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June 3, 2020

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American police brutality shows the reality of the troubled nation

What happened in Minneapolis recently was truly awful, not just in the fact that once more an African American lost his life to a cop, but that the murder was done so openly, so calmly, so damn unnecessarily.

The person filming the incident was joined by a number of other bystanders who yelled at the cop that he was killing the man upon whose neck he was kneeling. The victim’s plea that “I can’t breathe” was the same thing that another black man uttered when a New York cop applied a choke hold that took his life.

It is the numbing again-ness of this horrible act that is so stunning! What will it take for this to stop?

It is this long-repressed fury at how some fundamental things just do not seem to ever change that I think is behind the explosion of protests across the United States this past week, including here in Portland. Yes, the guy who did this has been fired from the force and arrested and charged with murder (third degree, though, not first), but the fury continues because the racism, the discrimination and insults that occur so often each day, in little and big ways, continue.

Few are the black people who have not experienced one of those insults or putdowns; and there are also few who think that somehow this time things will be different!

Of greater sadness is the fact that photos and televised riots will only serve, I am afraid, to work to the advantage of the current administration in the November elections. Once again, it is in our largest cities that this unrest is being played out, and they are — as politicians from the current administration repeatedly say — those governed by “Blue Mayors” and “Blue Governors.” The administration is expert at adding more fuel to any fire, and this burning is just too good to go to waste.

Equally grim is my belief that this is but proof-positive that the United States is already in a civil war between two dug-in factions that, for the life of me, I do not know how we are going to resolve short of violence.

Inveterate dividers

At precisely the time when we desperately need leaders who are unifiers, we are instead stuck with inveterate dividers including, but not limited to, the current administration.

Even during this last week the administration resorted to language that could well be understood — heard for those with ears properly tuned — to incite even more violence.

The cancer at our core remains the same one as it has since before our founding as a nation — the unresolved scars of bigotry and slavery against people of color. Two published photos illustrate one of the rare ways one can visually comprehend this unhealed sore.

One photo shows a vandalized statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, in Richmond, Virginia. As you know, Confederate flags are frequently flown by those on the Right, and their meaning is clear and understood, especially by people of color.

Another photo shows Confederate war cannon on the property of the United Daughters of the Confederacy — but one of the many groups who work actively to “keep alive” all of the memories of the Confederacy including, I believe — although they would deny it — the legacy of the “noble South” and the allied notion of the lesser nature of black people. It is more than symbolic that there is a crumpled flag of the Union at the base of one of the cannons!

In truth, the South was and remains different from the rest of the Union, something that Alexis de Tocqueville observed as far back as in 1831. It still is. This is why the once solid Democratic South flipped to a solid Republican South following the Democrats embracing of — and passing strong laws upholding — civil rights in the 1960s.

And it is why their politicians — and like-minded bigots elsewhere in the US — speak in barely coded language that is clearly race-baiting, signaling with a wink, as it were, that you know what we are really saying!

The current administration plays into and relies heavily on that, daily stoking racial resentment, social grievances, and constantly demonizing and denigrating those who live on the “coasts” or “in cities.”

If we had wise and decent leadership, we might have a chance to tamp down the figurative and now literal flames, but with the crowd we’ve got I suspect that worse lies not too far over the horizon.

Greg Cusack is a retired US congressman from Iowa. He now lives in Oregon. The views expressed are his own.


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