6. The question of the exercise of state violence was not tied as clearly as it might be to COVID-19. But the questioning of the place of what was legitimate violence that might be exercised by the state surely did, and not by coincidence, when the fearful George Floyd, a forty-six year old who had been infected by the novel coronavirus, was terrifyingly confronted by the police force members of Minneapolis, of whom he described his fear, in a violently confrontational manner that he had feared. If the killing of Floyd ws filmed by bystanders who were shocked at the confrontational manner by which the police detail applied physical force to Floyd, or witnessed its application passively, the question of whether the state could sanction such violence–violence that took his life in just under nine minutes, responding to a call from a shop-owner disturbed by Floyd’s attempt to pass off a faked twenty dollar bill while apparently intoxicated–it was wrong that police were sanctioned to apply such violence to his body, and the disproportionate force used only echoed the disproportionate use of force against blacks.
Was such an application of violence indeed sanctioned? The marginalization of populations who were protesting in cities across the nation suggest an oddly unified front of intensified policing in the Age of COVID–even as such tactics increased chances the virus’ spread. We have suspended any sense that school re-openings are to be slate for any time soon, and cannot imagine what schools will look like in the future, as local school boards feel compelled to confront issues of life and death, suddenly, as if every decision is weighing the lives of others, as if in an ultimate incarnation of his absence of empathy or inability to feel the nation’s increasingly evident suffering and pain–or the domestic arrival of what he continued to cast as a foreign invasion, as if military terms were adequate to manage domestic health policy.
7. The closure of schools that responded to the fear of a spreading pathogen were quite mechanically and rather quietly adopted as an improvised measure of distancing. School closures made sense to limit social networks from communicating viral spread, even before a National Emergency was formally declared, proved a basis to contain viral spread. The broad adoption of school closure as a means of containment concealed a complicated calculus of school closure, negotiated across states and local exigencies, rather than a national level.
But the adoption of a national policy of school closures without any other option for communities was a form of violence as well, and a disruptive violence whose effects were not clearly considered or anticipated, or even taken into account. They also concealed the troubling discrepancies that infection rates portrayed of the a society far more riven by injustices of health care, insurance, and medical attention than one would want to acknowledge. The pathos of the emptiness of the classroom and of the corridor reinforced a sense of suspended time, and a “sacrifice”–“To Give Anything Less that Our Best is to Sacrifice the Gift of Learning,” read the motto that was designed to focus attention of students in the classroom–by suspending educational undertakings to stop the coronavirus’ spread.
As the closures of schools spread, it was hard to know what was the biggest sacrifice society was making. Increasingly, teachers worried about the lack of attention and engagement of minority students, and indeed many kids who barely completed assignments, treating this like an early bell of release from the test-driven assignments that would now be decoupled from tests, a sense of purpose or motivation undermined by limited wifi access for many lower income students to complete virtual assignments, or receive feedback on them. And the curtailed participation was not only due to unequal wifi or computer access, but often because a different reality had replaced the reality of the classroom, with many compelled to work for their family businesses, and the flimsy glue of classroom experience was replaced by the alternate obligation to perform duties that competed with school, whose sense of purpose faded and atrophied as its reality withered away with the lifting of standards of performance that were its only glue; the senselessness of taking attendance in virtual rooms, or even of assigning grades rather than P/NP, reinforce an image of the failure of public schools, and lack of authority of educational instruction or its relation to the virus.
Beneath it all, one witnessed, as if the eery underside of a broader lack of governance, a rather terrifying rapidity of a shift to the virtual platforms of social media devised in Silicon Valley as a new media of instruction across America, with minimal attention to the investment in retraining or engaging students in new platforms–which later migrated to a lack of attention in investing in strategies for school reopening–as if the closure of schools offered a mitigation strategy that was an eery turn away from the reality of the spread of COVID-19, and of the inequalities in engagement in instructional platforms. Was the failure to reach students or serve families not only a mirror of deeper inequalities by which society was riven, increasingly evident tot he bulk of the population who witnessed increased rates of infection, hospitalization, and lack of insurance or testing in many disadvantaged communities of color?
8. At the same time, the absence of medical preparedness exposed huge divides in our society. The disproportionate exposure of African Americans to COVID-19 extended to California, data released in early April revealed; in England, blacks were twice as likely to die if they contracted COVID-19, and deaths of black males nearly 4 times higher than expected from March 20 – May 7: a generalized abandonment of blacks was condensed, with a vengeance, in COVID-19. How was this difference processed in urban populations? As we sheltered indoors, this question was all the more removed from most of us, and if we were conscious of its distancing, and the distance from that experience, the protests that would cascade across the country after the murder of George Floyd was viewed, repeatedly, in all its eight minutes and forty-six seconds, as a vulnerability that hit the urban community so much more violently than those who were able to comfortably remain indoors, or take refuge in green spaces removed from the suspension of time in the world outside.
