16. As the nation detached itself, suddenly, from the World Health Organization, stunning the world by electing to face COVID-19 alone, go-it-aloneism born in the 1950s as a policy that embodied extended isolationism in the guise of rugged individualism increasingly is not only increasingly dangerous, but designed to destroy consensus akin to walking off the edge of a cliff into a great unknown, responding to the declaration of a pandemic by rejecting globalism as rigged.
The President seemed not a puppet, but a mindless mannequin, disconnected from the levels of actual emergency that had engulfed his presidency, or been invited to surround it, haunted more than ever by specters of racial inequality, in the face of high black inner city deaths and levels of suffering and death to which he seemed oddly and uncannily oblivious, more of a stuffed jacket than ever, haunted by specters of racism from a long-buried past that were masquerading as patriotism by early April. Oblivious to actual risks, and a need for comprehensive tools for addressing COVID-19; even before evidences of flagrant abuses of federal assistance for contractors to provide resources for COVID-19 that never reached the ill. During the pandemic, the government has begun massive contracts of uncertain gain, like $10.5 million for swabs and test supplies from Fillakit, founded by a bankrupt telemarketer prosecuted for fraudulent claims; $14.7 million for surgical masks from an Ohio-based producer of menstrual products that re-marketed production to N95 masks as sales had lagged, or a boutique vodka chain in California, charged with fraudulent relations with COSTCO, which received $48.8 million for surgical masks, or the $14.5 million to a former defense contractor of assault rifles and anti-aircraft guns for more needed N95 masks.
As if profiteering, producers of protective gear who had raided the budget of the CARES Act revealed an absence of serious planning,–already evident in the few resources that reached Americans in need, and stunning lack of ability to hire translators for non-English speaking patients in hospitals’ emergency rooms, confirming laissez faire for-profit status of health care.
The sudden recognizability of the traumatic violence so dramatically and senselessly enacted around George Floyd’s body, even amidst an onslaught of vigilante policing of black bodies, sent a shudder across the nation by its sheer brutality. The violence of the application of a brutal policing tactic of subduing an altogether imagined fear of physical violence that led to Floyd’s death provided a graphic depiction of the abusive nature of a choke-hold–long protested against as an unnecessarily violent and dehumanizing enacting of radicalized violence on a black body in that was protested as a necessary reform of violent policing by many groups advocating for an end to the disproportionate show of violence deserving to be outlawed. If some argue that the sense of vulnerability across society had been generalized by the spread of COVID-19, the extinction of human life by unnecessary violence was globally perceived as a violation of any sense of public trust if it traumatically re-enacted the violence that was enacted and performed on the border against migrants.
Yet if migrants were dehumanized as dangers to American society, the violence of strangulation enacted on citizens seemed akin to denying their rights to citizenship by the gratuitous display of violence as if normalized for police: the violence enacted on bodies whose citizenship and humanity was denied as they were anomalistically subdued whose racial dehumanization–not listening to or acknowledging the words of George Floyd, as the same words of Eric Garner were ignored–and violating the privacy of their homes, the ability of public expression, or rights to occupy public space without the exaggerated application of deadly violence or imprisonment. The inequalities made so evident in the application of violence to Floyd’s neck seemed to accentuate the violence of the border at home, and set a stage for the necessary deep rethinking of what it meant for police to be present in our community. Indeed, rather than consider that killing as an event, one must examine the tragic encounter in the landscape of police killings that has defined America–and especially defined California, with Los Angles among the densest areas in the state of killings, many of which have never gone addressed. Indeed, the longstanding lamination of police killings, which have created a spate of inequity from California to Arizona to New Mexico to Oklahoma to Texas to Minnesota to Florida to West Virginia, have created the basic background of the state of racial relations in America–often drowned out by other “news” and largely under-reported, from death in custody, to gunshot killings, to tasers–with deaths of blacks concentrated in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington DC, and Southern California killings divided among Blacks, Whites, and Latinos–reflecting the large Latino presence in Southern California: these were the very cities that Donald Trump would describe as “living in hell” as if to remove the sites of police violence from the United States as a polity.
