There is more than one way to spread a virus. All you need is a bunch of people, brought together by some common purpose, and you’re on your way to community spread.
After the last 90 days, we all know that. But look at how powerfully people feel about the killing of George Floyd, about the recurring injustices visited upon black people and Latinos by police, and by the reflexive defenses some police and some non-police offer every time this kind of violence takes place.
It happens way too often, and people are so pissed off about it this time that they’re not worried about crowding into city streets and city parks, in ways that are clearly risky. It’s not enough just to yell at their screens, or to stand in their yards, or talk to their friends, or go to community centers and rallies and marches.
They’re mad enough to do all of those things during a pandemic.
These demonstrations are different. These go beyond the desire to escape social distancing lockdowns, the defiance of government restrictions, the necessity to get back to work and other temporary symptoms of the coronavirus. These demonstrations don’t have anything to do with the pandemic; they are about persistent systemic dangers so great that people will assemble and march shoulder to shoulder in spite of the direct threat it presents to their health.
These are not people who think the coronavirus is merely some kind of overblown, new-fangled flu, and that masks are signs of oozing socialism. These aren’t the people who wanted to shop and get their hair cut and eat a bowl of chips from a communal bowl at a table of eight people. They weren’t the ones at the water park or the mall, who decided to disregard the disease for fun or pleasure.
And they weren’t the people who were out against their will, trying to do their work out of devotion or the need for money, like everyone from nurses to construction workers to whoever you can think of who was either truly essential or needed to work to survive, or both. They were out in spite of the coronavirus, too, for reasons of survival.
These people weren’t even the business owners yelling at governors and county judges and mayors about closing down their “nonessential” businesses. Some waited it out. Some just opened without calling attention to themselves. Some went to public civil liberties demonstrations with hundreds or even thousands of other people, with or without protective masks, shouting, sweating in the early summer sun and indulging in all the glories of civil disobedience.
But this new crowd, the people who have been on the streets for several nights running, is different. They are sick and tired of police violence against people of color, moved to demonstrate in anger or frustration or both at the long-repeating cycle of police violence, protest, empty official promises, collective forgetfulness and then, more violence.
These are not equivalent reasons to gather: One group is out for fun and games and normal life, as they lived it in January or February. Another was trying to get back to work, to feed their families.
And then we have those who are trying to make sure their families don’t get murdered by the people hired to protect them.
The coronavirus doesn’t care why each crowd is gathered, just that it provides another opportunity for spread.
But the differences are important.
Some just want to go out, pandemic or not.
Some must go out, because they keep the world turning.
And then there are the ones crowding the streets and the parks right now, not for work, not for shopping, but to give voice to their pain and to show that they are numerous and loud and have unignorable demands to present to the people in charge.
Some people can’t live with themselves if they stay home, because they want to make sure they live in a world worth saving.
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