11. With the roll-out of disruptive shows of force cast protests as disruptive rioters, public welfare is seriously on the line. As protestors are characterized as unruly animals, invoking categories of criminalization that the protests demand to be rethought, the U.S. Justice Dept. seems to endorse the disproportionate police force against civilian protestors in public space from barricades and stanchions to pepper spray to concussion grenades both horrifying, and deeply despiriting, of a bygone age–and the broad application of force to protestors is justified by a President who seeks to be designated as a “law and order” President, and to ensure his sole ability to preserve the national peace, halts from banning or condemning choke holds.
As many voiced concern of how anti-police protests risked the spread of viral infection, the maps of protests against the police riots and internalized racism of law enforcement seem to have become counter-maps to the heightened anxiety of the mapping of coronavirus infections. Perhaps the points of sites of protest were inadequate summations of the attempt to find justice, but the dense spread of protests across the country suggested a uniformity that cut across urban and rural and class lines by early June, and far beyond the states where the National Guard had been alerted, as the reactions to the wrongness of police brutality spread into protests against an incrasing militarization and inequity of domestic space.
Amidst the isolation of quarantining at home, much of the nation seemed to take stock of a spate of inequities as the widely-viewed murder of George Floyd on the sidewalk in front of Cup Foods, realizing the scale of inequities. In a time of deep unemployment, Floyd’s action was hardly criminal–he was suspected of having passed off a fake twenty, but the owner of the store deputized himself as an extension of the unclear frontiers of urban policing, and the violence exacted by policemen who seemed eager to apply bodily force as they removed him from his car, despite no resistance to their authority, became emblematic of the violence not caught so graphically on video footage.
The outpouring of empathy, mourning, outrage and disgust cathected the nation to a story we all knew of the corruption of the law: if the protests were a break from social distancing, even physicians recognized as healthily responding to a lack of choice before the aggressive coronavirus: protesting was less dangerous for lack of distancing than a cure to voice rage that has long aggravated urban equity across the twentieth century. The localized impact of shootings often not widely reported in newspapers over the previous years–when 80% of shootings went entirely unreported in local or national newspapers, unlike the Floyd killing, exercised immediate impact on students’ education and for long durations of time–as one can imagine–given the shock the killing created, almost as a reminder of inherent inequities that made work difficult to complete–although the relation is not so clear over a half mile away, revealing intense localization of a decline in work of over four semesters from the killing; Ang’s work revealed rather stunningly the precision with which increased proximity to a police killing coincided with the decline of Grade Point Average (GPA) over up to three years, among high school students from age 14 or 15–a vulnerable population that would mark a coterie or generation for life.
As we recited the names of those killed without need by police in recent years–Eric Garner; Ahmaud Arbery; Trayvon Martin; Ahmad Branch; Oscar Grant–reminded me as a teacher of students, because of their youth, and cut-short lives, or often because they were–but even more because what the grotesque lesson of the robbery of their cherished and promising lives. The devastating effects on education of killings–stronger in relation to proximity to police killings–was increasingly becoming clear–with proximity to such needless deaths marking a lasting decline in school performance, and drop out rates from High School among Latino and black students, a direct sign of a consequential disadvantage–as if we needed to confirm the broad psychic trauma of being in proximity to such violence as heightening one’s own vulnerability, and correlates both to grade point average and effects on students nearby an individual shooting.
While the broad effects of a lag in learning was real, Ang found, although hard to map against the relation to individual killings in a compelling way, the broad level of violence in the over thousand police killings across America in 2019, if concentrated in cities, occurred with a chronological desnity and intensity across the nation, that the effects on schooling are doubtless more a part of educational experience than an outlier–and indeed part of the mental outlook of most blacks and Latino in the nation, of which 99% between 2013 and 2019 go unpunished and result in no charges being brought: the ubiquitous absence of accountability, a major trigger both of the protests and the failure to obtain a verdict against the police who savagely beat, kicked, and exacted a madly disproportionate retribution on Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992, when blacks were three times more likely to be killed by police than whites, in aggregate–a disproportion that increased in many cities, as Oklahoma City, Reno, and Santa Ana–and, as many minorities know, bears no relation to violent crime. Killings by police are in fact far more likely to be distributed in suburban or rural areas than cities, where fatal force is more likely to be applied and where police accountability records are privileged information, not able to be accessed.