The statistical maps of killing do not provide as much data as one would want to unpack this gross location-map, on the use of undue force in each killing, to go beyond segregating victims by race, firearm possession, and age–to discern the bias by which the officer in question acted, and the local consequences of the killing–and effects it wrought in the community.
It is, in short, difficult to abstract the killing from from the context, culture of policing, and impact on the community. But the broad familiarity with concentrations of killings–by no means concentrated in urban areas or slums–suggests the broad extra urban familiarity with police violence. But if much circumstantial evidence about each killing remains privilege, the picture of heightened violence, often tied to racial profiling, and in white neighborhoods, cannot discount the
The narratives of death were intollerable in their aggregate. There was a poignant rehearsal of the vulnerability of racial stereotyping that was enacted on the Minneapolis streets, that revealed the longstanding disparities in men targeted as sites of law enforcement across the nation. Light was cast on the strong place Floyd occupied in the community only after his death, but illuminated the longstanding retrospective revaluation of the absence of honoring this community role that Floyd played and held which was erased when he was targeted, in ways that were absent from the murders of Eric Garner, Ahmud Arbery, Trayvon Martin or Breonna Taylor whose image was cast often as a target of violence in or against stereotypes while the mapping of Floyd’s place was most prominent as a violation of social bonds that were increasingly being frayed. Disparities of infection were to large to ignore to normalize in terms of chronic conditions of increased risk–obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol all flagged to greater risk of infection, increasingly evident in specific communities, if also mapped in less orienting form in choropleths that try to assess aggregations of risk, with less attention to specific communities.
But any map of the protests and their geography must take into consideration not only the increased alerts of the health dangers and rates of hospitalization among minority groups, but the gaps in health care that many minorities face, and the structural absence designed to meet social needs. The pronounced vulnerabilities among specific communities and their relation to authorities–health authorities; public authorities; or police–opened up a broad sense of the deep fracturing of a nation and national trust. Even as the map revealed a nation that was increasingly at risk along the southwestern border, in much of the southern states, in Appalachia, and in Kansas as well as in the Imperial Valley in California and in much of Michigan. But the broad rejection of inequalities and disparities that existed in cities but also outside them around race were rejected as intolerable in an era of COVID-19.
12. The real inequalities revealed in responses to COVID-19 and public health access helped make even more evident the stark brutality with which the knee of a white officer served as a brutal strangulation of George Floyd over a horrific eight minutes and forty seconds. As the mourning for Floyd grew across Minneapolis and across the country, leading in the left-wing city to an intersectional protests that presented a new paradigm of unrest to the nation, of unrest not confined to black neighborhoods or to minority but expanded across the nation from late May to mid-June, as they were not confined to urban areas, or minority communities, presenting a new model of protest to the nation that may not have responded to risk from COVID-19, but both to the horrific illustration of radicalized brutality of Floyd’s murder and a response to inequalities of health, employment, opportunity, and education, that might be seen as a rejection of the geography of collective disenfranchisement and social abandonment.
The steeper inequalities of health care and employment that were evident in the radicalized police violence that created food scarcity of unforeseen proportions since poor harvests triggered social unrest created a powder keg for the spread of protests across the nation by late May. The disgusting violence on Floyd’s body could not be reacted to but by anger across the nation; rage at the murder of a man targeted May 25 for passing off a forged twenty convulsed all who witnessed the absolute lack of acknowledgement by four policemen of the words of the man as he begged them to let him live–and as bystanders warned the officers ‘You’re killing him!”
The enactment of violence seemed terrifyingly scripted: the alleged offender, who had passed of a fake twenty, alleged, was typecast as a social danger, needing to be subdued by a stranglehold pressing full body weight to constrict his throat, in a savage act of dehumanizing violence rehearsing the collective vulnerability of black populations in all its brutality. Political geographer cum prison activist Ruthie Gilmore observed the convenience store salesperson had not stopped Floyd when he allegedly passed a faked twenty, but rather than refusing to make the sale, acted as an immigrant who was deputized to call the police to make an arrest, as if an unwitting extension of state violence. He continued a script of racialzed police violence described by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy–“if you’re black, you might as well not show up on the street,/’less you want to draw the heat” The application of violence on the black body for eight minutes and forty-six seconds so went beyond rationalization, it seemed an extension of the dehumanization of an imprisoned body, or a slave who was denied rights as a citizen. Was it not an expulsion of Floyd from the social body, akin to the violence on immigrant bodies at the southwestern border?
