how Minneapolis citizens occupied a hotel — there are ways people are showing up for each other that are beyond what I’ve seen before, and it feels incredible to witness.
Police Enact Violence At Protests Against… Police Violence
Himani: I feel like the irony of this situation can’t be lost on anyone — that protests against police violence are largely being met with use of force and further police violence. So many news articles covering the protests are focusing excessively on the violence at the protests with this assumption that the violence is one directional (ie protesters are the ones to instigate). That’s blatantly not the case, and these articles as well as countless incidents that have happened in the last week demonstrate that. It’s also incredibly chilling that anyone even offering support of protesters by giving first aid or being a medic at the protests is getting so directly targeted by the police.
And White Supremacists Join In The Violence
Rachel: This is something I want to point up because it’s been hard to clarify for people outside my city — while every night has brought something new in Minneapolis of late in terms of police action or whether the National Guard is rolling through the street in trucks, around Thursday of last week a new shift began. Where previously people were working to avoid the police and sometimes address fires that had gotten out of control and were affecting local businesses, suddenly local businesses, especially owned by people of color or publicly aligned with the protests, were going up in flames; people were reporting not just protests but actual arson. When the governor announced that out-of-state agitators had shown up in Minneapolis, I saw a lot of people dismiss it as an intentional propaganda campaign to discredit protestors — and it kind of was! And a way to dismiss that Minneapolis residents are choosing to lead the city’s protests, and that their impact, including the property damage, is intentional and just and something we need to pay attention to and hear. But it is true that there are people from out of town causing harm in the area, they’re just violent racists that the police are doing nothing to stop — not anarchist “outside agitators” framing the people of Minneapolis as being more upset than they are. My household relocated from our neighborhood in Uptown over the weekend both because of the presence of the National Guard and because of reports of skinheads sighted patrolling the area; on Sunday, after we had decided to return home, was the report of an oil tanker ramming protestors on I-35. There’s a lot of threads here to unpack, is what I’m saying.
In A Particularly Authoritarian Turn, Journalists Are Specifically Being Targeted
Natalie: It’s been chilling to watch this administration’s contempt for a free press trickle down to the police…and, certainly, I hope that legal efforts to ensure that press are given unfettered access to document the nature of these protests are successful.
That said, I can’t help but wonder if this will change how the press covers police more broadly. Far too often media outlets have accepted that police are the arbiters of truth. But now they’re watching them lie, with impunity, about these protests…not just about how they treat protestors — like last night when the Buffalo PD claimed a 75 year old man, “tripped and fell” — but about how they’ve treated the press. You can’t run headlines like “White House says police didn’t use tear gas and rubber bullets in incident that cleared protesters with chemical irritants and projectile munitions” when your reporters were there, hit by tear gas and rubber bullets. The media has to stop being stenographers for law enforcement and commit to pursuing the truth
The Trump Administration, Unsurprisingly, Is All Too Eager To Fight Protesters
Natalie: This is a big deal, especially coming from Mattis (whose confirmation won bipartisan support in the Senate), but watch Republicans like Lisa Murkowski, who agree with Mattis on substance but won’t take a stand against this administration. HE COMPARED THE PRESIDENT TO NAZIS. HOW ARE YOU “STRUGGLING” OVER WHETHER OR NOT TO SUPPORT HIM? WE KNOW HOW THIS STORY ENDS, LISA.
Natalie: Both CBP and ICE have been part of patrols in Washington, DC. This is how the government squashes dissent: preventing immigrant communities, in particular, from engaging in protest.
Himani: So many aspects of this whole situation, from the attacks on those providing medical support to the attacks on the press to the federal involvement lay bare the lie of American democracy. It’s always been the case in America that while the right to assemble and freedom of speech is enshrined in the First Amendment, those rights only apply to certain people in certain circumstances. The authoritarian underbelly of American democracy is revealing itself in full force, largely thanks to a president who’s entire mission since he ran for president was to give voice and power to what has been unspoken but true for so, so long.
