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June 14, 2020

Not all of the numbers are in yet, but it appears right now that, contrary to a lot of predictions, the mass demonstrations didn’t lead to a new infection spike after all. If true, it seems the reason for that could be that most protesters wore masks, and the protesting took place outdoors.

Photo by Mike Von, Unsplash

This virus is always surprising us, and once in a while the surprise is a good one.

But I think a fascinating point is, the protesters had no way of knowing in advance that this would happen. In fact, they thought the opposite, as most of us did — that the demonstrating together hour after hour, day after day, would inevitably lead to a surge in infections. And they did it anyway.

Starting on May 25, protesters representing more than 2,000 American cities and towns marched for 20 straight days and nights. In some places, the demonstrations have continued right up to and including June 19th, or Juneteenth, which was yesterday.

Our protests sparked protests against police brutality and racism around the globe. Paris, Tokyo, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Kenya, the Philippines, Jerusalem, Ankara, Belgium, Croatia, Ireland, Scandinavia, Poland, Mexico, the Caribbean, and hundreds more places held protests, marches, candlelight vigils and mourning demonstrations in the weeks following George Floyd’s death. They did it in support of us, and for their own reasons too, I’m sure.

Photo: Koshu Kunii, Unsplash

Watching it all unfold on TV, I felt moved in the deepest way. I mean, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could come out of this with a world that really is cleaner, better, more just?

Is that a possibility?

In the U.S. and worldwide, the demonstrations were overwhelmingly peaceful. Most of the violence that took place was directed at objects, like buildings, or monuments to repressive eras, like statues commemorating the American Confederacy.

A good deal of the violence this spring and early summer has been generated by police — who of course sparked the protests in the first place — and other authority forces, against the protesters. There was looting at the beginning and some other lawless acts by protestors, and then those subsided, urged by BLM leaders and others. That’s a blessing, since it looked at first like this would be a bloody time, more riot than peaceful protest.

I saw a statistic that made my heart break a little more, but showed me, too, why it was so important these protests took place. In 2019, many more African Americans were killed by police (250, of whom 14 were unarmed) than are estimated to have died during the recent protests (17 to date).

At the height of it, in the first week or so of June, it almost seemed as if police — shaken by the protests, and even by the Floyd video itself, which I don’t think anyone can watch dispassionately, and also likely alarmed to find their job performance observers online and on TV screens — seemed at times to be trying to show America how well-founded the protesters’ objections really were. At a time when it would have helped everyone in the country to see cops behaving peacefully and rationally, we saw outbursts of rage instead.


By many accounts, the most reprehensible of all the violence that occurred was the result of direct orders by President Trump.

On June 1, he ordered police to throw tear gas at peaceful protesters so he could walk to a nearby church for a photo op.

The whole shameful episode, from his “I stand with you” speech to the demonstrators right before he gave the tear gas order, to his awkward pose in front of “the church of the Presidents” while holding a Bible upside down, will follow him through the rest of his term and surely beyond. It displayed everything that’s so appalling about him — the arrogant belief that we can’t see through his groveling appeals to his base; his willingness to harm the American people; his eagerness to aggrandize his own image at any cost — all rolled into one brutal and pathetic act.

The protesters came in for criticism early on, because yes, there was looting in the first few days, fires were set and rocks were thrown, but they were protests, weren’t they? Of course I didn’t like it, no one does, but I do understand it. But those acts quickly subsided. The last 10 days or more of protests were peaceful to an extent that still amazes me.

Considering the numbers involved, considering how justified the protesters’ anger was (wasn’t it an act of unjustified violence that launched the demonstrations?), considering how long that anger has been simmering (you can go back as far as you want, to the very earliest days of this nation — or you can just go back to 2012, when Trayvon Martin died at the hands of a white community watch volunteer who was then acquitted of his murder) — considering how pent-up society was, our anxiety about corona, the almost constant assaults on middle- and lower-income people in America in the age of Trump, many of whom are African American … well, considering all that, I almost can’t get over how non-violent the protests have been.

Even now, after all the things that have happened, I’m so glad the protests happened and I’m proud of this country. Black Americans want fairness and justice, and they are entitled to demand it, because this is America and it’s promised to us all.

The fact that the protestors took to the streets during a pandemic, and stayed out there day after day, night after night, tells you how important it was for the demonstrators to be heard. They could have waited — for the next incident, as there surely would have been one, or maybe until there was a vaccine. They could have turned out in smaller numbers, or gone home curfews went into place. They could have continued looting — if for no other reason than that many people who were not poor when corona came are poor now, and those who were poor are now destitute.

Instead, they turned out and they stayed out. They stopped looting, they wore masks, they kept marching even with helicopters overhead and flash-bangs going off, and military police in the streets threatening to harm them, or actually doing it.

I’ll never forget these 20 days (and still counting). Much of our nation has been protesting and the rest, I hope, is doing all it can to make sure those protests mark the point of real change.

Remember I’m writing this for posterity most of all. If I could, I’d reach ahead to future generations and say, “Inside the story of corona is the this other story, the one where a new era begins, one that started on Memorial Day 2020, when an indefensible act changed the course of America.”

I hope I actually get to say that someday.

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