The tormented political geography of the violence was made all the more terribly by refusal of the chief executive to call for “professional standards for the use of force” rather than acknowledge the absolute inhumanity of a chokehold or constriction of breathing to subdue someone suspected of a crime in horrific intent to continue the application of force as the victim pled for his life. Were we not all, with a nation afflicted by respiratory infections of SARS-CoV-2, suffering as a nation from the distortion of public opinion in support of the President, not all suffering from an inability to breath.
Despite widespread calls for police reform, the statement reveals a lack of recognition of the absence of accountability among law enforcement that had occasioned immediate national protests–at revulsion at the banality of the enactment of violence against one man who was pleading for his life. The absence of accountability–an echo of other instances of the show of aggressive force, perhaps filmed with less clear audio or images, and of responsibility for treating the possible perpetrator of a petty crime with a mortal punishment, itself already off the books in many cities, including in New York when Eric Garner was killed for selling cigarettes, revealed wide adoption of a level of excessive from which police are protected from being charged with brutality as police officers. This video ceased to be about one black man, if it was, but was also universalized as of disservice of justice.
The apparent absence of acknowledging suffering by agents entrusted with policing igniting protest that filled long abandoned streets after proscribed periods of sheltering in place–as many others across the nation lost employment, gainful income, or financial security. The apparent freefall of an onslaught of deaths by disease, loss of income, and school closures paled before the application of military combat procedures whose sadism was all too plainly evident as an officer lent in with full body weight against a man’s neck as a show of force.
The confrontation between five heavily armed officers and the body of a man suspected for buying cigarettes with a counterfeit twenty was not only disproportionate an application of violence against a robust individual. The , and so clear a demonization of George Floyd as a civil danger and public threat that the show of force by several police officers with past histories of abusive violence was more unable to be stomached than the vigilantism that set the scene for the recent murders of other black man, as the corruption of the system of justice and law enforcement was so evident.
Peaceful protests perhaps increasingly turned disruptive as they were infiltrated. But the ten days that followed created an outpouring of public support of the failure of a system designed to keep the peace and protect, an atonishment at the inflation of a network of internal policing that had led, in Louisville, to the deaths of Breonna Taylor, an EMT shot in an intrusive mistaken drug raid. Riots spread spontaneously not only in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Miami, in mostly peaceful ways from May 31, as a reckoning of the role of policing in society beset by increased inequalities and the introspection they provoked: and they spread to Louisville, Buffalo, NY, Dallas and Salt Lake City, as well as smaller cities, by May 31. Immediate recognition of the pain and fear and insecurity that Floyd George’s murder caused or triggered was exploited in calls to impose order, as activation of the National Guard in twenty-eight states ramped up the militarization of securitization of confrontation, confrontations not in poor neighborhoods which surreally entered upscale urban neighborhoods from Park Slope to Beverly Hills to K Street, as attempts to keep a peace that for all practical purposes seemed as if it was already lost–or openly sacrificed–in what passed as public spaces across the nation.
17. Although spreading protest was symbolized as contained in thirty cities as hotspots of national violence as the video of the lack of rights accorded a U.S. citizen went viral–leading to massive arrests as curfews imposed in twenty-five cities were resisted–as arrests and nightly violence continued, processed into maps that distilled violence and arrests, but barely communicate the breadth of injustice. Did the cities with curfews create a narrative sufficient to describe what had first been described as “violent protests . . . over the police killing of a black man” on March 25,” but had spread to activate a social movement for justice with a powerful combination of mourning, empathy, and moral economy that undid the brutal rhetoric of opposition, or empty polarities of order and disorder? If the first mapping of “violent protests” not only in Minneapolis but Boston, New York, St. Paul, Portland, Denver, Columbus, Houston (Floyd’s birthplace), Memphis, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Oakland and Los Angeles, site of the 1992 riots, as well as Washington, DC were one of urban unrest–if curfews in Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Iowa City, and Philadelphia grew–
a narrative that alleged riots located in “hotspots” weakened. If they seemed designed to triggered a historical imaginary of the unrest that led to the Black Power Movement in the 1960 in Race Riots in Detroit and later in Los Angeles, that suggested a similar lack of citizenship of African Americans, but were so more intersectional, a reflection of a different generational solidarity, the identification of “hotspots” failed to communicate the expression of empathy so absent from the images of violent policing that knew no bounds or restraint, and the celebration of “order” and “domination” over the city streets from the executive–already absent in the face of dire systematic inequalities unveiled COVID-19.