And Big Tech Is All Too Eager To Help Them Do That
Natalie: We always suspected this was true but still, it’s jarring to see it laid out so plainly.
Natalie: I feel like signing up for Facebook just so I can delete my account.
Himani: Facebook wields an overwhelming amount of power over political processes around the world. This has been reported on again and again and again. (And that’s without even touching on the 2016 US presidential election.) I think we all kind of knew that while Zuckerberg liked to try to “both sides” this reality he was really talking out of his ass. Now that’s become undeniably clear.
Meanwhile, Quotidien Anti-Black, Transphobic Violence Continues
Himani: It is utterly heartbreaking to read of this violent assault on Iyanna Dior — unrelated to the current protests — in the midst of protests against white supremacy.
On The Subject of Criminal Justice Reform…
Natalie: The Minneapolis Police Union and, in particular, its leader, Bob Kroll, are the greatest impediments to meaningful police reform in that city. Even with the encouraging news we’re hearing from the City Council, I don’t know how anything gets done with the union’s incalcitrant behavior.
Natalie: Today is Breonna Taylor’s birthday. She should have turned 27. It is incumbent upon all of us to say her name and keep her at the forefront of our discussions of unfettered police power. Her life mattered. Say her name.
Himani: One of the conversations that I see happening over and over is about criminal justice reform and, specifically, police reform versus defunding, divesting from and even abolishing the police and prison system. The last article is from 2015 and still chillingly relevant five years later. What’s become incredibly clear time and time again is the fact that reform does not work. Minneapolis implemented multiple reforms, and George Floyd died. The Supreme Court ruled that the no-knock warrant that resulted in Breonna Taylor’s death was illegal in 1995 and then undercut that decision in 2006. (Thanks, Scalia; I hope you’re rotting in hell.) Again and again we see police departments abusing power, but they are protected by their unions (as Natalie points out) and by the courts which are largely complicit. It really begs the question what “reform” even means at this point.
Reform Has Failed. Defunding And Divesting From The Police Is Gaining Momentum.
Rachel: I’ve lived in Minneapolis for two years now and the past week and a half has seen more movement, obviously, around issues of policing than in those previous two years. Watching my particular city council person (hey, Lisa Bender) process this on Twitter has been interesting — her position is that she’s always supported decreasing police funds and wants to dismantle the MPD, but isn’t sure whether she can trust the white people of Ward 10 to stick with this commitment.
If you are a comfortable white person asking to dismantle the police I invite you to reflect: are you willing to stick with it? Will you be calling in three months to ask about garage break-ins? Are you willing to dismantle white supremacy in all systems, including a new system?
— Lisa Bender (@lisabendermpls) June 3, 2020
It’s a fair question that Minneapolis (and hopefully, other cities) will have to answer soon — for people who are recently coming to abolition, are we aware of and ready for the long-term commitment of doing the difficult work of building a different culture?
A big part of why the police are so embedded in US culture is that it’s beneficial for white people to outsource the difficult parts of living in a community to cops. Don’t get along with your neighbor? Call the cops on them. Don’t know who lives on your block and haven’t gotten to know anyone or decide if you can trust them? Call the cops when you see someone walking outside. Are there unhoused people or drug users on your block and it makes you uncomfortable? If you call the cops, they’ll be gone in 45 minutes and you can forget about it. To be clear, I’m thrilled that Minneapolis is even considering defunding the police, and I will do anything in my power to see it passed — but I also want to be upfront with myself and with others that the hard work will begin after that moment, in terms of holding my (white) community accountable for doing the hard stuff of living with other people in a real way that doesn’t cut corners.
Support The Protests However You Can
Himani: You can support the protests, even if you aren’t able to physically attend them. These articles highlight some of the ways that individuals are using the resources they have to stand up to the police, whether that’s opening their homes to protesters, refusing to follow police orders or refusing to serve the police. Then there are all the legal ramifications for protestors who get arrested. In addition to Kaepernick’s commitment, you can also donate to bail funds; Carmen compiled a list for us.
We’re In A Pandemic, Right?
