I’ve spoken with an awful lot of angry people this morning. Most are also terrified. It’s hard not to be when you wake up and look around, and all you see is ashes.
Take heart, my friends! Be of good cheer! For I tell you truly, today is a day of vast possibility, containing with it a hope for a glorious future.
No, I haven’t snapped, and I’m not drunk or high. I honestly believe this, and if you’ve read me at all you must surely know I’m neither abjectly stupid nor oblivious. I’m no rose-bespectacled Pollyanna either, as must surely be apparent once you consider my last article here was entitled “No Lives Matter“.
I’m optimistic this morning because the realization has slowly dawned that what I’ve witnessed — what we all have — is an affirmation of ourselves as a nation, of America as an ideal. We stand now at the beginning of a new day, and we have seen great and wonderful things — terrible, awful things too, surely, but we must never forget the wondrous. Acts of heroism and valor shine brightest against the backdrop of blackest night, and last night — the past six nights — have been dark as hell.
But for all the horrors, there have been moments of purest beauty.
America watched aghast as a man slowly died, unable to breathe or move, as he was held down by a police officer. His name was George Floyd. Our horror mounted when we faced the awful truth that this event did not happen in a vacuum; it was isolated, but others have died the same way and will continue to do so unless change comes.
Seeking this change earnestly, many of our most idealistic threw off their terror of contagion to march together in protest. For them, this was the last straw; it was the final death they would tolerate without saying in one collective voice Enough!
With the protests came violence — robbery, looting, assaults, and massive fires. Bystanders were killed or gravely injured, reporters beaten. Fire trucks were attacked — fire trucks! How is it that firefighters, heroes to us all, could ever be the target of hate-filled destruction?
But they were. And you know what? It didn’t stop them. They fought the fires anyway. Lesser souls might have thrown up their hands in disgust and walked away, but not them. They did their jobs and saved countless peaceful residents hiding in their homes from what would have become a spreading, devastating conflagration.
I need to mention: Our best minds in law enforcement are telling us that the protests themselves are peaceful, that the looting is either opportunistic or, worse, bad actors. Some were trying to provoke a harsh response for political purposes; others were working to discredit a protest movement. I won’t say that no protesters ever turned violent, but it’s certain that far fewer did than marched. Tens of thousands marched in a hundred cities; were they all bent on destruction, every skyscraper would be ablaze today and the suburbs in ashes.
The next morning, the destruction was immense. Along Lake Street in Minneapolis, local shops and restaurants were burned to nothing. A community center had been torched. A charitable foundation dedicated to aiding impoverished Oneida lost its headquarters. And what happened?
The residents were out in force, cleaning up the mess. Volunteers swept up broken glass, hauled plywood to cover smashed windows, scrubbed graffiti off walls. The local groceries were gone; impromptu food pantries appeared like magic, and people showed up with donations for those in need — and swamped them with gifts of food and diapers and toilet paper and bottled water. The news hasn’t focused on this response because pictures of flames sell so much better, but it’s all true.
The next night, there was more looting and burning, and the next. Each morning more buildings were burned flat. One of the best used bookstores in the midwest, Uncle Hugo’s, was ashes and tumbled rubble. And every morning, the volunteers have returned to slowly, quietly rebuild.
In Louisville, a line of riot police believed they were being shot at and returned fire. Whether they had been fired on or not is questionable; they may have been fooled by simulators or firecrackers among the protesters. But they did fire, and when the smoke cleared a good man lay dead in the street. His name was David McAtee, and he made legendary barbecue. Cops could eat free at his establishment.
This is terrible, and with no bright side. Neither was the death of Breonna Taylor some weeks ago, an EMT shot in her bed during a “No-Knock Warrant” drug raid that went to the wrong address — and with no arrests to follow, no person to take the blame. Nothing good comes of any of this. Even the end of “No-Knock Warrants” in Louisville won’t redeem those deaths, or bring them back.
But in most cities, protesters were not fired upon. Police exercised restraint unimaginable to me; some had been pelted by thrown bricks, chunks of pavement, frozen water bottles, caustic chemicals. Many had seen brother officers brought down. And the overwhelming majority of them did not fire, did not exceed their duty. Some few sincerely knelt and joined the protests. It is these I choose to celebrate today.
Last night the National Guard was deployed in many cities. What could have gone very badly indeed instead turned out to be one of the most peaceful nights of protest.
And we will see more stories emerge as time passes and people have the opportunity to tell them. Of the man who took in sixty strangers overnight to keep them safe from arrest. Of those who ran into the tear gas to drag out someone who had been overcome. Of the nurses working in aid stations even after police or a wild mob stormed through. Each of these is an act of valor and courage; and even those of us who disagree with the cause must acknowledge the worth of those who behave thus.
The Black Lives Matter group is purging itself of violent actors, and it is continuing to march, steadfast and firm in their conviction that we can and must be better going forward. Last night, dozens of acts of attempted vandalism were shouted down with chants of “Peaceful Protest” from the crowd. The organization is purifying itself and becoming worthy of its cause, which at its heart is neither more nor less than equality. If it can justify itself to the rest of America — and I believe it can and will — then social change is within our grasp.
This is a long way from over; even were it not, the COVID-19 crisis is still upon us. I very much fear that hundreds of thousands of protesters will have been infected over the past days, and that our hospitals are about to be filled to bursting.
But I also remember that, in March, we put up temporary facilities for a hundred thousand people in under three weeks. We can do it again if we need to, and we will. Supplies are streaming in, work on vaccines and treatments is proceeding at breakneck pace. If any of the present trials are successful, it’s been predicted that we’ll likely have a hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of the year.
And in November, as has happened every four years like clockwork, we will have an election — another peaceful revolution. Our government will be replaced — or not — at the will of the people, and once again we will have a peaceful transition.
Dark days come from time to time; not every day can be sunny and cheerful. If it were, society would stagnate and crumble into corruption and ruin, because the people would become too complacent. It could be said that the purpose of the hardest times is to startle people from their comfort and force them to take stock of their surroundings.
When we consider what… is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left…
This morning, the sun rose. Like every other day before it, the past is gone irrevocably. What we had will be swept away by the forces of history, never quite forgotten but definitely no longer with us. Ahead we have the future, and it is full of endless possibilities. And then there’s today.
Today is, as it always is, what we choose to make of it.
I say we choose to make the world better than it was. Who’s with me?
For a more detailed idea of how we can do this, I invite you to read this:
Crisis Thinking: On Property