The tedium of school is often not fun. But the dramatically plunging grades among students distressed by the killings by police perhaps an even more sensitive register of the deep distress, despair, and rage and disgust at the routinization of senseless police killings. This was not something the government seemed to hear in 2020. Attorney General Barr, no exemplar of law or order, seemed to revel in his lack of understanding of these inequities by justifiying use of force and pepper spray he denies to be chemical weapons–agents that restrict breathing and create temporary blindness–that resembled the responses of Bashar al-Assad more than many military felt comfortable than the defense of American rights, as if the urban protest were unrest not directed to the extensive inequities of how different experiences of infection, of unemployment, a trough in educational opportunity hampering futures across urban America.
The lack of clear direction to how education proceeded may be far less unjust than the application of undue force by the white police officer whose knee applied his full body weight onto Floyd’s neck: the video condensed the violence of an unjust system of police killings whose preponderance deeply effected urban communities, not only by robbing lives, but discerning a community that was regularly stunned by violence in ways unable to be desensitized.
The image of protests that many Americans saw was less about the landscape of inequity, which was bleached from the topographic underlay that foregrounded state lines, mapped as if they were chains waiting to be broken, to read a redress from longstanding inequities, but, rather, as fires needing to be extinguished, like so many spontaneous flares situated on a static muted background, isolated and removed from the narrative of sustained inequity, brutalization, and a devaluing of life that was inescapably echoed in the ravages of a coronavirus whose spread was still not staunched.
12. While the anti-police protestors were cast as if spontaneously combusting fires that had popped up atop a static map, rather than akin to recently erupted disruptions, the combustibility was the fruit of deeply ingrained inequities made increasingly apparent as they were powerfully dramatized. In The Revolution Will Not be Televised, an epic anthem of urban protest that began as a poem, Gil Scott-Heron incantational sung in 1971 that the “Revolution will be live” and “put you in the driver’s seat,” a revolution seemed watched across the streets on social media and television: if Heron was assuring listeners that “There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers in the instant replay” in a broadside critique from the inner city of how consumerism distanced us from the conflict waged in the street and in the world on urban streets, protests registered a need to redress inequities in America spread on social media even as the image shared on Twitter and FOX invited viewers to detect conspiracy and a need to quench urban unrest in reaction to inequities of health care, infection rates, and medical care that were increasingly evident in the Age of Coronavirus.
To be sure, the images that haunted the vision of the protests, and the script to reduce social contact networks of a virus, echoed older playbooks which devalued the novelty of the highly infectious coronavirus, or the new nature of protests against police violence that gave voice to a broad dissatisfaction with the inequity police violence–protesting that wrong was a means to affirm the value of community, even in the face of the erosion of face-to-face contact or reliable health management in the nation, as if in an attempt to renew the power of local bonds. The filling of streets with an outpouring of collective expression was a Durkheimian release of meaning making I missed, but registers, as the nation felt, around a collective rejection of the continued criminalization of skin color and race, and a repossession of equality and dignity, in the face of undeniable images of inequality broadcast in an audible loop as we reviewed and reviewed the undeniable evidence of the denying of the value of life in George Floyd’s murder, and the cheapening of life in the violent invasion of private space of Ahmud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and an increasing cascade of victims, the tabulation of whose number would tragically escalate and continue as a fated progression, punctuating time with a drumbeat of far more violence than the expanding obituaries of COVID-19, during the protests themselves.
There was a sense of the defining of the principles of public space as if to affirm the religious principles of life, haunting in the combined questioning of commemoration, the value of the individual life, and the outright institutional sanctioning of police violence in these killings, that went beyond redress, and whose power was often in its peacefulness. Active redefinition of public space changed not only in the street protests, but the outburst of creativity of almost euphoric commemoration, sharing cans of paint to retag the windows boarded up since social distancing began in Oakland, to redesign and imagine public spaces seemed a cleansing of the same spaces that were policed. In improvised energetic explosion of murals over improvised plywood shields on many storefronts since Shelter-in-Place policies began, in reaffirmation of the collective solidarity in the the face of widespread injustice not earlier openly or fully recognized.
The moment of introspection elided the disproportionate effects of coronavirus with a plague of violent policing. Anti-policing protests not only in contravening curfews, but a euphoria of commemoration as testimony not only to resilience before police violence but a cleansing of the time from the presence of police: the actual embodiment of these killed victims of police violence proliferated as commemorative iconic portraits in one case beneath thee capitals, “This town is filled with the names of my friends,” above a multi-panel collective portrait bemoaning the stacked system of police violence that devalued their lives, converting them as icons to a resistance to the inequities of the improper exercise of police violence, with the urgency of a new form of public art approaching agitprop. “Oakland must wash its hands of the police,” intertwining mitigation of coronavirus and police presence in a city where the unnecessary 2009 killing of unarmed Oscar Grant led to renaming of the downtown square, now surrounded by murals, where peaceful protests for justice centered–
–if the resurgence of commemorations for Floyd, Taylor, and other friendly faces of individuals who were wrongly killed recreated in paint a utopian space in downtown Oakland, affirmative and welcoming in spirit, unlike the devastating space of maps of national rates of infection, hospitalization, or mortality that reminded one of social abandonment.
