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George Floyd, COVID-19 and The Perfect Storm

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A few week ago, I wrote a piece about what I called "America's Revolution Deferred." I explained about the dialectic presumption of "tipping points" and the creation of a "revolutionary situation" in the context of an unorganized (not disorganized) amorphous angry group, and the inability of the ruling class to rule. [See https://www.opednews.com/articles/COVID-19-And-The-Deferred-by-Michael-Roberts-American-Hypocrisy_Corporate_Covid-19-Scam_Democratic-200523-108.html]. I was writing about the dire situation facing the American working class during the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated by high morbidity, especially among Black and Brown service workers, and the confusion and uncertainty of the future that was driving a seething pervasive anger all across the United States. Then in the space of 30 days three unarmed African-Americans were shot and killed by white police officers.

One young female emergency response worker, Breonna Taylor, was riddled with bullets eight times and murdered in Louisville, Kentucky, in her bed. Another black young man, Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was hunted down in broad daylight and stalked by two white men - a father and son - and executed. And just when you thought that this parallel pandemic of cops murdering unarmed Black people could get no worse, the unthinkable happened - a white cop knelt on the neck of a handcuffed Black man on a Minnesota, Minneapolis street - in broad daylight and full view of hundreds of people - and snuffed the life out of him. All the time with his hands in his pocket while ignoring people, including a nurse who implored him 16 times, to let her help the doomed man.

All of these issues have come together and created a perfect socio-political storm today. Americans of all walks of life already angry, scared, anxious and completely disappointed with the Trump Administration's handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, and reports that point squarely to the dithering, cavalier, and don't care attitude of the president and company, when confronted with the warnings of a looming and deadly virus epidemic from top scientists, were blown away at the rise of America's other pandemic - red-hot police racism. Almost overnight America's streets were filled with hordes of angry, mostly millennial, protesters calling for justice. This collective outpouring of anger is compounding the already deadly impact of the coronavirus that has claimed over 100,000 American lives. The galling thing that is also sustaining and fueling this popular anger is the fact that had the Administration acted in a timely fashion when it was alerted about the coronavirus thousands of lives - as many as 50,000 - would not have been lost.

In many ways the public execution and torture of George Lloyd on a Minneapolis street - he took nearly 10 minutes to die - is the spark driving this present wave of popular anger that is seeing sporadic violent manifestations in some of the largest cities in America. And as authorities struggle to contain these social uprisings with shows of force, in some cases calling out the National Guard ostensibly to protect private property, the message is clear - if we deem your protest not to be peaceful, we'll intervene with force. Herein lies the conundrum. Protests by there nature are, well, protests and thus inherently adversarial since you're protesting AGAINST something that you and others see as wrong. There is a difference between a cumbia march singing hymns like "We Shall Over Come" and a genuine protest. And, sometimes but not all the time, protests turn into riots triggered by certain elements in the protests or by some aggressive action by law enforcement.

The mainstream media's fixation on the "riots and looting" as opposed to the injustice that caused the protests and subsequent riots, is not helping. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr called riots "the voices of the unheard." King, a pacifist, understood that containing and controlling a large group of angry people who shared a common history of injustice, police brutality, and violence, and asking them to "protest peacefully," was and is not always easy. Let me say clearly that I do not condone burning and looting by protesters. That only aggravates the situation and gives law enforcement an excuse to violently crackdown under the guise of "restoring order."

So, let me unpack this complex issue of protests and riots. First, the best barometer and pointer of breakdowns in peaceful, nonviolent protests and internal discipline is the corresponding government repression. In the case of these present protests it is the actions of the police acting as agents of the government. But this is only part of the analysis. The fact is that the evolution of peaceful protests into riots is predicated on the level and degree of governmental repression carried out by the coercive arm(s) of the state - the police in this case - and their relationship with various populations in a given community. This points to the fact that violent upheavals and metamorphoses are not simply emotional spontaneous "gut-level" responses to government/police brutality, but rather follow a more rational calculus by movement participants who see nonviolent action being met with government violence over and over again.

Continuous wrong doing - real or perceived - especially by police against Black, Brown and immigrant communities, and the years of no legal redress or accountability, builds up and creates a toxic and radio-active social situation buttressed by distrust and community resentment. In this present social uprising and protests, the composition are not only members of the aggrieved population but a more progressive, younger cadre of millennials that represent a population mix of all races and ethnicities. In the age of the Internet and Social Media mobilization is easy and sharing of both good and bad content is a click away. And too, the old bamboozling messaging of bygone ages are exposed immediately that only serve to further fuel anger and resentment and trigger protests that can spiral out of control and turn into full-blown riots.

The question therefore is: when does nonviolent protests "turn violent" and morphs into riots? Many scholars have posited that it's not just a simple matter of a lack of control or n angry, spontaneous response to government - inspired violence. Peaceful protests require a discipline and complex set of strategic interactions between protesters, protest leaders/organizers, and government authorities all acting in good faith. Peaceful protests also involve a set of rules that govern the event, e.g. linking hands and marching, singing etc. They also are built upon the reason for the protest and the response of the government. Riots are the unorganized violent twin sister of peaceful protests and by their nature can be triggered by ANY action or REACTION that is perceived to be a manifestation of the very issue/thing that sparked the protest. So, a peaceful protest can spin out of control and end up being a violent melee by the overreaction FROM ANY SIDE. FOOTNOTE & PARTING NOTES: This protest will not be put down by overwhelming police force. It may be set back but it will come again - and again. That's because in America today we have a failed capitalist system that hitherto worked for the small oligarchic class. COVID-19 ended and smashed that illusion of security. Millions of Americans, 42 million of them, have no income, and no prospects for employment when the country fully "opens up." Millions more have lost their employer-based health insurance and still millions more are hungry. The ugly manifestation of endemic and systemic police brutality, mob mentality as evidenced by armed "pro-open up America" white militia types, and the coddling by the worst political opportunists in the nation, are only adding to the anger and resentment.

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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)
 

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