Racism: You Will Know It When You Experience It

You would never know it by the way some people are conducting their activities, but the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is still alive and well in the United States and worldwide. In the United States as of June 17 there were 25,610 new cases, which is a 7 percent increase overall. The numbers are going up collectively. According to the New York Times, a few states’ numbers – namely Colorado, Massachusetts, and Illinois – are going down. But in Wyoming, Oregon, and Oklahoma the COVID-19 numbers are shooting up. Wyoming? I didn’t know anyone still lived there!

I was perusing Foreign Affairs this morning and came across an excellent article by Francis Fukuyama, a respected political scientist and economist. His article, “The Pandemic and Political Order: It Takes a State,” posited that, “Major crises have major consequences, usually unforeseen.” He brought up major events and the unintended consequences of those events. Like the Great Depression, which spurred isolationism, nationalism, fascism, and World War II—but also led to Roosevelt’s New Deal, the rise of the United States as a global superpower, and eventually decolonization. He pointed out that the 9/11 attacks produced two failed American interventions, the rise of Iran, and new forms of Islamic radicalism. He posited that the 2008 financial crisis generated a surge in anti-establishment populism that replaced leaders across the globe. And finally, for the current day, future historians will trace comparably large effects to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. And regarding the unintended consequences of the pandemic, the challenge is figuring them out ahead of time.

Speaking of COVID-19, Fukuyama pointed out it is already clear why some countries have done better than others in dealing with the crisis so far, and there is every reason to think those trends will continue. It is not a matter of regime type. Some democracies have performed well, but others have not, and the same is true for autocracies. The factors responsible for successful pandemic responses have been state capacity, social trust, and leadership. Countries with all three—a competent state apparatus, a government that citizens trust and listen to, and effective leaders—have performed impressively, limiting the damage they have suffered. Countries with dysfunctional states, polarized societies, or poor leadership have done badly, leaving their citizens and economies exposed and vulnerable.

Those who have followed the largely disastrous last few months’ news reports regarding the pandemic spread in the United States will note the badly bungled response and subsequently, its international prestige slip enormously. The country has vast potential state capacity and had built an impressive track record over previous epidemiological crises, but its current highly polarized society and incompetent leader blocked the state from functioning effectively. As Fukuyama articulated so precisely, President Donald J. Trump stoked division rather than promoting unity, politicized the distribution of aid, pushed responsibility onto governors for making key decisions while encouraging protests against them for protecting public health, and attacked international institutions rather than galvanizing them. The world watches TV, too, and has stood by in amazement, with China quick to make the comparison clear.

Considering the major problems currently plaguing the United States – the economy, the pandemic, and the civil strife, President Trump’s lack of leadership has become a glaring obstacle in addressing those issues. His first-term performance appraisal will be evaluated in November. As it now stands, I reckon he will not be rehired.  

Regarding the civil strife, what do you think of the protests still going on around the country? I’m referring to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Just when it appears like some progress is being made, a police officer loses control of a situation in Atlanta and another black man is gunned down. And apparently, that officer’s acts were not justified because yesterday, he was charged with murdering the man he shot. Did you hear what the officer said after he fired his gun at the suspect, Rayshard Brooks? “I got him!” I used to hear that phrase yelled out when I was hunting deer in Idaho 45 years ago.  

But I wasn’t on the scene of the incident, and all I have to go on is a silent video segment of the incident and some words from the news media – all written by people who weren’t there either. But the aftermath does fill in the blanks as to what exactly happened. The officer was fired and charged with murder, and his case will be making its way through the Georgia criminal justice system. Perhaps it’s best the officer is in custody; he’s probably safer there.

I’m sure every police officer working the streets right now is rethinking his or her use of deadly force. The country, the states, the people are not going to put up with one more black man being shot by a police officer, and that is a fact. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, it won’t be tolerated. Unless the case is so obvious, so cut-and-dried that nobody would question the use of deadly force, the officer will be fired, arrested, and put behind bars. Prison is not a happy place for anyone, especially for ex-police officers.

So for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I want to address an issue – a trend – that I see developing this very moment. Yesterday, five police officers announced their resignations from the force in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was reported in a local newspaper. I should say, four officers resigned, one decided to retire.

Salt Lake Chief of Police, Mike Brown, was interviewed by the Salt Lake Tribune and said this about three of the officers he spoke with: “They were early in their law enforcement careers and sought to pursue further education and go into a different line of work.”

“I can’t fault them for that, but there is — there’s pressure out there. This job, I mean it’s highly scrutinized. It’s always been scrutinized, but now even more so.”

“They just felt like there were family concerns, that they felt like they could relieve some of the stress on their family and some of their concerns by getting into a different career.”

I Googled it and found reports all across the country about police officers resigning – leaving for another line of work. Like Brown said, there’s pressure out there. This police job…it’s highly scrutinized…now even more than ever.

Ask yourself, “What will my community be like if there is not a police presence?” Who will enforce the laws and keep the bad guys from harming me or my family? And perhaps the second question you might ask is, “Do I want a police officer working the streets around my house who is afraid to do his job to “serve and protect?” Those are valid question and ones that I have contemplated the past few days. If enough current officers quit and nobody pursues the open positions, that could become a real community problem.

But let’s talk about the root of the problem. What is racism? Have you thought about it – really contemplated it? Years ago I was attending a professional social issues conference. One presenter had this to say defining pornography, “Porno might be hard to define, but you will know it when you see it.” Speaking of racism, we could say the same thing, “Racism might be hard to define, but you will know it when you experience it.” Have you ever experienced it? Apparently, there’s a lot of black people in the United States who have experienced it, and right now, they’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.

Citizens of the United States, good luck and stay strong! If you have kids, this might be a good time to point out the history behind certain people’s anger and what happens in a Democratic Republic when the silent social contract is broken, especially in an election year.   

Published by Jeff Hicks

I am a podcaster and author working and living in the Western United States.

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