The memorials and calls for justice that erupted in the boarded up businesses during the June social justice movements sought to find new forms of commemoration with urgency, but also new narratives for a history of disenfranchisment, where new spaces of social justice might be imagined.
But even more: the images were an alternative history lesson, a chronicle of police violence’s victims that rehabilitated the importance and meaning of their precious life. Things had changed in the landscape from 1992, as the chronicle of police violence had escalated in ways that intersected with the absence of public oversight of the coronavirus spread was so poorly controlled to leave us all vulnerable.
As much as creating moving memorial tableaux for passers-by, the boarded up store fronts became a place to imagine a new version of racial history, placing race at the center of questions of the misservice of injustice by police, both imagining a new American history as rejecting the longstanding absence of justice for African Americans, in the new space of social protests, as a possible redoing of past injustices–
–and calls for a wholesale revision of American history around “essential change” raterh than police violence–
–and imagining a new history where the special status of white police enforcers were not replicating a racialized version of American history to fight and target blacks, who were excluded from American history on account of bloated police budgets. The pieces that respond to the election of an American President on an openly racist platform led artists to foreground absence of justice from unnecessary police brutality, although as an image made long before Trump was elected President, reveals the President standing tall in riot gear flag in hand, using the flag as a baton or taser to perform unnecessary violence against protesters he had witnessed in New York.
The outpouring of art that responded to the outrage and need for a call for redressing injustice and a lack of justice for targets of police brutality and racial profiling mobilized existing art projects to present. Was this outpouring of art a cultural resource to come to terms with the lack of dignity with which blacks were treated by police, drawing on a long-buried repertoire, far preceding social media, also an electrifying form of politicization as it was displayed on the streets of Oakland and other cities, posing questions of injustice that increasing numbers were ready and indeed eager to recognize and redress by June, 2020? The art that appeared on the walls was clarifying, and went far beyond the commemorative to reveal a search for new heroes, advocates, and expressive mediums of outrage at those targeted by unneeded police violence, at an awareness of injustice and utter lack of moral equilibrium, encouraged by policies of profiling, rendered all the more electrifying in neon paint as a failure of humanity.
In an earlier era, late poet and songwriter Gil Scott-Heron pioneered vocal agitprop, long before social media, might seem outdated before the wide appeal of improvised footage captured clandestinely of George Floyd’s aggravation by four police officers who acted as if they embodied the law, unlike the footage of security cameras or body cam footage that cast suspects as culprits or criminalize targets, underplaying police violence, we saw a recognizable and shameful violent license, as police, ignoring the shouts of an unseen chorus of bystanders imprecating greater attention to the undue application of such violence, showed themselves to be situated in theater of violence and a brutal fantasy in which armed to the gills police attacked an unarmed man without provocation, forcing him to there ground in an animalistic form of submission that suggest a primal scene of brute violence or mixed martial arts combat, more than ideals of policing that suggested smooth sailing in quiescent counterpoint to the cognizance taken of the scale of police brutality that was unfolding across the nation.
Was the closure of schools as a means to close down pathways communicating a virus that had expanded across America in air ducts, airplane flights, houses of worship, far beyond what was registered, but nonetheless apprehended was already out of control, by February 15, 2020, in multiple sites across the United States, and was spreading faster than confirmed cases could tally or count.
“You will not be able to stay at home, Brother,” Scott-Heron declares flatly at the start of the epic, predicting there will be no pictures during the revolution of NAACP secretary Roy Wilkins “strolling through Watts in a red, black and green colored jumpsuit he has been saving for the occasion“–rather, “Black people will be in the street, looking for a brighter day,” pushing all else from network screens dominated by white people, white tornadoes, or reruns of white shows: if the civil rights had during the 1965 Watts Riots declared that the leaderless rioters “should be put down with all necessary force,” terrified by the loss of $27 million in property in 2,000 fires set in the south-central Los Angeles neighborhood, in a class riot begun by leaderless protestors in the face of urban inequity.
