A Country In Crisis
Are We Tired Of Winning Yet?
As if over 100,000 dead from a pandemic were not enough, now our cities are on fire. The system has failed. Can it be rebooted?
I cried tears of joy on election day 2008. Riding a wave of “change we can believe in,” our first African-American president had been elected, clearing the path for an America that would finally exorcise its original sin of building its foundation on the backs of slaves. Hope soon gave way to reality.
As Barack Obama pulled the country out of Bush’s Great Recession, black families fell further behind. The president’s record-breaking streak of job recovery reduced the unemployment rate for African Americans, but the gap between the rates for whites and blacks persisted. Against the backdrop of an incarceration rate for whites that was 17% that of blacks, the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner exposed the fact that institutional racism was alive and well in America.
To add further proof that Obama had not ushered in a post-racial America, a bankrupt business-man turned reality TV star began using his expertise in branding to gain the attention of white supremacists angered by the demographic shift taking place in America. Donald Trump had already earned his bigotry cred by calling for the execution of five innocent people of color in the Central Park 5 case and declaring that: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” It was, therefore, an easy step for him to propagate the birther myth against the nation’s first African-American president. We are still waiting to hear the impending news from the investigators he had sent to Hawaii. Perhaps, “he was born in Hawaii as shown on his birth certificate,” did not have the ring that he was hoping for.
To win the presidency, all the Democrats had to do was present an opponent who spoke above the level of an 8-year-old and could excite the electorate enough to show up on election day. Bernie Sanders offered a life-long fight for social justice. Hillary Clinton struggled to apologize for mass incarceration and the use of the phrase “super-predator” when confronted by Black Lives Matter at a campaign event. The establishment chose Clinton.
I couldn’t cry on election day 2016, I was too much in shock. Huddled alone in a room that I had moved into in East Los Angeles to run for a seat on the LAUSD School Board, I fell asleep contemplating what the future would hold in Trump’s America.
On the morning of November 14, as I got ready for work, I heard helicopters circling above. I went outside and found students streaming down the street as they left school to protest the election of Trump. I followed along keeping a close eye on the police as the group crossed the border from L.A. Sheriff territory to the area patrolled by the LAPD. The students behaved themselves and the police did nothing more than ensure that the students were kept safe from the traffic. The young people, our future, had been woken up and were ready to flex their political muscle. Hope was still alive.
Protests occurred in downtown Los Angeles with increasing frequency during those few months of the Trump presidency. The Women’s March. The March for Science. March For Our Lives. A steady stream of Americans let a fledging president know that they would not go quietly. But then outrage fatigue set in, or maybe people just settled into the new normal. In any case, the protests decreased in frequency as Trump stumbled through his presidency.
In contrast to Obama, who had been ineffective in his efforts to improve race relations, Trump executed his bigoted agenda with pinpoint accuracy. When athletes kneeled in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick’s fight against racial injustice, the president called them “sons of bitches.” He was, however, able to find “fine people” present in a crowd that was chanting Nazi slogans at a monument dedicated to the confederacy. Not only were the confederates they were celebrating racist, but they were also by definition traitors to our country.
Through the first three years of Trump’s presidency, the country continued along the same trajectory set by Obama. Trump pursued policies that have “overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality”, ensuring that a status quo where “the median white family [has] almost 10 times as much wealth as the median black family” is preserved. By not interrupting Obama’s streak of employment gains, Trump presided over a record-low level of African-American unemployment; but it still remained double the rate for whites. Despite claims of enacting criminal justice reform, under Trump blacks still comprise 37.9% of the people incarcerated in the federal prison system despite being only 12.6% of the total population.
Then, with the arrival of 2020, the wheels came off of the Trump bus. The first blow was COVID-19 and a federal bureaucracy decimated by Trump, struggling to provide advice to a president unwilling to listen. The pandemic struck black Americans particularly hard as they accounted for almost one-third of all infections and deaths. The resulting record-setting job losses wiped out almost all of the jobs created since the end of the Great Recession, with “women, people of color and the young…bearing the brunt of the crisis.”
The second shoe dropped on Memorial Day. First, Amy Cooper tried to intimidate a black man who was criticizing her for walking her dog illegally without a leash. She did so by telling him that she would call the police to report “that there is an African-American man threatening my life.” She then proceeded to dial 911 and tell the false story three times. With each retelling, the drama in her voice increased as the man stood still and videoed the incident with his phone. While Cooper was promptly fired when the video went viral, as of the writing of this article she has not been arrested for making a false police report.
On that same day, four police officers in Minneapolis provided an example of why Cooper’s threat was so dangerous. After responding to a call about a counterfeit $20 bill, they handcuffed George Floyd and attempted to place him in a police car. For an unexplained reason, Floyd ended up face down on the ground next to the police car with three police officers kneeling on him.
Officer Derek Chauvin knelt directly on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. For the first six minutes, he pleaded for his life repeatedly telling officers that he could not breathe, calling “for his mother and begging ‘please, please, please’”. He then became unresponsive but Chauvin continued his assault, even as another officer failed to find a pulse on his right wrist. Floyd was pronounced dead about an hour after the officer finally removed himself so that an ambulance could take his motionless body to the hospital.
In an unusually swift move towards justice, the four police officers were immediately fired. However, despite the obvious criminal actions of all four officers, only Chauvin has been charged with crimes: murder in the third degree and manslaughter. Wanting more action, the community and then the nation erupted in protest.
Never one to miss the opportunity to throw gasoline on a fire, Trump has taken to his Twitter account, not to reassure a restless nation, but to exacerbate our divisions. While he had no problem finding “fine” people in the crowd whose protest ended in the killing of Heather Heyer, he labeled these protestors “thugs.” Even though the military is expressly forbidden from operating on domestic soil, he has on several occasions threatened to call them out to end the protests. He has celebrated the violence of the Secret Service agents guarding the White House, claiming that they were waiting for action: “We put the young ones on the front line, sir, they love it, and good practice.”
With the country falling apart, Trump’s removal by the electorate should be a sure thing, but the Democrats seem determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. During the primary, Biden was caught off guard when attacked for his opposition to school bussing, a program that was meant to undo racial inequity. He also has blood on his hands for his authorship of the crime bill that led to mass incarceration. But when Bernie Sanders seemed like the favorite to win the nomination, the establishment solidified for Biden. What could go wrong?
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, an appointed alternate to the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” Links to his blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.