America Is Burning

America was already on its knees, much like the rest of the world, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, made all the worse here by our startlingly bad response to it, but now, the world watches as we convulse in a confusing welter of violence sprouting bewilderingly from every seam.

Anybody who knows American history shouldn’t really be surprised by this, violence is foundational to any state and America’s always liked to be number 1.  From the first box of tea tossed, to its expansion into an inhabited continent through to its eventual coronation as The Last Superpower, violence has been one of its main guarantors of liberty and prosperity.  One does not simply luck into the world’s largest military.

So, in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, with a highly polarized population cooped up for months, fearful of an unknown virus as well as the economic peril it’s precipitated, and again, deeply polarized about how to deal with it all, the specter of watching George Floyd murdered in broad daylight by police, only weeks after a similar outrage had been revealed, became too much.  Outrageous straw, meet exhausted camel.  It might have been anything, but perhaps, even as the pandemic has laid bare so many of the inequities uniquely distorting this country, it was inevitable that one of our oldest sins, unresolved and unexpiated to this day, would be the spark to set things off.

Racism is certainly not unique to America but our inability to come to grips with it has always been a serious liability.

It’s such a visceral, inherently polarizing subject that it makes addressing and eliminating it particularly difficult. Simply defining terms often degenerates into vehement arguments, then siloed impasse or worse. Until now, many Americans couldn’t or wouldn’t recognize that merely being a race out of place can be deadly here, with many basic privileges designated “out of place” by an unmentioned lethal default.  Jogging, driving, reaching for a wallet or simply being, while black, is a thing here, a too-often fatal one.  Not seeing that now, at this point, takes a certain entrenched will, though some who don’t know what they don’t know will still read this and insist they see nothing, murmuring boilerplate about bad luck and evil aberrations, but 500 years of oppression and murder is not a bug it’s a feature.

So here we are, Black Americans, tasked to endure yet another public lynching while expected to quietly and gracefully carry the weight of all of those other cumulative indignities and atrocities on top of that understandably demur, with the injustice of it all sparking incandescent rage.

Inevitably, a heavily militarized police response follows. Fear, the favored coin of the realm, is fanned liberally.  Like broken clocks, law-and-order types tsk-tsk about “laws and property and maintaining civility” as if three policemen kneeling on a handcuffed man for 8 minutes until he dies is any part of a civil society.  Meanwhile, others bray online over the juicy prospect of driving into their own fellow citizens for exercising their first amendment rights. Even some police are getting into that action now, circling back to find a decent crowd to drive into.

On top of all this base ugliness, or common sense depending on who you talk to, we now also find ourselves under a sudden onslaught of various bad actors.  Pursuing destruction under the guise of protest, they debase it while sowing chaos for their own agendas, often a stated desire to topple the existing paradigm and create the world they want out of the ashes.  Are they truly a threat, who knows?  I believe vigilance and patience is the best approach.  It’s early days and many of them have never been heard of until now.  Time will reveal more of what they truly want and are, now that they’ve come crawling out of the shadows for their big moment, all ready for their close-up…

And where, one might ask, is our leadership, our Captain during all of this?  Some good lieutenants have stepped up but while our cities burn and police arrest and shoot reporters reporting or citizens peacefully standing on their own property, where is the one who claimed that he alone could fix this American carnage?  For carnage it most certainly has become on his watch, so where is he?

He’s hiding in his bunker, tweeting gasoline onto the flames, inciting the police and his followers to violence, using inflammatory dog whistles: calling protesters “thugs” or baselessly declaring them all “rioters” and “left wing agitators” all the while salivating at the thought of his Praetorian Guard loosing their eager young guns, “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” on his fellow Americans.

So we now know we’re on our own, de facto leaderless.  Our Captain is an Ahab for whom anything not concerning him and his interests is The White Whale.  He’ll harpoon this beautiful country to death if it suits his small, miserable purposes. We must not let him or any other agents of Chaos do so.

Fortunately, the crash-course of solitude we were forced to undertake in order to protect our most vulnerable has renewed for many of us our self reliance, flexibility, generosity and civic spirit.

What made America great is what makes any place great: the people, united by principles and a willingness to work together despite their differences. We can endure this perfect shitstorm and come out with a renewed sense of possibility and purpose, despite the current difficulties. Others have done so in the past, why shouldn’t we?  In this spirit I would like, uncharacteristically but humbly, to leave you with a bit of scripture. I am no believer, but I don’t have to thump a book to find something good in it.

“ We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair.”       (2 Corinthians 4:8)

Solid.  I’ll see you when the smoke clears.

Andrew Sano was born in Montreal Canada, raised near Seattle in the Pacific Northwest and has spent half of his life in the San Francisco Bay Area in Oakland.

About the contributor

'Racism is certainly not unique to America but our inability to come to grips with it has always been a serious liability.' George Floyd died after being arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Footage of his arrest shows a police officer kneeling on his neck while he was pinned to the floor. Poet and writer, Andrew Sano explores what George Floyd's death means for America and for us all.

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