Sometimes with the news, it feels like there’s so much happening, it’s hard to know what to even highlight in this column in a given week. But, more often than not, it’s really just variations of the same horrible nightmare playing out again and again and again and again. This week’s Extra! Extra! covers new expose’s on police brutality and violence against Black and brown bodies, an update on the pandemic that isn’t actually happening right now and tragically recalls the deaths of Angela Martinez Gómez and Jose I. Escobar Menendez.
Brutality Is Really Too Gentle A Word for This
Natalie: This was hard to read… you think, maybe it won’t be so bad because you don’t have the visual images to haunt you and keep you awake at night… but, no, this was still difficult. To know how much George Floyd cried and struggled in the last minutes of his life, that “image” sticks with you. To know how many different moments the “bystander” cops involved in this case — officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — could have intervened and done something to deescalate the situation and save Floyd’s life, it’s painful. There were so many chances. But the part of this story that will haunt me — that should haunt all of us — is this:
As the minutes ticked by, and Mr. Floyd became quieter and his body went limp, one officer checked his pulse and said he couldn’t find one.
[Derek] Chauvin’s response, uttered with no emotion, was, “uh huh.”
The indifference…it’s so chilling. I’m gutted by it, honestly. This moment alone justifies the decision of Minnesota Attorney General, Keith Ellison, to up the charges against Derek Chauvin to second degree murder and, frankly, leaves me mystified that the initial prosecuting officer, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, didn’t pursue that charge from the outset.
Another thing to note? I initially read about the details of the video in the Star Tribune, Minnesota’s largest newspaper. Aside from just being more detailed, it’s interesting to see how two different sets of reporters — three white men for the New York Times and an Asian man and white woman for the Star Tribune — report on the same source. The Times reporting says, “the officers are shown dragging Mr. Floyd to the ground after he resisted being put in the squad car,” but the Star Tribune describes the same situation like this: “Floyd was also reluctant to enter the squad car after Kueng had informed him about the alleged fake bill, but he did not appear to push or fight back, or, attempt to flee.”
Natalie: It’s not clear to me that the NYPD even knows what the word “restraint” actually means.
Natalie: “They put us in here to let us die,” a detainee says. Yes, they did, I’d answer…and what’s more troubling is that it was likely always the case, but coronavirus has sped up that process.
What’s particularly heartbreaking about what’s happening in our detention centers is that it was so preventable. As Julián Castro pointed out during the early Democratic debates, a number of the folks being held in our detention centers are there because of a violation of Title 8, Section 1325 of the US Code that makes “illegal entry” a misdemeanor. This law had been on the books for 90 years but for most of that time, it wasn’t enforced because it was overly burdensome. A return to that posture, even for an abbreviated time, could have prevented so much suffering…but, of course, this administration revels in cruelty against black and brown people.
The cruelty is, after all, the point.
Himani: Perhaps one of the most chilling things I’ve read in a long, long time, and I read the horrifying account of George Floyd’s murder that Natalie discussed above. I don’t understand how someone justifies treating any other human being this way, but I really don’t understand how someone justifies treating children this way. How do they even sleep at night? What does morality even mean to them? How can a person be this evil?
Himani: As Natalie said just above, “The cruelty is, after all, the point.”
Progress Isn’t Linear, That’s for Sure
Natalie: Just recently, the former mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges, wrote an op-ed for the Times called, “As Mayor of Minneapolis, I Saw How White Liberals Block Change.” She writes, “white liberals like me ask the police to do our dirty work — dealing with the racial and economic inequities our policies create… Whatever else you want to say about police officers, they know — whether they articulate it neatly or not — that we are asking them to step into a breach left by our bad policies.”
The Minnesota Park Board’s about-face on these encampments — reneging on a promise the board had made not even a month ago — is exactly the type of bad policy that Hodges is talking about (and, of course, homelessness itself is the result of a series of bad policies). Now all that’s left is how we permit police to step into the breach.
Natalie: I mean, I guess, I appreciate the sentiment but, let’s be clear about something: these are not reparations. Reparations are restitution, what’s being described here are budgetary and programmatic initiatives, akin to the empowerment zones first established in Title VII of the Housing and Community Development Act.
Also? I’m not sure that it’s possible, or practical, for true reparations to be made through city government.
Himani: Completely agree with Natalie — this is not reparations. And my biggest concern is that by tying what should be shifts in policy to a one-time initiative for “reparations” that things like adequate funding for schools and housing access will be tied to a limited budget rather than folded into the city budget consistently moving forward. So we might see some changes on those fronts for a year or two and then it’ll go right back to the status quo because the money has run out. Also, we all know, as with the PPP, that white people and rich people and big businesses will find some way to game this.
"There is no Covid-19 in Walt Disney World!" pic.twitter.com/sTry7mfFHp
— Akinola Verissimo (@AkinolaGG) July 12, 2020
Natalie: I don’t even know what to say about this other than it is utterly horrifying…and leaves governors without the information necessary to make decisions to protect their citizens, in lieu of a legitimate federal response.
Himani: This is textbook authoritarianism: Let’s control all the information and make it so that no one except our propaganda machine can access it so we can lie flagrantly about what’s happening and no one can call us out on it. The data were always inaccurate because of the lack of adequate testing at the beginning of the pandemic and the misrepresentation of COVID deaths. I think we all know that more than 3.6 million people have had COVID in America and more than 139,000 have died from it. But now, even the recent meagre attempts at tracking what is actually happening are out the window.
