Enduring images from a week of reckoning
Published 9:05 pm Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Last week began with images of a black man being choked to death by a Minneapolis police officer while three other officers looked on. The victim, George Floyd, was being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit 20-dollar bill!
From that point forward, we watched as thousands of people across the nation rose in protest over that senseless death and as a tiny minority of them turned to looting and burning buildings.
As the protests continued, we learned, not unexpectedly, that there were agitators injecting themselves into the fray, encouraging violence and disruption, attempting to dismantle order, attempting to destroy civility.
And all of this came as the nation was tentatively trying to ease itself back into some very limited form of social interaction, taking baby steps out of the COVID-19 shutdown.
I watched along with the rest of the nation as the protests unfolded, and several images were burned into my memory as I did so. I think the one that I will never forget is of a small black child, a boy probably 9 or 10 years old, standing in a picket line and holding up a sign that said simply, “Am I Next?”
Those of us who are white can never fully appreciate what that child is facing in life. We will not have to talk to our children or grandchildren about the risks associated with simply walking down the street, the risks associated with wearing a hoodie, or perhaps being in the “wrong” neighborhood.
But what bubbled over last week was more than the longstanding fear by African Americans of police officers. It was frustration at everything happening to America’s black race today. It was the jobless rate that has plagued minorities during this pandemic and before. It was the far higher than average likelihood that if you are black, you will contract the coronavirus and, if you do so, you are far more likely to die from it.
Year after year, we have watched black men killed by white police as well as civilians in situations that simply should not have happened. Year after year, we have watched as the gap between white and black opportunities and incomes has widened.
In 1967, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission, declared in stark terms that “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”
We have made progress during the past 50 years, but there is so much more to be done before our nation can become “one nation, under God, indivisible.”
After the past week, are we now any more ready to face the results of four centuries of systemic racism in America? Frankly, I don’t know, but I hope to God we are.
On the job
Fifty-two years ago, as a young reporter for United Press International, I was sent to Newport News, where a labor strike at Newport News Shipbuilding had turned violent. I spent three days covering that riot.
A couple of years later, I covered another riot, this one in downtown Alexandria.
In neither of those cases, nor while covering lesser nonviolent protests in later years, was I ever afraid that I would be attacked by police. Rioters, perhaps, but police? Never.
And yet this past week, reporters in several cities were tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets — shot — by police who clearly thought the reporters should not be watching what was unfolding.
For more than three years, the president of the United States has demeaned news reporters and the work they do. Before he was ever elected, he told CBS reporter Lesley Stahl that the reason he did so was simple.
“I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.”
The tactic has worked beyond the president’s wildest dreams. We now have police officers attacking reporters who are doing their level best to report what’s happening on America’s streets. What on earth are we coming to?
John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is email@example.com.