On our way back from a stroll this afternoon, Alex and I noticed some police motorcycles waiting in the parking lot just north of our building. Most of the protest marches here in Seattle, the demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, have centered on Westlake Square or the area of Capitol Hill near Cal Anderson Park and the East Precinct. Some protests have recently brought their message to neighborhoods that don’t usually see unrest close-up, though, like the march from Magnuson Park through University Village. Our house is between the Space Needle and the Pike Place Market, and gets a bit more traffic.
After we got upstairs we heard drumming and shouting and when we went out on our balcony we saw people marching southwest on Broad Street. They turned southeast on Second and by the time they got to Vine Street I was ready to film them. It took them nearly five minutes to pass — though that includes a minute and a half at the very end when they stopped and knelt. In other places crowds have lain in the street for over eight minutes at a time, as did Floyd beneath an officer’s knee.
We’ve been limiting ourselves to armchair activism during the pandemic. At first we were asked to isolate, since our age and underlying conditions make us likely to be intensive users of hospital resources; but I’ll admit that the prospect of being able to beat the virus entirely has made us extremely cautious. I admire the people who have been risking their health to make their voices heard. Black Lives Matter has so far not been urging their followers here to demonstrate, because of the danger. On the other hand, local health officials, though concerned about transmission, have said that police conduct is a public health concern as well, and are not trying to discourage protests. We may know in a couple of weeks whether political outrage has undone the effects of months of distancing and business closures.
The results of the protests themselves may take longer to show up. Many people around the country are reacting in their habitual ways, blaming victims and protesters, justifying police misconduct as preferable to any alternative, and even turning demonstrations against misconduct into demonstrations of brutality. Our local leaders have been relatively attentive and are themselves calling for cooperation and change (the City is withdrawing its motion to end federal oversight of its own police force). Our one Socialist council member is calling for our Mayor’s resignation nonetheless.
On the national level, our President is calling for “domination” instead of cooperation, and in recent days has referred in social media to the notion of death for those who oppose him. He refers to the press as “the enemy of the people.” He has called federal troops into the nation’s capital and has suggested doing the same in states and cities, to oppose protesters who are overwhelmingly peaceful. He has always lauded despots in other countries, possibly, we see now, to normalize his own actions.
Many of us grew up with the ideal of government by the consent of the governed. Those who believe instead in the power of the powerful are difficult to persuade with talk alone. Demonstrations, day after day, across our country and in cities on other continents, make it clear that people are not satisfied with the way that they are being treated.
It was seventy-six years ago today that Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy. It took all that, and another year of fighting, to rid Europe of the idea of racial superiority. What about America?