Distance Learning, Disrupted Learning & Social Eruptions

13. The spin of restoring order did not overlap with an ongoing underswell of anti-police riots. Open source mapping tools embodied the continuity of national moral outrage that the protests embodied and provided, in the week after March 25, when Floyd was murdered, through late June, from a broad beginning in Minneapolis but spreading to multiple states in days–

–even as the National Guard was mobilized in many states–

CARTO/New York Times with data as of May 31, 2020

–scrambling to source data of locations of the anti-policing protests across the nation as they grew by June 3, against the eery specter of violence that VOA colored here, appropriately, by a red specter–

Voice of America Research and Visualization

–as firms like CARTO and MapBox tried to capture the breadth by which the nation was alerted, as protests spread through late June, from urban areas to rural towns in what were considered “red” states–as if uniting the nation, belying any urban-rural divide in ways that seemed in keeping with the urbanized spaces that have redefined America, with far fewer urban-rural divides or clear metropolitan boundary lines apparent, per the 2010 Census.

Mapbox, data update on June 22

For the map of the nation had deeply changed not only since 2010, but in the decade since, as urbanized areas have expanded in ways mirrored in the new topography of protest marches against police violence, which had once seemed only an urban issue.

Urbanized Areas and Urban Clusters, 2010 US Census 

The lack of trust in a government relation to the administration of justice, an essential basis of the public sphere, had eroded over the Trump presidency, that what the DOJ and DHS were prompted to see as threats of destabilization that warranted a new extension of border surveillance to domestic space.

National expansion of protests seemed an organic response to the social failures that became more evident as dangers of coronavirus spread, even as authorities had attempted to tamp them down by classic crowd-control tools. The largest concerted use of crowd control for forty years goes far beyond policing, designed to create disorder across the nation, and suggests an attempt to escalate violence by a substance banned in war. The broad-based use of a national application of agents of crowd dispersal seem eerily akin to the broad closure of schools across the land. The collected canisters labeled Speed-Heat CS–tear gas–or Scat Shell OC–pepper spray–even as police denied the use of such harmful chemicals. If their use appears concerted, who provided such reserves with such speed? Were there more storehouses of CS and OC that the federal government had on hand than needed storehouses of PPE for front-line medical workers?

This came to haunt us in public data that hit us in the head: the increasing numbers of coronavirus-related deaths in rural counties and urban counties were dying faster, from Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, to Washington, DC. As we heard that thirty three of the first forty five deaths of the novel coronavirus in Milwaukee WI were of blacks, three quarters of the first hundred deaths in Chicago from COVID-19 were similarly of blacks, in ways that were quickly noted in the black community, where vulnerability that they had long suspected or been conscious of would be intensified to infinity; the news of mass infections in prisons in Michigan, Arkansas, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, California, and Louisiana were not occasioning tests for infection not presenting signs of COVID-19: despite free testing of all prison guards, workers and wardens the incarcerated population–over one third black in all America, where incarcerated are over fifty percent African American and Hispanic.

While prison wardens and guards were the main vectors by which viral infection that could arise in the prisons, the failure to change proximity of bodies across prison populations that provided viral breeding grounds for aggressive spread of SARS-CoV-2 and contraction of COVID-19–the “breeding grounds”–were, despite urgent proposals endorsing prison releases or reconfiguration to reduce the huge public health risks of incarcerated left vulnerable due to overcrowding, limited medical care and/or underlying conditions’, and where heightened proximity, an absence of protective gear, and inability to monitor on-site prison visits in unprepared and outdated facilities, allowing anyone in the over 600,000 in crowded conditions in local prison facilities across America to be at risk of being infected, and to almost certainly not receive the intensive care or medical attention that they will need.

Is the dilemma of the Department of Corrections emblematic of the vulnerability of the nation, or is the problem of crowding in prisons also the basic reflection of inequality in our society that will stand to become incubators and amplifiers of COVID-19? Is this exclusion of any health protection for the imprisoned only another means of discounting tier lives’ preciousness?

Long before George Floyd was murdered, Keith Ellison, the Attorney General of Minnesota, had a distinct sense residents of Minneapolis, as much of the country, had entered another world of widespread abandonment, as jobs dwindled, shops shuttered, as disparities of medical health grew even more pronounced, of heightened vulnerability–and unemployment lines grew. Novelist Don DeLillo imagined an airborne toxin in his 1985 let loose by an industrial disaster in the midwestern America, whose dispersal at the site of a midwestern University, soon after the students have arrived, that both echoed the sorts of industrial disasters of environmental devastation that have grown across the global landscape since–Chernobyl nuclear power plant the next year, leaking irradiated coolant and gas; the 1984 Union Carbide factory explosions at the Bohpal pesticide plant, which sets forty tons of toxic gas spewing whose effects were felt through today among over five thousand, but probably approach 16,000 as carcinogens dispersed in monsoons; Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill of 2010; Exxon Valdez tanker spill of 1989, which sent over ten billion gallons of crude across 1,300 miles of California coastline, only surpassed in 2010; or Fukushima-Daichi–but was jarringly located in the United States university campus where it was not supposed to occur in a “society is set up such a way that it is poor people and uneducated people that suffer the brunt of natural disasters;” where “these things happen to poor people who live in exposed areas,” as if they are more expendable: we were all exposed to risk of COVID-19, if hoped to meet a low bar for mitigating spread across social networks by closing schools.

But the notion of risk of infection intersected, as if in ways that could not be prevented, with the explosion of another notion of risk, a risk of police violence that we had long suppressed, but seemed a plague regularly exploding in suburban and rural space, as much as in urban centers of poverty, which had been being held briefly at bay. Anti-gun protests spread in the recent past in the “March for our Lives”–about an epidemic of gun violence at schools, and a rejection of lack gun laws, more than violence–

March for Our Lives, March 22, 2018 (New York Times)

–there was a similar urgency in the anti-policing protests that were targeted not at the use of guns by those who emulated police violence, but the use of violence by police. But the clear risks that were perceived in shortened lives among minority communities–Blacks who are three to four times more likely to be the targets of inappropriate police violence, without often having a means to prosecute the offenders on police forces protected by privilege from redress–in ways many continued to bracket out.

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Filed under Coronavirus, COVID-19, education policies, remote learning, school closures

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