While the map suggested this was a question of isolated “hotspots” of urban unrest, the GPS logic of point-based precision belied the scale of the protests and unrest to come, and the bonds forged around protests in the streets, st times without masks, in a flaunting of pubic health protocol, but many others mostly following it. (The mention of ostensible “hotspots” could not evoke the presence in recent newscasts of “hot-spots” of coronavirus infection that had by now spread across all fifty states, and the continuity that now exists across many states, and has spread to rural as well as cities.)
Such alarmist maps cast in terms of actual combustibility of the surface of the map and, by metaphorical extension, the social fabric, seem to foreground violence, illegality, and unrest across the nation, rather than illuminate the deep social problems that gave rise to what began as peaceful protests, but are magnified as a struggle against law enforcement that may merit a broader military response–when a military escalation of confrontation is what we should know from experience that is best to avoid, as it was never sought out in the first place. When the Minnesota National Guard was activated by Governor Timothy Walz on May 28, a chain of activation of the National guard across the nation occurred during the anti-crime riots, unfolding over a mere matter of days that suggested a central planning, until by June 1, almost half of the nation–23 states and the District of Columbia–had ordered their National Guards to be activated, as the rhetoric of an “abject failure” of local police to contain “violence” provided the new terms for disruption in Minneapolis and St. Paul was used by Walz to activate the state guard for the first time since World War II,–by calling first for 700 guardsmen and then 2500 before what he called “absolute wanton destruction and chaos.”
Walz’s decision to do so, made after discussions with the U.S. Secretary of Defense, under the need to ensure “order needs to be restored,” bears all the fingerprints of Barr. Even though the violence had quieted and some 80% of those arrested were found to be from out of state, the securing of order by drawing an opposition between military and civilian protestors echoed the rhetoric of the administration. Trump emulated the rhetorical recasting of protestors when he announced June 1 “dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers to stop . . . the wanton destruction of property“–that very phrase my italics, a term echoing Esper–in all American cities with looting or violent destruction of property, and on June 2 to reinforce National Guardsmen in Washington DC. Trump described the need to “restore safety and security” against “acts of domestic terror” in stark terms–if by forces more accurately described as Border Patrol forces, Prison guards, and National Guardsmen, disproportionate but far less than the “thousands of thousands” menacingly conjured. And the later expansion of the White House security perimeter, while not given by Barr, was based on a plan to secure the perimeter he had reviewed–increasingly isolating the “law and order” President in a fortress-like place–even if Barr denied White House statement he ordered the security perimeter on Monday, even as he surveyed the perimeter Monday morning, and urged its expansion on site.
The widely noted deployment of National Guard troops across the nation that militarized the scope of confrontations, without precedent since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., became a basis to read the unrest. Maps provided clues to bolster the images of domestic terror, alerting viewers to the national scale of protests’ disruption and eruption in a context of maintaining the peace, more than the peaceful nature of so many protests: the Department of Justice deployed federal forces including Special Operations Response Teams and “highly trained tactical units . . . that specialize in crowd control scenarios” as if expecting the riots to replicate 1968, as Trump summoned the National Guard, rather than intersectional peaceful protests, sending forces to Miami to stop a protest that they anticipated or imagined, magnifying the burning of buildings in Minneapolis and Washington DC to a disruption of national peace that recalled threatened federalization of the National Guard that left ranking military generals in fear.
