Over the last few days, one county, thirty-five miles and about 180 degrees removed, politically, from the overeducated, progressive oasis where I make my home, about 4000 mostly-unmasked white people descended upon a local track to socialize, crowd into the stands, and watch car races on a national holiday to commemorate war dead, hours before COVID-19 neared its 100,000th (reported) American life since, roughly, March.
The smiling race fans, many of whom in a high risk category for COVID by age alone, bristled at the suggestion that they were doing anything untoward, or, in fact, illegal (North Carolina’s current Phase 2 guidelines prohibit gatherings of more than 10, inside, or 25, outside). They cheered the season, celebrated a return to normalcy, groused about the economy, and assured reporters that they weren’t scared of any virus, which is probably just a liberal conspiracy, and nothing worth getting in the way of their red, white and blue, Mel Gibson-invoking FREEDOM!
Local law enforcement, when pointed toward the thousands of people gathering in breach of the governor’s order, refused to step in. In fact, they went on record as saying the orders were unconstitutional, and that they did not recognize the governor– a nice, middle-of-the-road democrat, whose nice, middle-of-the-road handling of the pandemic and the soft reopening has afforded him 60% approval ratings, but varying levels of opprobrium from both edges of the political spectrum– or his authority.
Over the last few days, North Carolina had the highest single day spike in Coronavirus cases. Today, North Carolina achieved a new single day high in COVID hospitalizations.
Over the last few days, a Harvard educated author, editor and enthusiastic birder asked an affluent, young white woman if she would follow posted guidelines and leash her dog in Central Park. She responded by calling the NYPD to report that she was being threatened with violence by a vicious African-American man, an accusation that could easily lead to the man’s death. The author filmed the incident. The woman was rightfully excoriated.
Over the last few days, my dreams have all been terrible acts of violence that I have not been able to stop.
Over the last few days, a white man, spokesman for a ReOpen North Carolina group has gone on the record as being “willing to kill people,” should the partially re-opened state not acquiesce to his demand for everything to return to normal. Obviously he is willing to kill people if he is fine with everything reopening and people flooding back in the streets during the worst local surge of an unfolding pandemic. But he’s not talking about the virus. He maybe doesn’t believe in the virus. He’s talking about the automatic weapons he wears as he stalks people around the capitol, unmolested, screaming about his freedom, which has, evidently, been compromised.
Over the last few days, a forty-six year old man named George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police after being handcuffed, forced to the ground, and slowly strangled to death, pleading to breath, while a white police office knelt upon his neck. Bystanders pleaded, cried and cursed. The police didn’t stop until the he was dead. A bystander filmed the incident. The footage was devastating. That death was the opposite of freedom. It is the reason we, the people, theoretically, yell about freedom. And yet, and yet and fucking yet . . .
Over the last few days, US law enforcement has allowed thousands of white people to willfully flout public health guidelines, leading to exponential infections and deaths in a pandemic disproportionately affecting the poor, the elderly, and minority populations.
Over the last few days, US law enforcement murdered George Floyd, who did nothing to deserve it, who suffered greatly, slowly losing his breath, whose death will become another horrifying entry in another in a cruel, and impersonal catalog of lives lost to racism and ignorance and fear, of names remembered not for the men and women they were or the lives they lived or the people they loved or the people that loved them, but for the way they were brutally slain, as if they meant nothing, as if they were nothing at all.
Over the last few days, it strikes me that freedom means something different when you’re dying, when don’t know if you’ll survive, when you realize you have no value. Say you’re a black person, or worse, a black man apprehended by police. Or maybe you’re some other variety of not white or not white enough. Maybe you’re just old, you’re handicapped, you’re poor, you’re sick, you’re alone, you’re struggling to breathe and the only people that can hear you, if they can hear you at all, if you even have a voice to cry out, are strangers watching through masks, maybe they plead impotently on your behalf, maybe they remember your last fearful glances, and maybe if you’re very, very lucky, one of those strangers will not go out of their way to find some reason why you deserved to die in such pain.
Picture today is of George Floyd, age 46, a former high school football player and restaurant bouncer, who was murdered by Minneapolis police on Monday, May 25, 2020.
As of this writing, 2,477,342 people have recovered from COVID-19. O black people have recovered from being murdered by police.