As Scott-Heron’s lyrics have approached an almost scriptural status of reflection, glossing the prophetic terms of his declamation in an epic of urban alienation, it has been widely debated if the rise of social media has meant that in fact all events would become so widely captured, recorded, and televised in some form that the revolution would in fact be televised, or if the passivity of watching television in domestic spaces would remove the viewer from a revolution as they provoked disengagement from struggle: the anti-policing riots had it both ways, in a sense, as the image of Floyd’s brutal killing over a protracted eight minutes and forty-six seconds condensed a drama of urban inequity, and allowed the protests to be mapped, filmed, and mediated as if they were a moment of revolution, and unrest. Yet the policing protests were broadly based across class lines, distinct, even if the images of urban violence that haunted the Trump administration called for the same opposition between military and civilian space William Barr imagined in reprising the script of calling out military forces to intimidate and disperse protestors–then cast as rioters–in the very different landscape of 1992, when cities like Los Angeles were divided by stark economic lines, and when Donald Trump’s moral topography of image of the urban centers run by Democratic mayors as akin to part of American “like living in hell”–cities like Detroit, Oakland, Baltimore, Chicago, and, perhaps, implicitly Minneapolis, conjuring urban fires as a landscape of bad government and misrule, “worse than Afghanistan, worse than . . . Honduras, Guatemala” that both conflated domestic and military spaces in macabre ways, and seemed to assert the need for a federalization of troops.
The metaphors suggested that we had approached the brink of federalizing troops, as in Los Angeles in 1992, in mapping such urban sites of protest as if they were lying outside American society and policy decisions. The denigration of urban to respond to unrest, prompting indignant responses from Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot, Oakland’s Libby Schaff, with whom Trump had jousted on twitter in previous weeks, as the cities seemed to become nations lying outside the nation’s borders, and at risk of threatening national stability that was already unravelling. The calling out of the military flattened a far different landscape than 1992, however, that grew when, a year after the Rodney King beating, a jury absolved four white police officers, and were haunted by the massive disenfranchisement of poorer communities in South-Central, in something that evoked the class struggle of the earlier Watts riots, but suggested less desperation but anger and a need to redress a deep, structural imbalance in American society.
But Trump had been using Border Patrol helicopters to surveil Mineapolis protestors whose indignation he characterized as “THUGS,” and baited with the racist taunt of Southern segregationists “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” declaring “We will assume control” over areas of urban unrest, as if they were indeed only isolated fires, rather than a broad based rejection of the increasingly apparent injustice of the lack of adequate governance before COVID-19, and the lack of adequate health care or unemployment insurance across the nation or the lack of decisions adequate to reduce the spread of infections as has occurred in other economically successful nations whose health care systems had not been systematically eroded: the escalation of cases in the United States, far beyond the UK, France, Iran, South Korea, or Italy–the latter of which an early epicenter of COVID-19’s viral spread–suggest the lack of an ability to contain increased waves of infections registered, if these only represented a fraction of the actual cases that present in national populations.
The proportional spread of cases that had made the United States into an epicenter–or the site of multiple epicenters, from New York to Los Angeles, to Arizona, betrayed a lack of testing and a continued level of inattention that was fraying the deep inequities of the nation, as the number of confirmed cases in North America and South America grew, and European cases of infection contracted, as infection rates stubbornly resisted decline.
The geography of anti-police protests that grew in response was not a set of fire, but responded to a deep inequity of the application of force against people of color. The nation demands to be better mapped as haunted not only by police killings, but, in its deepest memories, not by images of race riots but the image of the federalization of troops that for some provided a model for the domestic military intervention in civil spaces that became part of the landscape when in 1992, Barr described the unfolding riots to President George H. W. Bush in ways that convinced him to intervene as bieng “largely street gag activity, big-time gang [violence].”
This intervention that may have set the basis for domestic military interventions, if with precedents of the use of tactics seen only in Vietnam by many against protestors of the so-called “race-riots” in Detroit, when helicopters only seen in televised war footage from Vietnam, to quell protests that began with police trying to break up after hours celebration of some African American soldiers who had returned from Vietnam, but which turned violent. When the so-called “LA Riots” that erupted in the decision not to charge the officers who had beaten a non-violent King, Barr had arranged, in his first term as Attorney General, apparently planning the intervention overnight, deployed a combination of military forces to quell civil discipline, sending “2,000 or more Federal officers to supplement what was out there, basically to enforce the law out there,” by staking a challenge to the “well-being of the nation” to George H.W. Bush during what was also an election year: Bush decried the “violence in our cities” on the “streets of Los Angeles,” and continued “random terror and lawlessness” days after the jury verdict by promising to backup 3,000 National Guards with a thousand federal riot-trained law enforcement officials–an assembled an anti-riot group of FBI SWAT teams, Border Patrol; US Marshalls’ Riot Service–and placing another thousand law enforcement on standby, with 3,000 infantry and 1500 marines, to meet an “urgent need to restore order.” The playbook for crowd control that unfolded with Bush federalizing the National Guard beneath a central command haunted the protests, as did Bush’s haunting describing a situation “not about civil rights” but only “the brutality of a mob–pure and simple,” rhetorically removing “what is going in L.A.” from the violation of civil rights Rodney King had experienced as he was beaten.