The map that was sent out on Twitter by Bernard Kerik, former New York Police Commissioner and early Homeland Security Secretary, who was in jail for tax fraud and making false statements, recently pardoned by Donald J. Trump, who returned the favor by making the protests as “riots” he suggested were not spontaneous, or fueled by disgust at continued racial bias, but rather tied to one another by an underground netowrk: the released Kerik, who quickly joined FOX’s Judge Jeanine Pirro, argued that protests revealed that “anarchist have taken over” in “cities run by leftist Democrats with the highest violence, murder and poverty rates,” and demanded the intervention of the national guard: the storylines that blanket any human sense of outrage or histories of racial profiling are cast as fires needing to be extinguished, even if some of the flaming icons mark the establishment of curfews (Chicago; Seattle; Portland) and refer to the deployment of the National Guard in the LA Riots, the undertone evoked in the tan coloration of states whose National Guards had been activated–if not yet, as in the case of the L.A. Riots of 1992, federalized.
The rise of these uncredited maps, disseminated with abundant icons of flames ignited by “racial conflicts,” show a nation in flames and divided, but despite an abundance of legends, erased any viewpoint of protesters in stark eye-catching colors.
The flame as icon, with textual legends suspiciously like chirons obscuring people or events, and portrayed “riots” as the result of “tensions between law enforcement and the black community” as if they were inherently illegal, and as if the events they describe could be squashed into the earlier so-called “race riots,” or racial violence, even if they arose to object to racial violence by police tasked to enforce the law. If images
While a shift in the color specter of other maps of unrest may lower the visual stakes ratcheted in the above map, the use of flames as markers to suggest a natural disaster of violent combustibility again foregrounds the violence of some protestors and the spread of violent protests–but hardly captures the narratives that gave rise to these protests, or, indeed, the issues protestors want to bring to the table of such disproportionate show of force by police against American citizens–and indeed the killing of men such as the late George Floyd in police custody or earlier killing of the twenty-five year old jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, on February 23, also captured on video, or the March 13 killing of twenty-six year old Breanna Taylor killed by eight rounds of gunfire police blindly fired into her apartment–neither prosecuted at first. IN was that extend from the need to provide police with bias training to stopping people without masks during the pandemic to the apparent siezure of over five hundred masks sent out from Oakland CA made by the Movement for Black Lives, emblazoned with affirmative logos critiquing and questioning the continued police targeting of black lives, intertwining the lives lost due to poor protection in the spread of COVID-19 and police in a form of affirmative self-protection within the community.
The icons of combustion to an extent capture indignation, and anger, but not the righteous indignation at the compromising of an American citizen’s rights. The aggression that provoked widespread looting in Minneapolis, Detroit, Washington DC, Atlanta, Oakland, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Portland, in indignation as National Guards arrived to “keep peace.” Almost the entire nation seem consumed, in ways that made us try to balance a sense of the inevitability of such widespread protests with a broad sense of the injustice that was symbolized in such brutal policing, and a failure to address systemic racial injustice, as right-wing accelerationists seemed to tease out the broader much-evoked possibility of civil war. The destruction of banks, health clinics, bars, computer shops, department stores from CVS to Target to Walgreens, police stations, liquor stores, hardware stores, and community stores, the protests were incited to destroy property and tear down boarded up stores to make cities feel rage: in the context of COVID-19, when communities were not only under attack but felt acutely without adequate health care and protection as minorities suffered increased rates of infection and mortality, destruction of property seemed an implosion of the community born out of frustration of a need to achieve change.
18. The piercing eruption of the two videos of unnecessary and unavoidable deaths due to the unwarranted escalation of violence assumed, perhaps, an even greater status against the backdrop of increased rates of COVID mortality among minority communities, as they confirmed the sense of the second-class treatment of blacks as citizens, and a persistent failure of according human rights to black men: the absence of a failure of a process of the law, on top of the acts of violence in themselves, were deep betrayals in the context of the unremitting losses of of needless deaths from COVID-19, the new shared national experience of minorities remained absent from national maps, or the maps of ‘criminality’ to which protests were tied.
