The confluence of the COVID 19 pandemic and the groundswell of support for the Black Lives Movement (“BLM”), both occurring on a global scale, have motivated some sweeping changes in a relatively brief span of time. A push for life saving public health measures has collided with public safety and well-being to create the perfect conditions for raising consciousness along the lines of deep and profound issues of life and death; morality and justice; racism and equality. Both COVID 19 and the Black Lives Movement captured the attention of large segments of the population, across generations and across the nation. However, things are starting to challenge our ability to sustain attention to these related matters because the response has often been reactionary and polarizing rather than proactive and unifying. Some of the effect that we are now seeing emerge is embedded in the words of Shakespeare who said through the character of Brutus in his play Julius Caesar: “There is a tide in the affairs of men/Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” If you miss the swell of peak experience, it soon fades. In this case, the peak point in the “flood” of events led to a quick, short-term view that spent our “fortune” halting deliberation and orderly direction while disregarding the opportunity for fuller engagement in positive, healing, restorative solutions.
This is not just Monday morning quarterbacking; this is a sincere attempt to raise awareness so that we can stem the tide on approaches that have us in a quagmire of challenges. Rushing to judgment and underestimating the impact in the early stages of the pandemic proved to be flawed. Putting penalties before dialogue in the matter of police brutality did result in change; however, it also triggered an escalation of angry protest, violence, vandalism and a mounting fear of lawlessness leaving the longstanding inequities in communities of color to continue heating up as summer arrived and gun violence and fireworks blared in the streets.
Groups and individuals have hijacked “BLM” and used it to channel anger, frustration and political motives splintering from the peaceful mission using the movement as a false identity that is being co-opted to sanction looting; burning; defacing and destroying property while prompting some folks to step away rather than join in solidarity. The “Black Lives Movement” founded between 2013 and 2014 is committed to a mission of non-violent, civil disobedience and not vandalism and violence. It appears that there are those who have started using their name to mask their own motives and agenda to incite rather than unite. I am appalled by the maliciousness of attacks on small businesses that are struggling. The targeted vandalism reminds me of a chapter of history that recounts “The Night of Broken Glass (“Kristallnacht”) in 1938 when windows of Jewish-owned stores were broken and property was destroyed. It is horrifying to think that such things have re-emerged in 2020. Shop owners should not feel compelled to declare support to avert having their store vandalized. Even when some had placards declaring “Black Lives Matter,” they still got covered with graffiti or were damaged. The murders of George Floyd and others have opened wounds for many and the understandable pain maybe erupting in an explosion of fury, but there may also be some exploitation by those who are misrepresenting the movement to further inflame racial tensions. Positive change often arises out of intense struggle and even though the challenges are great, the opportunities are greater.
Like the unifying peak experience of the Black Lives Movement in June, the COVID 19 shut-down and quarantine had a unifying purpose and an equitable regard for supporting each other through a difficult time. It was also a time when disproportionality in the effects and outcomes from the virus highlighted that Blacks and people of color accounted for higher rates; flagging a complex issue that needed our collective attention. Then, as the city began to reopen, revelers escaping confinement were attracted to the allure of warm weather sending them out and about drinking and socializing without masks and attention to social distancing guidance. The tide indeed has turned for both progress in the struggle for freedom from hatred; and the victory that flattened the curve.
After confronting both matters, the reactions and quick remedies are bearing bitter fruit. Police brutality continues to be reported along with a spike in crime; civilian outrage; shooting and looting. COVID 19 cases are on the rise again, and now might be a good time to engage in proactive strategies that take a long-term view. Social media and other means of engagement can be our platform for talking about the attitudinal barriers preventing positive change that deconstructs our nation’s racist paradigm. We may even be able to connect this to the changes that we need to make in dealing the pandemic. Looking at the broad issues of health, education and equal opportunity scaled to the level of individuals, families and communities brings people into the process rather than leaving them out and then requiring them to comply. Both the Black Lives Movement and the COVID 19 pandemic are our teachable moments that can guide us to a shared future or a ravaged wasteland because without positive change there will be no winners. Just as my turtle “Tuffy” found a patch of sunlight on the floor as the skies brightened in the aftermath of hurricane Isaias, we can move toward the warmth of “light” that brings the deliverance, clarity, comfort and restoration we seek.