Himani: We’ve covered this a few times in the COVID-19 news round up, but the pandemic is taking a disproportionate health and economic toll on the black community. Every day there is more and more evidence of this. Some cheeky people have asked how public health experts can support the protests against police brutality when they dismissed the lockdown protests a month ago. But as many have said again and again, the racism that has led to police brutality is the same racism that has caused the black community to bear the brunt of this pandemic. These are both public health crises. In addition to supporting the protests and bail funds, there are a number of black mutual aid funds that Vanessa has compiled which you can donate to as well.
Natalie: In a couple of weeks, it seems likely we’re going to see a spike in coronavirus cases and when it happens, they’ll lay the blame on these protests and the lack of social distancing. They’ll ignore their culpability, in opening businesses too early, including gyms, pools, salons and barbershops where social distancing is impossible, in failing to offer testing to communities that have been disproportionately impacted and in allowing the federal government to come in and STEAL MASKS.
It’s Not Enough, But We MUST Vote
Natalie: One of the most common rejoinders from “the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice” is “I support the cause, I just wish you’d protest the right way.” But the reality is there is no right way to protest…it’s a myth, concocted to usher us all back to the status quo as quickly as possible. We know this because every time we’ve tried to protest the “right way,” the white moderate has stood alongside the virulent right-wing and thrown roadblock after roadblock in our way.
I imagine, if you asked those white moderates today what the right way to protest is, they’d suggest voting…at which point I’d remind them that we tried that. In 2008, black and brown people protested “the right way:” turning out to vote in unprecedented numbers to cast their ballots for Barack Obama. Four years later, they do it again, producing record high turnout for Latinx voters and a rate of turnout for black voters that exceeded whites for the first time ever. We did protest “the right way” and then watched as that right to protest — that constitutionally protected access to the franchise — was stripped away from us through the rolling back of the Voting Rights Act, the gerrymandering of districts, the implementation of Voter ID and voter purges. They aren’t interested in “the right way” or the cause, they’re just interested in maintaining their power, at all costs.
I mention that, mostly, to point out the hypocrisy of so many folks at this moment but also because, even as someone who is invested in politics as a way to make change, I’m struggling with putting faith in the franchise right now. It’s never felt more futile, both in terms of my vote actually making a difference and in terms of elevating politicians genuinely committed to my full liberation. On Wednesday night, I found myself jotting down a makeshift pitch for a roundtable of black queer politicos that answers the question, “why should we still believe in voting?” I needed the answer for us, I needed the answer for myself. The next morning, as if she heard my frustration, Stacey Abrams dropped this piece in the Times.
I don’t know that I’m fully persuaded by it — that Abrams is forced to treat an election that was, quite likely, stolen from her as a moral victory feels especially cruel in this moment — but “voting will not save us from harm, but silence will surely damn us all” resonates deeply.
Himani: So I completely agree with everything Natalie has written above. At the same time, I want to write directly to the mostly white and other privileged readers of this post — as someone who is not facing the disenfranchisement that Natalie describes to many people who are also not facing disenfranchisement. Part of the reason why I say “we MUST vote” is because so many others have had their votes stolen and their voices silenced.
I also believe that we MUST use that power wisely and effectively. Republicans vote as a bloc, and they will stand behind Trump no matter how low he sinks. This has been true since Trump became their nominee in 2016 through the impeachment hearings earlier this year and even to Trump’s incitement of violence as Natalie pointed out above. (Also related.). We can’t win against the disproportionately powerful Republican bloc by splintering our votes. Personally, I believe that primary elections are where we vote for our ideals, and general elections are where we vote to wrest power from Republicans.
Voting isn’t going to fix the problems that exist in this country. It’s certainly not going to end the violence. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the situation in Hong Kong and how some Hong Kong protestors have pointed out (in light of Beijing’s blatantly hypocritical criticism of Trump’s response to the protests in America) that at least Americans can vote out problematic politicians. That’s definitely an oversimplification of the political situation in America. But I think it’s important for those of us who can vote to use that power along with the many other resources we have to fight for change because black lives are on the line, and Black Lives Matter.