After Minneapolis protests at the lack of conviction of police officers who had confronted Floyd outside Cup Foods, and detained him under the pretext of passing counterfeit money, entered its third night, as the National Guard was deployed, unlike previous popular movements against undue aggression of police violence, parallel protests spread to other cities–a code for areas of minority unrest among underprivileged populations of Blacks–although the concentration of such protests in cities alone was soon belied, as its demonization as a map of dangerous destabilization of a status quo.
When President Trump maliciously painted protestors as spurred on by a “Terrorist Organization”–the apparent success of Black Lives Matter in helping to organize peaceful protests were cast not only as “urban unrest” in eery terms recalling race riots, but engaging in domestic terror and “left wing radicals,” as if to dismiss their place in the body politic–as on FOX–
–but which might be read as a response to the increased incidence of police violence across the nation
–but was perhaps happening too quickly, and under the cover of night, or of early evening, to be more properly mapped with the accuracy against the moral economy of protests in the wake of the confrontation between white supremacists and counter-protestors that as some five million Americans joined protests across the nation in 2017–less than the some 4,296 protests reported in local media–but a conservative count based on reported numbers. As tabulated by Tommy Leung and Nathan Perkins in the Count Love Project aggregating all protests agains the current administration about immigration, health care, or civil rights, the broad protests that had erupted, as much as coordinated by Black Lives Matter, were often mapped against the vision of a moral economy, as they were painted as disrupting a status quo: in casting the wave of protests as subverting democracy, he dowplayed protests of police violence–
The normalization of racial stereotypes was implicit in Trump’s silencing of protestors’ agenda, if not Trump’s urging police officers abandon restraint to keep the peace. As Trump had championed the importance of the qualified immunity of police officers, he smeared the protests when he asserted the need to “assume control” by domestic military intervention, illustrated by involving Border Patrol drones to surveil Minneapolis at night and and Blackhawk helicopters to buzz protestors in Washington, DC, under cover of restoring order to regions of disorder.
9. Was the entire country transformed into the border that the Trump Presidency had earlier fixated upon as a barrier that would protect the country from criminal invasion? When Trump returned to the destruction of monuments or property, as if they threatened a tradition, monuments were valued as more important than lives, and the preservation of a hateful tradition elevated beyond calls for instating police reform to distance it from the enforcement of a color line. Trump dismissed protestors’ claims by situating them in an extremist narrative, pernicious to the status quo, of left-wing terrorism, substituting a clear agenda of disproportionate use of violence by police that was seen on the murder of George Floyd–among others–with protestors’ violence.
The championing of order and attack on rioters’ unruliness recast civil participation and civil action in public space as civil unrest in a form of disenfranchisement, and insultingly demeaned protestors by charging protestors of “dishonoring the memory of George Floyd”–the man who most protests sought to honor–in order to increase the public’s fear, and perhaps distract from deeper fears of the highly infectious coronavirus COVID-19, by foregrouding the identity of the protestors as unruly leftist agitators in danger of destabilizing the nation.
One can only recall with exasperation how the black criminal violence was a racialized icon of criminality George Bush’s late campaign manager eagerly promoted, using racial stereotypes of animality without compunction whose inaccuracies, if honored by a Pulitzer Prize, pinned blame on the furlough by linking its policy to Willie Horton, taking a poster-child for opponents of prison furloughs, to slander the Democratic Presidential candidate, Mike Dukakis, back in 1988: Horton, who is still incarcerated in South Caroline, as incorrectly slandered as as having committed a violent “stabbing” in 1974, after which he allegedly “cut off the youth’s genitals, put them in his mouth, and spat them out”–a fabrication of racist demonization and blatant race bating, pandering to racist fears that perpetuated in almost 175 stories published in the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune about Horton, which Bush, in ways that presaged Trump’s courting of White Supremacists, used anti-furlough groups to orchestrate hysteria.
Yet as we faced escalating–and increasingly towering–bar graphs of mortality rates, and puzzled before questions of underlying conditions, co-morbidities, and alternate measures of inequality, it was particularly helpful to be reminded, as if in a moment of need, that lives matter: and unlike the nameless deaths, hospitalizations, and infections, we were faced by the recitation, memorialization, and re-inscription of names of lives whose meaning was not lost. Reciting affirmations of the meaning of individual lives, a weird rejoinder to the nameless rates of infections almost buried in the onrush of statistics, and tallies of escalating deaths that pierced our realities, reminded us not only of the disturbing inequalities among race in deaths from the coronavirus–
The affirmation of these names offered an alternative history lesson was told by recounting the violence black bodies were subjected, and exercised a therapeutic relation to mortality, in an era when dying alone, in hospitals, has become the new status quo–a socially distanced dying of sorts, for which there is no therapy or clear redress. The rapid assembly of an iconographic archive protesters collectively compiled on city streets rebuts this: delegation of “peacekeeping” functions of National Guardsmen in twenty-six states to protect safety and property, on May 31, painted the spread of protests as by an opposition of the military enforcement and urban rioting many media sources adopted. Was the surveillance that was created over the protests destined to lead to another form of targeting, a rallying cry of false nationalism?
