Uprising in the US is Demanding more than Reform

By Deisy Mexidor Francis on June 19, 2020

Photo: Bill Hackwell

Prensa Latina interview with Resumen Latinoamericano in English co-editor Bill Hackwell

-From your experience how do the current protests compare to other times of protest in the United States?

Except for perhaps the mass workers struggles during the depression of 1930’s, I don’t think there is really is any comparison to other periods of uprisings in the US to what is going on at this moment because of the depth and stamina of the people in motion. Tonight will be the 20th straight day of major protests in cities and small towns across the country and there is no sign of them letting up.

I remember in the months leading up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 there were huge demonstrations especially in Washington DC, New York City and San Francisco. Week after week hundreds of thousands of people would fill the streets to try to stop Bush’s war drive for oil. Up until that time they were the largest anti-war demonstrations in the history of the US and we really had the feeling we would win. But Bush, the Pentagon and Wall Street pushed on despite the popular sentiments. Over the years I have been able to participate in and document many demonstrations and movements in the US that fly under the radar of the corporate media. It is important to note that the US has a rich history of struggle for equality, civil rights, environmental justice, workers and immigrant rights, etc. It is a side of the US that the world seldom hears about.

But what is happening now in the US is unprecedented in magnitude and scope. It is what I would call the perfect storm of contradictions in what the US rulers say it is versus the reality of what it really is and that is now out there for the entire world to see and there seems to be no way they can cover up their brutality, injustice and racism. All of this of course is fueled by the polarization of Trump who more than being a vile and disgusting racist is a reflection of the crisis of the system.

The first part of the storm was in place before the pandemic arrived and that is the level of poverty in the US and the vast separation of wealth that only gets worse. It is the billionaires and the rest of us. Can you imagine that the head of Amazon Jeff Bezos is about to become the world’s first trillionaire? Homelessness is everywhere and even people with jobs cannot afford the outrageous housing prices, evictions and broken rental agreements are accelerating. There is not a city that does not have a percentage of its population without a roof over their head and in San Francisco, for example, right now the city center where the City Hall is located is surrounded on all sides by an army of homeless people just out there on the street and no amount of money can make a dent in the problem.  Unless there is a radical reorientation of society that guarantees affordable housing, jobs and healthcare, the basics of life to all, nothing will change.

The second part of the storm was the arrival of Covid-19 that came in pre-warned to the presumably richest country in the world that was not only unprepared but uncaring. There are 40 million Americans who have no medical coverage and the deep cuts in federal programs for predicting pandemics emergency preparedness and the gutting of the funding for the Centers for Disease Control exposed the US to be not a rich developed country but more like one you would find in the third world. The US can no longer spend billions on military buildup and have healthy social programs at the same time.  The hegemonic decline of the US could not have been more exposed than it has been by the virus.

Then the third part of the storm suddenly arrived in the national conscience that in fact systemic racism existed, something that was never lost on Black people but now the rest of society could no longer say it wasn’t true. The slow torturous murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman, with a long history of racist violence, was just one more Black man of many being shot by the police but this one, caught in every painful detail on a cell phone, was the one that finally lit the fire that is showing no signs of being extinguished.  All these elements coming together are the underlying factors of what has made these protests different from the past.  No one with any conscience, especially young people is calling for reform, but rather fundamental change to a sick unjust, racist and deteriorating society and until that happens these protests, that are now manifesting themselves in many forms, will not go away.

-We are learning of press teams who have been injured and assaulted since May 25th in particular. Tell me about the dangers of doing journalism especially during these times of crisis.

This is a particular dangerous time for journalists covering the uprising in the US and the obvious orientation has been to come down hard on the media who they look at as the enemy. It doesn’t appear to matter whether you are a credentialed journalist with CNN, MSNBC or other corporate media or if you are an independent media worker, photographers and reporters have become violently targeted by the police in these demonstrations. It have seen journalist get caught in the middle of the action and get swept up but this is different. Now the police and National Guard soldiers are not just pushing the media back but chasing after them to inflict punishment and injury. Many of the assaults on peaceful protestors have been clearly unprovoked and it is all being caught on cameras.

There have been reporters who have lost eyes, broken bones and their equipment smashed not just in Minneapolis, where the protests first broke out, but in every city from Louisville to Los Angeles. The media oversight group US Press Freedom Tracker has 400 cases it is following up on of journalists who were arrested, threatened or attacked by the police since May 25th.

The injuries in many cases have been severe. You have to realize that across the board the police don’t stand with the people, (don’t believe those little sideshows of the police peacefully kneeling with the protestors one minute and then beating their heads the next) as an institution they exist to protect the private property of the owners and the rich. You see how they are not just equipped with a gun and a badge but rather all the latest lethal hardware of the military designed for war, right up to and including armored vehicles and tanks. In fact many of those weapons are first tested on protestors at home before they are supplied to the military for war.

Perhaps the irony of all this is that ever since Rodney King, the Black motorist who was beaten by a gang of police in 1992 in Los Angeles and it was captured on a home video, the true depth and nature of the orientation of the police has been shown to a wide audience. Now every protestor has a camera on their phones and by way of electronic social media their images can be sent around the globe in a second. So while the cops are trying to suppress the media actually everyone who shows up at these demonstrations is a potential journalist.

 -How do you characterize the current protests after George Floyd’s killing?

There is a lot to take away from the uprising sweeping the US. Periods of protest have a way of raising consciousness of those that for example never thought of racism because they were white and it didn’t affect them personally.  But the slogans of; Racism is the other Pandemic and No Lives Matter until Black Lives Matter, Racism in the US is Systemic reflects a new awareness and I have seen hundreds of white people in these protests carrying signs and chanting them.  This is encouraging. The people in the street are already forcing a shift and some compensation but it has to continue for there to be real change.

Time and time again one gruesome police murder of an unarmed Black man after another was explained away as being just an isolated incident of one rogue policeman, a bad apple in the midst of good cops. But that line is not working anymore and now demands of defund the police and put the police under community control have replaced the diversion of the usual scenario of we are going to assemble a commission to get to the bottom of this or we are going to have a civilian “advisory board”. Those days are over for the Black community and justice minded white people.

The other very important issue is that police must be held accountable for their crimes. In this country, the great majority of the most blatant and obvious police murders have resulted in the police walking away free after a corrupt trial then the officer quietly moves to another city to resume his career.  The best way for George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks who was shot in the back by a cop as he fled for his life in Atlanta a few nights ago, and the rest of the hundreds of Black and Brown victims and their families to get justice is for those police be convicted of murder and spend the rest of their lives in prison. This will need a fundamental change in the system that won’t come about easily but the first steps are being made.

Source: Prensa Latina