Were the protests going to be reduced to crime data maps? Was the suffering sacrificed because of greed, and the failure to address inequalities or unequal access to justice, and to ignore the need for any sense of security in urban centers? If the President was not elected by city-dwellers, the protests increasingly seemed to divide America not on generational or racial or ethnic lines, or lines of income, as the moral economy of protest wast painfully unaddressed, and the red dots of sites of protesting disrupted what were common spaces by the logic of a deep sense of values that in ways that are unable to be mapped.
The intensity and immediacy of Floyd’s death served to electrify the nation–and world–in the drama of its lopsidedness, a drama that was perpetuated as findings of the county examiner, whose autopsy attributed the death in police custody to his poor heart and medical preconditions, displacing culpability: the revering of this oddly advantageous falsely skewed pathological report by privately hired medical examiners found cause of death the undue weight that knee placed on Floyd’s circulatory system that restricted blood and air flow, as if intentionally, and the scene filmed by handhelds–we have not been allowed to see the body cams of agents–peircingly confirmed a system designed to accentuate fear and rigged against the most vulnerable. The unequal show of force in the footage showing death by strangulation broadcast across the nation would validate violence of fires in cities caused local curfews to be placed in effect–creating a national news map of sorts, that one could sense in the helicopters spinning overhead in Oakland, CA, as multiple unremitting emergency alerts were extended imposition of dusk-to-dawn curfews, as Trump railed against insufficient local application of force.
The falsity of the precious if now apparently untrue narrative of equal justice before the law–a narrative that binds together the United States–was ripped apart in the image of the kneeling over George Floyd’s body, knee pinning his neck to cut of air to lungs. The videos have pierced the false narrative of equality before law enforcement, in ways that the band-aid like legends of captions of local narratives could not hold together. The voice balloons that were pointedly rising out of cities across the nation, from Minneapolis to the White House to New York to Chicago to Los Angeles to Nashville to both Portlands and to Seattle was punctured and ripped apart. The falsity of that narrative, already laid open by the case of Rodney King in 1992, was generalized to the nation, twenty years later, with the same U.s> Attorney General “in charge” of in ways that almost invited us all, as a nation, collectively, to tie together the dots of such profound disunion.
Erupting as voice balloons that had long been suppressed or barely contained at the breaking point, the eruption of violence across the land with near immediacy was channeled by the images arriving on cel phones. But coulld the dissolution of social bonds across the nation be read not only as a reaction to George Floyd’s murder?
The roll-back in the Trump administration of federal oversight of police brutality imposed after the 1991 beating of Rodney King by the LAPD by the Justice department ranged from troubled police agencies in Ferguson, Missouri to Baltimore, Michigan as Attorney General Jeff Sessions voiced concern of overly limiting police powers of enforcement before “violent crime” to return to a tough-on-crime policies that Trump wholeheartedly endorsed. Sessions, who practiced law before the Voting Rights Act and favored stiff, armed policing reducing civil rights set in motion removal of Justice Dept. oversight begun after Rodney King. Did the baiting of fears, increased police presence, and institution of curfews only increase the size and spread of protests of support from mid-March? If pleas from the somber Atlanta GA Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser for peaceable demonstrations in late March helped to redirect protests politically, the embrace of the protests across rural and urban America was unexpected in the catholic embrace of a rejection of police brutality, extending from wealth neighborhoods,
The moral economy of protest emerged from broad awareness of intentional discrimination, racial profiling, and suffering, based on unfair vulnerability to police attacks that were removed law enforcement from any presence of impartiality. The sadism of systematic discrimination was far more acute with the increased sense of a near complete erosion of any safety net or protection in a nation on edge from specters of infection and hospitalization. But as the President took the time to hector governors from the Oval Office, as if acutely not in charge of the nation, again showed his preference for order over justice: berating the very governors he assaulted for attempting to prepare the nation for its inadequate response to COVID-19 as overly weak against unruly rioters, he threatened that any state refusing “to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents” will find the work resolved by the U.S. military: invoking the Insurrection Act to send soldiers to join the national guard in Michigan, Illinois, South Carolina, and Maine, if they did not get tough to reinstate order he would put the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in change of overseeing the security in American cities. Invoking himself as a “law and order” president ignored the absences of security COVID-19 responses created, asking the Justice Dept. to send add FBI rescue teams to channel invocation of the Insurrection Act in 1992 in Los Angeles’ Rodney King Riots, when Bill Barr’s oversaw the response in his own first stint as AG led him to create a precedent for an atmosphere of martial law in a city he sought to demonize, but would now generalize to the nation.