But far more was transporting to redefine the social, and forge social ties before state authority: the investment of the preciousness of each of the names of victims who were killed by undue police violence was a history lesson, of sorts, of the brutality of policing in America, going back to Medgar Evars and to earlier times, finding a continuity in violent policing of Blacks. Trump’s claims rather seemed bent on generating support for domestically activating troops to quell violence, as the maps of riots as fires that spread across the domestic theater–adopted in foreign media–accentuated unrest in urban areas and naturalized their violent destruction of property loss as an emergency–rather than the unchecked nature of police violence.
The mapping of what were peaceful protests as civic unrest promoted a sense of destabilization that almost invited military action.
The maps concealed the way choropleths of unemployment rates more accurately showed the economic alienation than the spread or contraction of the coronavirus, or the actual distribution of cases of COVID-19.
Activating the National Guard seems to have missed the logic of the protests, or imposed a provocatively confrontational filter on them that reoriented military operations to domestic space. But protests’ collective logic of refusing injustice spread across the nation, revealing the real dangers of racial division and targeting across the nation, and not only in cities, where they were first noted. Parallel protests spread across the nation–and arose in George Floyd’s birthplace, Houston, where his family members lived and participated in peaceful protest, to Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, Boston, and Newark–as marches jarringly reclaimed public spaces that had been all but abandoned, beside emotionally riveting improvised commemorative altars. Marches seemed to resacralize or try to purify urban space, in the face of the maladministration of COVID-19, and in the face of intimidation tactics that demonized the protestors as subversive actions of anti-state actors, even as twenty-six states mobilized National Guardsmen to prevent property damage.
The only areas that were widely settled without anit-policing protests in the streets were on the border, bizarrely, as if the rhetoric of
Alerts to readiness were raised in maps on news and social media whose color choice accentuated tensions and violent opposition–by noting cities where curfews curtailing evening protests across the nation in red, mapping an urban localization of protest by June 1, telegraphing concern by brilliant bright red points–
–or refiguring the protests as fires, as if to ask how they could be extinguished, and suggest the activation of an urban unrest in need of policing, as they were mischaracterized as the work of subversives who sought to foment disorder, as if they were destabilizing an actually elusive peace. But as Trump deceptively deferred the reality of the pandemic, claiming “nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion,” the scale and expansiveness of the rejection of the status quo that the protests revealed a revulsion at the manner that Donald Trump had invited police officers to apply more force in making arrest, in 2017, to groups of police, but now ascribing lawlessness he usually placed beyond the southwestern border. While the iconography of disruption and destabilization seemed to necessitate order, their situation on a stable base map disguised the quite uneven landscape of infections, morality, and inadequate health care.
Such isolated fires dismember the unity or common concerns that animated the protests, which support for Black Lives Matter reveals. We are slowly learning much during the current spread of anti-police protests across the states, as schools are shuttered, and their date of opening uncertain. In the context of our disordered response to a pandemic that we kept trying to define as a local outbreak, our cartographic instruments almost with insistence casting an infection in localized terms that obscured the epidemiological risks of contraction any precepts of containment, the disorder that played out around the question of school closures–a basic response to a pandemic? a fig leaf that concealed a lack of greater strategies? –seemed to have ripped any stability out from under the country as we progressed, clenching our teeth, to tread on thin ice of a pre-covidian world, taking the closures of school as a precaution to proceed. As “Defund the Police” became hard to separate from “Educate, not Incarcerate,” as the funding of public schools were tied to urban policing, the question of what domestic spaces we have created in the United States was closely questioned and interrogated in a moment akin to national introspection.
The false objectivity of a practice of mapping that placed fragmented narratives across its surface, beside icons of burning flames, seemed to invite the viewer to assemble the true picture that was there: as if the picture was not of a nation faced by COVID-19, but a relation of urban populations to the police. The map that was reproduced in several news sources–and not of Kerik’s creation–sought to target and demonize protestors across the nation, as if they were “bad apples,” in need of monitoring to prepare for forcible removal; as William Barr had famously presided over the urban unrest in the aftermath of the acquittal of four officers for brutally beating an unarmed Rodney King senseless, casting it for the executive as not as motivated by just cause, or reflecting racial divides in policing law enforcement policies, but as unmotivated unrest.