Anti-racist protest or broader civic rebellion?

June 2, 2020

The protests rocking the country right now have been principally fueled, no doubt, by the police killing of George Floyd.  And, surely, if the only issue were the horrific history of police abuse in the U.S. – a longstanding history with deep roots in slavery and slave patrols; in Jim Crow laws and thousands of lynchings of black people for which no perpetrators were apprehended or held accountable; in legal discrimination against and mass incarceration of people of color; in case after case after case of police killing of black Americans for which no remedy has been found – yes, surely, racist policing alone would be enough to inspire the continuing upheaval.

But there’s more.  The context of the protests is much bigger.  Bigger than Mr. Floyd’s murder, bigger even than America’s despicable racist history of white supremacy.  It is a pernicious context of deliberate and aggressive public disinvestment in the essential infrastructure of civic life – public schools, libraries, hospitals, accessible recreation, a long and lengthening list of public goods – and of the massive failure of public policy to provide for the most basic well-being needs (including health, shelter, and even food) of a growing number of citizens, regardless of color.  It is a context of almost total disregard for the fundamentals of human decency for a vast and growing majority, while political and economic elites seem to care only for catering to the needs of corporate oligarchs and the “1%” of the extremely rich.   It is a context of the rapidly evaporating legitimacy of the elites and the institutions they dominate.

George Floyd’s killing at the hands of racist Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin was the catalyst, but by no means the sole cause, for what is emerging as broad-based citizen rebellion.  It was the spark that set a fire that will not easily be extinguished.

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