Following almost five months of incompetent, mishandling of the worst pandemic the United States has faced in over 100 years and the worst economic crisis the nation has confronted in almost 90 years, America is now thrust into the most explosive and destructive racial crisis it has faced since the Civil War. Dangerous uprisings are occurring in over 70 American cities, more than during the urban riots in the 1960’s. This explosion was triggered once again by another incident of police brutality against an alleged Black perpetrator; but the responses are truly the result of decades of failure to address the deep-seated racism and discrimination in America. One can recall the protests of the 1960’s in the civil rights movement and the anti-Viet-Nam War demonstrations, but they pale before what is happening today. America is in the throes of a three-pronged crisis and the nation is leaderless.
Many of the very same injustices and demands that are being made today were on the table 50 years ago. While there has been progress and change, it has not moved the needle in the minds and hearts of many Americans. The country did elect an African American president, yet it is that fact which many resent which underlines the vicious violence that persists against Blacks. The standoff between law enforcement and demonstrators in response to the death of George Floyd is very scary. Underlying racism has fueled the active support by many Americans legitimating police attacks on people of color.
Fifty years after the assassinations of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Senator Robert Kennedy, people are the asking the same questions. Yet, the public, although justifiably concerned by the ugly violence and looting, continues to be unwilling to address the need to fundamentally change our attitudes towards the other; including Jews, gays, and people of color.
If Black people and Brown people had white skins, police would never have been able to perpetuate their blue wall of silence. The establishment would never have been able to continue to stigmatize African Americans. Discrimination against people of color is so easy. It leaves discussion of America’s long history of slavery and discrimination to academics as so-called leaders rail out against the looting and the destruction. For those in law enforcement, George Floyd was just another Black person. For most of America, slavery is ancient history.
The urban rioting on the heels of the pandemic and the economic crisis underscores the total absence of any type of leadership in America. First, President Trump has failed as a crisis manager. He is totally driven by his own personal needs, has no use for advisers who challenge him, and is totally narcissistic. The measure of a President’s ability is how he handles the role of the office in a time of crisis. Trump clearly has failed in all three current crises.
Trump, however, is not alone. There are no statesmen or political leaders. There are no public figures, clergy, or Black leaders who have emerged to present a public voice of leadership to the nation, as it continues to face rioting on the streets. There are no Dr. King’s, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s, Father Daniel Berrigan’s, or Rev. Sloan Coffin’s. All the so-called public figures are fringe individuals many of whom come out of an extremist left-wing movement with little credibility and minimal following.
People of color have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. Forty million Americans have lost their jobs, a disproportionately high percentage of them are Blacks. Social distancing is irrelevant to many of them as they lose hope. Demonstrating to demand that their grievances be addressed can sometimes lead to unjustified violence, but it emerges out of despair.
Blacks have made huge strides in America, but many Americans do not like it and have not accepted the fact that Whites are becoming the new minority. Leaders at all levels of society must fix this problem. They will need to act at the same time that the entire world tries to find a vaccine to combat Covid-19 and to help the economy emerge from the depression.