The Fire This Time
It’s not like this is the first time.
We’re familiar with the murder of an unarmed black man — or woman, or child — by police, just as we’re familiar with the massacre of children — or churchgoers, or revelers — by someone with a high-capacity weapon.
These things happen. Frequently. It’s the country we live in.
Also familiar is the response: A wave of anger.
Anger, followed by frustration, followed by life, such as it is, moving on. The wave crashes on the unyielding shore, then dissipates. The moment passes.
That’s the plan, after all. When you hold the power, when you support the status quo, the odds are in your favor. Inertia works to your benefit. Doing nothing is easy. You just have to ride it out. Let it fizzle. It will, soon enough. It always does.
And, well, there’s no reason to think that wouldn’t have happened this time. The fires were hot, but the fires are always hot. There’s always anger. There’s always mayhem at the fringes of that anger. We know how this works. We know how all of this works.
Right up to the moment the President of the United States panics and screams “ANTIFA!”
That’s what’s different. He went off script.
The morning after Donald Trump pulled that out of his ass, he demanded ten thousand troops on the streets of America. He was dissuaded, but days later the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff felt compelled to publicly remind the services that the American military doesn’t do that sort of thing, at least not on domestic soil.
That extraordinary letter was a minor event in the wave of rubber bullets and tear gas sweeping the nation, of the fuel being poured on the fire, of the calls for justice evolving into calls for abolishing the police as a fundamentally, irredeemably corrupt institution.
When power panics, it reveals its nature. If the police exist to protect and to serve, who are they protecting and serving? They’re clearly not serving the communities they patrol. They’re clearly not serving justice. They’re certainly serving themselves, but they’re not an independent force preying on the citizenry. They’re not Wall Street.
The police serve power.
It’s a version of Follow the Money, but here we follow the advocacy, follow the support. It’s white folk, white folk who have held their grip on this land for centuries, white folk whose grip is slowly eroding, white folk panicking about losing their dominance.
That’s another word that came out this week. The President of the United States isn’t supposed to talk like that. He’s not supposed to spill the beans. There’s a pretense to maintain, after all, the pretense that the status quo is just, ordained by God Himself, and any deviation is an unfortunate error, a Bad Apple.
Power isn’t supposed to reveal itself for what it is. Power doesn’t last long that way. Power endures when power is hidden, when it presents itself as merely the air we breathe, not the knee on our neck.
But power is still power, and even this may pass, as everything has passed before. But the moment won’t burn itself out as long as power keeps pouring fuel on the fire, and there’s no sign of that stopping anytime soon.
People keep talking about 1968, of the mayhem that year, of Candidate Nixon’s Law & Order pledge to put an end to it.
In 1968, white folk accounted for 83 percent of Americans. A half-century later, that number is down to 60 percent — in a population that has grown by more than half.
Whose law? Whose order? Even without the power panic, the truth isn’t as easy to hide as it was.