Can We Stand Together?

M and I live in an autonomous zone, not the CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) you’ve read about – where Black Lives Matter protestors are occupying six city blocks and a park in Seattle – but our own Covid-19 autonomous zone ten miles north of the CHAZ.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines autonomous, an adjective, as meaning:

  1. (Of a country or region) having the freedom to govern itself or control its own affairs (self-governing, independent, sovereign, free, self-ruling, self-sufficient)
  2. The freedom to act independently 
  3. (In Kantian moral philosophy) acting in accordance with one’s moral duty rather than one’s desires.

I’m not being flippant; M and I are locked down in our own “zone” to protect ourselves from the death-dealing virus but equally concerned – not about protests in the CHAZ – but over the mounting crisis in America. What can we do about it? This is about more than Covid-19. This is a global crisis with America is its epicenter. We sit in the throes of a viral pandemic with a surfeit of African-Americans dying at the hands (or knees) of white police officers and a White House willing to use pepper spray, flash bangs, and rubber bullets against peaceful protestors to clear a path for the president to stand awkwardly holding a Bible in front of a church.

Fifty-one years ago, on “Bloody Thursday,” Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, had helicopters dispense tear gas while 2,700 National Guard and 791 state troopers, local and campus police used shotguns, batons, pepper spray, and rubber bullets to “liberate” Berkeley’s People’s Park from student protestors. Sound familiar? 

Reagan had run on a platform condemning student protest and the establishment of People’s Park. He called the Berkeley campus “a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants” and considered the creation of the park a direct leftist challenge to the property rights of the university, so he seized on it as an opportunity to fulfill his campaign promise. Sound familiar?

Today’s “perfect storm” of Covid-19, the murder of George Floyd, police shootings of unarmed black men, women, and boys makes this more than a People’s Park situation. This is a national crisis of unparalleled proportions. People’s Park divided a California community. The current crisis has divided and galvanized millions of Americans. The “law and order” folks consider it un-American to protest while the vast majority of Americans see the murder of George Floyd as the last straw in 400 years of institutional racism. 

We all saw it; a black life snuffed out under the knee of a white police officer. It looked like a scene from the apartheid era in South Africa. It was the last straw. Black Lives Matter. It’s time for us to stand together and do something about apartheid in America.

But, what does an 80+ year old couple self-isolating from a killer virus do? We vote. We reach out to our friends and neighbors. We write letters to the editor. But… we feel impotent.

Until now, I knew I was the beneficiary of white privilege. I knew I would not be discriminated against in housing, employment, college applications, or the military. What I didn’t fully grasp until now is that my white privilege meant I wouldn’t be stopped by police because of the color of my skin or murdered for the same reason. Now I get it!

This country is so fractured that, when I reached out to a friend during the protests to see if he and his family were OK, his response was to question my motive. Was I more concerned with the looting than the underlying racism? That was not like him, but we’re all living on the edge. If the virus doesn’t get us, some rogue cop might, or the market could collapse and we could find ourselves homeless. The fabric of society is fraying. What do we do? Help us out here…what do we do?

Let’s not let this die like gun control legislation after Sandy Hook, Pulse, and Parkland. The 14th Amendment to our Constitution guarantees the more than 47,000,000 black Americans equal protection, the same protection we whites have under the law. For 400 years black Americans have been treated as second class citizens or worse. It’s time to set things right. This is not about protests – violent or non-violent – this is about human rights.

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