Natalie: Next time you meet someone who wants to convince you that Republicans believe in small government, remind them of the time that a governor who is only in office because he rigged 2018 election voided the will of 15 mayors. I was glad to see that Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, is willing to fight the governor over the matter in court. The mayor’s right to point out that Trump’s fingerprints all over Kemp’s decision.
Rachel: I feel particularly close to this issue because my mom works in a public school system; when we talk about how adults working in schools will be impacted even if kids themselves are less impacted by the virus as a group (although, much like with adult populations, that is… not exactly true! The children who are impacted are often extremely impacted in ways we don’t yet understand, like with multi-system inflammatory syndrome!), my mom is one of them. One thing I’m thinking about a lot from her years of this career and as she preps to consider returning in the fall is how the challenges of this push to reopen are dovetailing with the struggles and challenges of public school systems that already existed before this. These systems were already under-resourced, disorganized, subject to complex internal politics and external pressures, and had always had limited attention or capabilities for disabled students (or adults!), and that is definitely not going to change now.
From what I can understand, even if there are safeguards in place like limited classroom sizes or limited exposure of different adults, there are dozens more crucial questions unanswered — what if a teacher or other adult lives with someone who’s high-risk? What about special education instructors or therapists who routinely cycle through classrooms or see multiple children from multiple classrooms and then send them back? What about the kids of teachers themselves? Many school systems are adopting some iteration of a ‘hybrid’ approach, either having kids in school part-time or acknowledging that some kids will still need distance education because their parents aren’t comfortable sending them back. If teacher A has two kids, B and C, and B and C are each in school two days a week but a different 2 days, and A is expected to each at school all 5 days of the week… where does the other child go on the off days and who cares for them? How are teachers supposed to be providing full-time digital education and also full-time in-person education at the same time? The students who are most in dire need of in-person education, disabled students who can’t effectively have their educational or treatment needs met over Zoom, are also likely to be at the most risk healthwise when able-bodied students also return, and also the least likely to be able to effectively social distance or use PPE effectively due to equipment, assistive tech or sensory needs; how will that be addressed? The reality is these are likely questions that the school systems (or local or state govs) will likely just not address meaningfully, and instead leave to individual teachers or groups of teachers to try to MacGyver (and also blame them if that doesn’t work). It’s a plan set up for failure, to put it generously. And again, because of capitalism and the deep failure of the federal government, most parents cannot afford, literally, to keep their kids home or out of school because they have to work full-time if at all possible, and there are no other childcare options provided.
And Yet More News Confirming that the Pandemic Is Exacerbating Structural Issues in Our Societies
Himani: We’ve touched on all of this news in this column in the past and, sad to say, none of these situations is really getting any better.
Here Are Some More Horrifying Things Trump Has Done
Himani: There was so much news this week, I was really tempted to cut this out because it feels somehow “less important” than everything else included in this round up. But, it’s not. Trump was impeached seven months ago, which is to say a lifetime ago, for abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The Senate acquitted him in a sham “trial” (can you really call it a trial if there are, literally, no witnesses called to testify?) overseen by Chief Justice John Roberts (you know, our “nonpartisan” “swing vote” on the SCOTUS). Commuting Roger Stone’s sentence is yet another abuse of power that, some argue, is also an impeachable offense.
It’s tempting, in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of America’s most recent attempt at reckoning with the racism at the core of this country’s foundation, to dismiss Trump’s latest incident of abuse of power as “less important” news. But, I still think this is important. I’ve never bought into the lie of American exceptionalism because this country’s founding document didn’t just turn a blind eye to slavery but, in fact, enshrined the dehumanization of black people. Sure, there’s an amendment that abolished slavery 78 years later, but amendments don’t strike out the original text which is taught — often with little discussion of the genocide it abetted — to school children across the country. I never bought into America’s exceptionalism, but for a country that has gone to war again and again and again in the name of “democracy” — truly, how much more blatantly authoritarian can you get?
This latest iteration of Trump’s corruption coupled with the COVID-19 data takeover so that the administration can erase the pandemic and no one has the information to challenge them on it… it really leaves me wondering when we know we’re in the dystopic future that I think we all know is imminent? Or are we already in it?
Himani: I’ve lost all my patience with this idea that anything, any organization at all and especially government, should be run as a “business.”
And Some Horrifying Things That Recently Have Been Undone (At Least For Now)
Natalie: I’m thrilled that, after a considerable backlash, the administration has walked back their effort to restrict international students from participating in online-only curriculum from within the United States. That said, you have to wonder what kind of chilling effect these moves — the proposal of draconian rules targeting underrepresented communities (especially immigrants and trans folks) and their subsequent undoing by the administration or the court system — have. If there was a single student dissuaded from seeking an education on our shores because of the mere suggestion of this rule, that’s a problem.
Natalie: It’s frustrating that, given where we are in choice jurisprudence, every “win” on abortion is immediately followed by existential dread that this will be the case that ends up the Supreme Court.
And Some Horrifying Things That Continue to Unfold
Himani: The decimation of the journalism industry is another topic that has really not made it into this column, even though it is a massive and ongoing problem that predated the pandemic and has only been accelerated by it. A lot of local news rooms are about to change drastically or fold completely.
In Memory, In Solidarity
Himani: The headline for this article is missing some key points. Namely that Angela Martinez Gómez died from COVID-19, but Burger King transphobically attributed her death to her hormone therapy. It’s incredible, unsurprising — sadly — but still incredible the lengths to which businesses will go to deny their workers basic human rights.