Pandemic Diary Entry Number: 44
June 8, 2020
This world is presently trying to deal with a pandemic that is killing millions of people, while economies across the globe are floundering. In the US, we are watching the faustian support of white supremacists by our president and the superfluity of abusive governmental powers against its own citizens. It is like watching an idiot throw a match on a barrel full of kerosene as we all stand, mouths agape pondering how bad it is going to get.
There are many that do not consider what the police are doing to be out of line. Let me clarify just a few things.
Rubber Bullets or Kinetic Energy Rounds: These are meant to cause pain. They are expected to produce contusions, abrasions, and hematomas. However, they may cause bone fractures, injuries to internal organs, or death. In a study of injuries in 90 patients injured by rubber bullets, 1 died, 17 suffered permanent disabilities or deformities and 41 required hospital treatment after being fired upon with rubber bullets. You can read a first hand report from a doctor in Washington D.C. treating such wounds here.
Tear Gas: is a chemical weapon (lachrymatory agent) that causes severe eye and respiratory pain, skin irritation, bleeding, and blindness. And here is the kicker, while lachrymatory agents are commonly deployed for riot control its use in warfare is prohibited by various international treaties.
This photo shows the moment where a NY police officer pepper sprayed directly into the eyes of an unarmed man. What is not seen here, but can be seen in this video is that the officer first tore the man’s mask from his face and then shot him with pepper spray.
Flash-Bang Grenades: The flash momentarily activates all photoreceptor cells in the eye, blinding it for approximately five seconds. Afterward, victims perceive an afterimage impairing their site. The sheer volume of the detonation also causes temporary deafness in the victim and also disturbs the fluid in the ear, causing a loss of balance. Despite the nonlethal intentions behind the grenade, the resulting concussive blast still has the ability to cause injuries, and the heat created has been known to ignite flammable materials.
It is possible these items have their place, but their invidious use on citizens and reporters during these protests have yet to be shown to be anything other than abuse of power.
I have sat for the last week in a state of exaltation and horror. This isn’t the first time our systemic racism and police brutality have been on the front page, but this time it feels different. I watch with exhileration and pride the diversity and vast number of people protesting for justice. It is powerful to watch the strength it takes to come back day after day and stand, kneel, march and shout, with the feeling that there will be no letting up until the system changes. I recognize the difference between protestors and looters, and know that they are two very different groups with the later attempting to destroy the voice of the first.
On June 1st, just one week ago, I sat in horror as I watched the president stand in the Rose Garden and rail against govenors and mayors that weren’t being “strong” against protestors. He then, illegally, threatened to send in our military against its own citizens as he saw fit. On that very same day I watched as peaceful protestors were tear gassed simply to clear a path for a photo shoot of this same, self serving president. This leaves me very frightened for our country as I wonder, am I watching the dissolution of our democracy and the beginnings of a police state?
I have no words. I am fully aware that I come from a place of white privilege and haven’t earned the right to opine. I do, however, want to have a better understanding, and history helps me with that.
In 2017 I visited Richmond, Virginia, for a historical architecture seminar taught by the venerable Richard Guy Wilson of U of V.
One of the sites we stopped at was the so-called White House of the Confederacy and the home of the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. While one can walk through the museum and learn of the furniture and the daily routines of its inhabitants, I, for one, could not shake the aura of hate and bigotry that seems to waft from the woodwork and envelope ones psyche. I, and several of my fellow attendees, removed ourselves from the museum tour as soon as it was polite to do so and stood outside trying to somehow cleanse our souls with the crisp spring air of Richmond.
The experience still wrenches my gut three years later.
Our group then boarded buses and headed down Monument Avenue where we were confronted with large statues of Confederate soldiers atop gigantic marble plinths. I believe my anger was tamped down the moment that Professor Wilson said, “We are now entering the Avenue of the Losers.”
I have the rare distinction of being a fifth-generation Californian on both sides of my family. This means I am a west coaster to my very core. I am fully aware that the Civil War is a turning point in our country’s history. But as a west coaster I relegate it to history. That does not mean that I can abrogate my responsibility to educate myself and learn from its legacy.
When taking a tour of historic Charlottesville, North Carolina, my guide continually emphasized how the “War between the States” was personal to his family as he scoffed at those that said it is in the past and it was time to move on. He was white and no more than 40. Clinging to such a personal stake in a war that ripped this country apart made me feel that this was a man that held his bigotry proudly.
The Confederate flag is, and always will be, a sign of slavery, oppression and, in the end, losers. However, for some people in this country it seems to be a sign of pride to be worn on hats and flown from pickup trucks. I can not speak to the people that find this acceptable, but I can learn how America came to have a surfeit of statues representing leaders of the failed Confederacy and all their prejudice and hate.
In 2016 the Southern Poverty Law Center produced a study of Confederate statues and monuments in the United States. When you look at the chart, you see two spikes in construction during the 20th century. The first was in the early part of the century and, the second spike takes place in the 1950s and 60s. Both of these were times of racial tensions.
The early 1900s brought us Jim Crow laws, and the middle of the century was the start of the push back against segregation and the beginning of the civil rights movement.
“Most of the people who were involved in erecting the monuments were not necessarily erecting a monument to the past,” But were rather, erecting them toward a white supremacist future.” Jane Dailey, an associate professor of American history at the University of Chicago.”
“These statues were meant to create legitimate garb for white supremacy,” “Why would you put a statue of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson in 1948 in Baltimore?” James Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historians Association.
These statues were meant to stand the test of time and to continue to represent white supremecy for generations on end. It is time they came down.