Bush had powerfully demarcated the arrival of troops from the carrying out of “Justice,” that betray how Attorney General Barr placed justice apart from protesting against the jury verdict, removing the threat of terror from “due process and faith in the law,” and calling for scrutiny of what underlay the violence, while casting violent reaction to the verdict was “not outrage against injustice, but itself injustice”: while we were shown an America divided, he described television as a “mirror that distorted our better selves and turned us ugly.” If escalating the presence of troops would escalate the violence, Barr’s recent assembly for an executive that seemed to have lost its grip both on a virus and on anti-police violence was a domestic military intervention of quite similar terms: he place in engineering a military reaction to the Los Angeles riots set a precedent for the logic of response to anti-policing protests of May-June 2020, from Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by offices who were first not charged for his death to the anti-policing protests in Washington, DC, both of which were surveyed by drones, originally from the Border Patrol, or Blackhawk helicopters, whose deployment to buzz the crowd at low-flying altitudes set a new precedent for the domestic deployment of military : was deployment of low-flying military helicopters including a Black Hawk hovering over protestors anything but intimidation tactics and riot control as it navigated the streets designed to cow peaceful assemblies?
Did the increased division between a civilian and military space that has been identified with Donald Trump find its origins in the similar role that Barr seem to have slipped as Attorney General in 2020? The curious combination of law enforcement authorities is striking: with over 10,400 National Guards, Barr seemed to have assembled a nearly identical show of force in Los Angeles, with a stunningly heterogeneous grab-bag constellation of special operations organization of Border Patrol, 150 U.S. marshals, SWAT units, and a prison operations crew, and the federalization of the conflict with troops and marines–as if in a precedent for what forces arraigned against American anti-crime protests in 2020: Barr, Trump, and Esper, in consultation with governors, had attempted to criminalize the far more intersectional and dispersed protests’ actual scope or basis in a moral economy of redress at injustice, where protesting gained fierce urgency.
If the eight minutes and forty-six seconds of what was an execution triggered unrest in 2020, broadcasts of truncated videotape of Rodney King’s beating by four police officers had been broadcast over the year before the absolution of the officers for violence: the armed intervention seemed orchestrated, as the arrival of national forces to contain longstanding enmity to the police led to an urban warfare from April 29 to the morning of March 4 killed 54 persons, critically injuring 221, and leading to 13,212 arrests in a resurgence of a police state in which 11,113 fires were set: while no comparable violence generalized from Minneapolis, and no engagement in urban warfare occurred, the spread of violence was imagined to be coordinated, mapped as “hot-spots” in need of containment, by eery analogy to the imaginary “hot-spots” of coronavirus.
The protests’ broad diffusion projected a different image of America to the world, that can only be described as a rising of national consciousness, of which Walt Whitman would have been proud in ambitions for his song to “make the continent indissoluble,” to “plant companionship think as the trees along all the river of America, and along the shores of the Great Lakes, and all over the prairies”–despite the absence of trees across so many of these regions today–to “make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks,” as would Bayard Rustin, or W.E.B. DuBois, and that energized the nation that had been living in fear and in quarantine. For the spread of protests registers the expression of a deep sense of injustice–and if early property maps were drawn to try to reconcile competing claims in property maps, in ways that map a sense of harmonious status quo that would be illustrated by walled cities, overseen by protective guardian angles or patron saints, the protests seemed an attempt to register a sort of need for restorative justice diffused across the nation, whose deep logic was less than evident in point-based protest maps. Before calls defending the police reverberated at protests, the strong movement to abolishing retributive system of justice, that seemed itself to discount and devalue human life, was widely articulated in movements for prison abolition, strenuously arguing that the devaluing of life in prisons was a pernicious denial of the preciousness of life.
The injustice of retributive policing of minority groups was evident to the much of the nation, even if the nation’s governing bodies were unable to ensure the inability or prosecute or redress police.