19. While the troops were accepted in his state by California’s Gov. Pete Wilson, did he have a choice? Barr’s apparent repeated employment of Bureau of Prisons officers in riot gear and Dept. of Justice troops “flood” cities in riot gear with “the maximum amount of law enforcement” in order to “dominate” the streets eerily echoes Trump’s language of policing. And President Trump seemed to be rally his base against urban unrest, rather than address grievances: as Barr argued in 1992 that rioting in response to the Rodney King trial raised law and order questions needing to be assessed as fruits of “inner city . . . frustration and . . . hopelessness” of blacks–language of helplessness that famously parsed the riots in terms of criminality and due process, rather than race relations–at the invitation of Governor Wilson, he invoked the Insurrection Act to send two thousand federal officers into Los Angeles’ South Central neighborhood–in a city that had increasingly gained a new level of economic and racial segregation.
Violence had erupted in south central in response to the acquittal of four officers who beat an intoxicated King with wanton brutality in a similar disproportionate show of force on the pretext of allegedly evading arrest: while under the influence, the driver’s body was beaten until non-responsive in ways that failed to accord him any rights. Does Barr now seek to transform the protests into riots to undercut their point, by deploying DEA, FBI agents, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Marshalls and Bureau of Prisons in riot gear without public accountability to patrol the streets of Washington DC and Miami? In casting protestors as “domestic terroritsts” to discount their agenda, Barr mapped the violence onto the violence of a setting where Guard commanders asked men holding M-16’s to “Take the rounds out of your chambers. This is America, not Lebanon,” but equipped guards with pepper spray, batons, tear gas, concussion grenades, and rubber bullets; chemical weapons made them more akin to Syria. Summoning federal Special Ops and Disturbance Control teams trained for “crowd control scenarios” and federal prison guards engaged protests as if they needed to be subdued, even summoning prison guards to the capital from prisons hit hard by coronavirus; monitoring protestors by the FBI and federal prisons cast as them as illegal, disruptive and disorderly to deny protestors’s claims by a similarly disproportionate show of force. Did Childish Gambino’s song echo the commander’s instruction today?
Promises to deploy the military echoed a lopsidedly imbalanced geography of previous riots. If the disservice to justice is attributed to Governor Wilson inviting just under 10,000 active California National Guardsmen–9,659– to southcentral Los Angeles with the federalization of the forces and addition of 4,500 active-duty soldiers from Fort Ord after invoking the Insurrection Act Barr approved if Bush oversaw. As Trump told Governors to “dominate the streets,” Sen. Tom Cotton proposed in op-ed pieces that the Rodney King Riots are a precedent for evoking the Insurrection Act in the New York Times as if it were Fox News.
There seem to have been plans for a disproportionate show of force was mirrored with police clubs, pepper spray and rubber bullets replicated in many states, including California. From Brooklyn, NY to the Fairfax in Los Angeles to Buffalo NY, aggressive policing multiplied risk factors of protesting (argued to be low), if inciting close bodily contact by pushing crowds into small spaces and tear gas or peppery spray causing coughing, asphyxiation, respiratory distress, as mass incarceration turned protests into sites for super-spreading of the virus.
The combined use of batons and of tear gas seemed designed to escalate violence, and transform a peaceful protest to a disordered crowd meriting military response, made akin to a war scene that demanded the further show of force. These were old tactics of a long lineage indeed, if the riot gear was contemporary. If the confrontational violence on the submissive body of Rodney King beating provoked outrage as a disproportionate show of force, Barr sought to evoke the militarization as a template, characterizing it as a “tried” strategy of engagement as if to reference his own past history of crisis management in a reference to the 1992 LA Riots.