Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Erickson Report for September 16 to 29, Page 1: The Fire This Time

One thing from the summer, these months brought race back to the fore of national consciousness. Protest for days, weeks, months - maintained by the repeated blows of new stories, with a new heartbreak coming whenever the pain of the last one is starting to fade. We don't even have the time to call out "say her name" or "say his name" because there is always a new name.

On March 20 it was Breonna Taylor in Louisville, killed in a hail of gunfire leaving dozens of shell casings and scattered holes proving cops just shot wildly at anything in front of them.

On April 24 it was Nicolas Chavez in Houston, shot down in the midst of a mental health episode.

On May 25 it was George Floyd in Minneapolis, slowly suffocated over the course of more than 8 minutes with a cop's knee in his neck.

On August 23 it was Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot in the back in front of his kids.

On September 2 it was Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York, lying naked on a wet street without even a blanket, a hood over his head and knees in his back, after experiencing a mental health crisis - of which the police were informed when the call was made.

Of those, only Jacob Blake survived.

And finally, one incident in which no one was hurt but which shows what is wrong with policing in the US and what is wrong with our society at a whole.

Breonna Taylor

September 5, Tempe, Arizona. A cop responds to a report of a trespasser at a hotel. The manager says the guy has a gun and described him as white, wearing a black shirt and tan pants. Cop goes around to a side door, sees a black man, an employee named Tre, coming out, dressed in a light gray shirt and black pants. Cops holds the guy at gun point for over two minutes, claiming he matches the description of the guy with the gun.

Okay, white guy, black shirt, tan pants. Black guy, light gray shirt, black pants. Cop looks at the black guy and thinks "that looks like the guy." The question, and I think the answer is obvious, is why. Why do cops - no less than the rest of white society, but they have guns - see a black man and think "criminal. Suspect. Dangerous." You know as well as I do.

The response to this string of outrages has been an on-going wave of street protests over police violence and brutality, most particularly over police shootings of unarmed black men.

Yes, there has been some destruction, some rioting, but frankly we shouldn't have been surprised any more than we should have been surprised by the media's abject and repeated failure to put that "rioting" in context, to ever refer to the anger and frustration that they knew, they had to know, was there, preferring to repeatedly focus on any violence, equate protest with violence, and grudgingly refer to the 99% of nonviolent protests with the backhanded compliment that they were "mostly" or "generally" peaceful before getting to what they want to show not because it's the most important or the most meaningful or most expressive of actual events but because it's the most dramatic, makes for the most exciting visuals, is the most fun for them.

We shouldn't have been surprised. In the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots sparked by the acquittal of the cops who brutally beat Rodney King, I wrote that we knew the anger was there, we knew the desperation was there, we knew the rage was there, the only question was what would be the proximate cause for their expression. The same is true now.

Then, the spark was Rodney King. This time, it was Breonna Taylor who lit the fuse and George Floyd who set off the blast.

We shouldn't have been surprised that among all the marches and protests there was some destruction, some rioting. If anything, we should have been surprised there wasn't more.

Because we've known all along. We've know about the bigotry and about the anger.

George Floyd
We knew it two years ago when the US Commission on Civil Rights issues a report called "Police Use of Force" which concluded that "The best available evidence reflects high rates of use of force nationally, and increased likelihood of police use of force against people of color, people with disabilities, LGBT people, people with mental health concerns, people with low incomes, and those at the intersections of these groups."

We knew it 52 years ago. The Kerner Commission, set up by Lyndon Johnson to consider the causes of the so-called "long hot summer" of 1967, when there were riots in 159 cities, found that the causes were poverty and institutional racism. What's more, quoting the report now, "White society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it." The nation, the Commission warned, was poised to fracture into two radically unequal societies - one black, one white.

We knew it over 70 years ago, when a commission appointed by Harry Truman declared that "There is evidence of lawless police action against whites and Negroes alike, but the dominant pattern is that of race prejudice. Negroes have been shot, supposedly in self-defense, under circumstances indicating, at best, unsatisfactory police work in the handling of criminals, and, at worst, a callous willingness to kill."

We knew it almost a hundred years ago. In 1922, in the aftermath of a so-called "race riot" in Chicago three years earlier, a Commission on Race Relations found that the "Negro problem," as it was called, was not the making of black men and women. Quoting: "No group in our population is less responsible for its existence."

We have known all along. And we - and here I mean specifically white society - did our best to ignore it. Over the years, over the decades, over the century, we did our best to ignore it, to say it was their fault, it was their failure, only being roused to some palliatives when that boiling, roiling, anger broke free to a degree we could not ignore. That is, until things calmed down a bit - when we went right back to ignoring it.

Face facts, white people: It's our fault. We are responsible. We are guilty. We are to blame. And we are doubly to blame because we are the ones with the political and economic power to do something about it and we continually fail to do so even as we go around bragging how generous we are.

Last thing on this for now: Don't even bother telling me the destruction, what there was of it, was caused by the rioters unless you are prepared to consider the question of who caused the rioters. Because I doubt you would care for the direction that consideration would take you.

The Erickson Report for September 16 to 29

So we are back. This is our first show since March.

The first problem, of course, was COVID-19. You know, the "hoax" that has as of this moment killed 212,000 in the US, along with an additional 800,000 in the rest of the world.

So the studio where I do the show was shut down and no studio, no show. We talked about trying to do it from my home, but that proved impractical.

Even now, we're being careful. I'm alone in this studio, with the camera operator just coming in at the start, the break, and the end. But things are operating, so we hope and expect to be back to our regular two-week schedule.

We could have come back sooner, but something happened in my personal life in May. I won't bore you with any details but it did set back our resumption.

And then - you know the phrase good things come in threes? Apparently bad things can too. I was actually preparing a show when - well, you know how we're always told to backup our stuff? He's some advice for you: Backup your backup! A computer disaster cost me almost all my relevant files - including the backups.

I'll be honest: At that point, I felt like giving up. I wasn't sure I wanted to start from scratch. But after a few days of licking my wounds, I figured what the hell, let's go anyway.

And so here we are. Coming off certainly an eventful spring and summer and I wasn't referring to my own spring and summer but our collective one.

I'm not even going to try to recap these past months, rather, I'm going to have some observations about some things that have come up over that time.

We're back. Let's go.

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