The smoke is beginning to dissipate. The chants and the echoes of the chants are starting to fade. Now the real fight begins. The fight over what all this means. The horrific murder, the headlines, the jam-packed streets spreading across the country, and the heavily armed troops prowling the streets of America — all will reverberate for years. And the flames. Don’t forget the flames.
The pundits, the community leaders, the police chiefs, the politicians, the preachers, and the professors have spoken in an unholy chorus that changes its tune almost daily.
Murder most foul!
Will the bad cop be indicted?
Will the three bad cops be indicted?
The looting and burning, how awful?
These people in the streets, what do they want?
Indictments? Justice? Community Review Boards?
Oh, maybe the daily oppressions of Black life in America have something to do with it?
Maybe we should do something about poverty and stuff?
Maybe something is wrong with the system?
(Sorry, we just got carried away!)
Whatever you, don’t dishonor George Floyd’s memory with violence!
The message delivered by the people in the streets evolved along with it, but with much less uniformity. Two tracks emerged. First:
Murder most foul!
Will the other three be indicted?
It’s the fight against police brutality.
The fight for racial equality!
Police Review Boards!
For icing on the cake, we were treated to Joe Biden, who on Monday had joined the chorus of Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders in stating: “No, I don’t support defunding the police.” Then on the day of the funeral, he “struck a unifying tone with mourners” in an orgy of sentimentality, asking “Why does justice not roll like a river or righteousness like a mighty stream? Why?”
But that other thread keeps up a steady rhythm.
Systemic change! Which even starts creeping into the pundit vocabulary.
And the anguished cry of a young woman who the MSNBC reporter was trying to cajole into saying something proper:
“It’s not enough, it’s not enough, it’s not enough. Until everything changes.”
That one is not going to go away. The near-universal litany is that the violence and the burning are merely “senseless outrage.” Outrage? Of course. But senseless? Well …
One can certainly argue the merits and demerits of violence and rage, and people do. But what are the “rioters” demanding? Officialdom implies that a young man with no future, with a brick in his hand, should be thinking, “Gee, if I throw this brick, maybe that will get them to move such and such piece of legislation through City Council or Congress?” 400 years late and $60 trillion short. Could there be something that is very, very real that has not yet found its voice? That will be echoing down the centuries?
Watching the pundits, the community leaders, the police chiefs, the politicians, the preachers, and the professors, one can’t help notice a current of fear running through the lot of them. After all, does anyone really believe that the flurry of calls for even police department reform would actually be happening if it were not for the flames?
But in the streets there is a current of power that is growing, however insensate. Smelling the fear of officialdom, they sense that the people, whatever their tactics, are collectively on the right track. So calling for systemic change is a huge step forward, to be sure. But it doesn’t by itself provide much direction.
Systemic? Okay. What system? Let’s call it Capitalism. And if the word Capitalism is being tentatively placed on the table, can the word Socialism be far behind?
— Jeff Roby
June 9, 2020