There is some progress in this area. On June 1st, the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, ordered the removal of the 115-year-old Confederate Soldiers & Sailors Monument in Linn Park. Ironically it took place on Jefferson Davis Day, a state holiday in Alabama honoring the president of the Confederacy (Alabama has a ways to go).
Richmond, the home of the Robert E. Lee statue shown above, has laws that make it a bit more difficult. Virginia state law prevents cities and counties from removing, “damaging or defacing” these statues. So it was nice when the Governor ordered the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue, while the mayor announced that all four Confederate statues will be coming down adding “Richmond is no longer the capital of the Confederacy — it is filled with diversity and love for all — and we need to demonstrate that”.
While not from the Confederacy, but just as odious, Philadelphia took down a statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo, criticized as a symbol of racism and oppression.
I spend a goodly amount of time documenting public art. For this reason, one would assume I find the removal and destruction of these artworks abhorrent from an art perspective. I do not. If people want to utilize them as a teaching tool, they can easily be removed to a place where education can be carried out with an unbiased, accurate look at this dark time in US history.
While documenting public art I came across a Richmond, Virginia statue I do think needs to be glorified, the Civil Rights Monument. It sits on the grounds of the Thomas Jefferson designed Virginia State Capitol. It represents one horrifying example of why we are where we are today. The point of the sculpture is to show the 1950s movement that led to the desegregation of Virginia Schools. A little history: R.R. Moton High School, an all-black high school in Farmville, Virginia, suffered from terrible conditions due to underfunding. The school did not have a gymnasium, cafeteria or teachers’ restrooms. Teachers and students did not have desks or blackboards, and due to overcrowding, some students had to take classes in an immobilized, decrepit school bus parked outside the main school building. The school’s requests for additional funds were denied by the all-white school board.
Schools of higher learning are looking at their slave past. “Universities and colleges with ties to slavery will grow stronger by confronting those legacies”…“If you persist in telling a lie about your origins, you are culpable today, and the public has a right to judge you on that basis.” — former Brown University President Ruth Simmons. This is as it should be, these institutions are often the first to grapple with problems of America. It is a good place to start.
America needs to continue investigating these oppressive symbols. We can start with the racist history behind the naming of many of our military bases.
“The naming of U.S. Army bases after Confederate generals is a legacy of the Jim Crow era, not a legacy of the Civil War. Camp Benning, established in 1919, was built on a plantation. The camp commander lives in the former plantation house. It was named after a Confederate general at the suggestion of local dignitaries, more than half a century after the Union won the Civil War...It wasn’t the first Army base to be named after a Confederate general, nor the last.”
The list goes on: Fort Bragg, named after a plantation slave owner and Confederate general, Camp Beauregard, named for Louisiana native and Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, Fort A.P. Hill named for Virginia native and Confederate Lieutenant General A. P. Hill, Fort Polk named for the Right Reverend Leonidas Polk, the first Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana, and a Confederate general, Fort Gordon, named after John Brown Gordon, a Major General in the Confederate Army, Fort Pickett named for Confederate General George Pickett, Fort Rucker named for Confederate General Edmund Rucker and Fort Hood named for Confederate General John Bell Hood.
Then we have warships named after members of the US Congress. Senator John C. Stennis of Mississippi and Representative Carl Vinson of Georgia both signers of the 1956 Southern Manifesto, a statement denouncing the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.
What would it take to rename these symbols of military might? There are so many great men and women in history that would be far better symbols of our diverse nation than bigoted men and slave owners.
We are sitting on the cusp of a movement that has the ability to make everyone’s life better. It is great to see it moving forward in a positive manner.
We still have a mountainous task in front of us. We must address the inherent racism in America. We must question why our police departments are presently in the streets facing US citizens with the same equipment the military uses in Afghanistan. Our elected officials, especially our president must stop calling for and tweeting about using aggressive tactics on US citizens. We must overhaul the police unions that have consistently and successfully kept abusive officers from being brought to justice. We can do this by altering Section 242, the federal statute governing police misconduct, changing the intention standard from “willfulness standard” to “recklessness standard.” We can even look into a complete overhaul of our policing systems. All of this could be helped along if the Department of Justice would prioritize its Civil Rights Division as a defender of the rights of minorities.
That will all take time. Festina lente.
A quick, simple and gracious gesture would be to begin by removing the symbols of a slave-owning, white ruled, United States that needs to be snuffed out, while we work on all the rest.
What’s happening in our streets are not riots. They are explosive exhalations after centuries of holding one’s breath. Or rather, not being allowed to breathe. It is the natural outcome of 500 years of violent pacification, of realizing there is no difference between a boot on one’s neck or a knee. It’s the sound of people who know that nothing will be given to them, and that all progress comes not from asking nicely, but from demanding it with a bullhorn. Stuart Shuffman, past SF Mayorial candidate.
My Horoscope for today: Friends seem to be passing through a revolving door these days. Be courteous to everyone because you won’t know who’s coming and who’s going until after the 15th.
San Francisco weather: 64 degrees and breezy
NYSE DOW opened at: 27232
NYSE DOW one year ago: 26090
Foreign word of the day: hot
OED word of the day: quank (Of a bird or animal: to utter a harsh croaking or honking cry)
Days under Shelter In Place: 84
Reading: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Studying: Nicolló Machiavelli’s The Prince and his biography Nicolló’s Smile
My Black and White Picture of the Day
Something Silly From the Internet:
If you liked this please clap and let me know. Thank you. You can clap more than once if you like.