COVID-19 encounters Black Lives Matter
In June, however, another wave of protests swept over the global political landscape, also targetting State repression but carrying an entirely distinctive meaning. We are talking here, of course, about the Black Lives Matter uprising against racist police violence in the United States, which must be squarely situated in the wider maze of the pandemic’s undercurrents. The brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked the rebellion, is deeply intertwined with the economic distress he was experiencing because of the COVID-19 crisis. The uprising overlapped and superseded the anti-lockdown protests and inspired mobilizations in other countries, despite the pandemic’s constraints. More fundamentally, racialized police violence — which is now once again the target of U.S. black movements — is an always visible manifestation of the State brutality perpetrated by liberal democratic regimes. This is the same violence that, elsewhere, has been activated or facilitated by the pandemic. Lastly, and perhaps more critically, the combined effects of COVID -19 and the Black Lives Matter uprising have transformed the country’s political scenario, creating conditions for Trump to be defeated in the 2020 presidential elections. The meanings and impacts of such a defeat would not be confined within the American boundaries.
Nevertheless, shadows still hover the horizon. Suffice to remind that at the height of the protests, Trump and a Republican senator openly called for the Armed Forces to repress the masses in the streets, sparking critiques from many quarters, including the military. A recent article in The Nation examined these events, retracing other critical moments of US contemporary politics such as 9/11 and the 1971 rebellions against the Vietnam War when similar calls were made. He also reminds that Trump’s desire to make use of the American presidency emergency power has not exactly waned:
America could be facing a perfect storm at least as dangerous as 9/11: an uncontrollable pandemic, a reservoir of untapped presidential power, a feckless Congress and supine courts. The only remaining check on Trump’s presidency would be the people—either in the polling booth or the streets.
A complex equation, therefore, challenges Black Lives Matter and other progressive forces in American society, which may also apply to other contexts: how to balance the political urgency to be in the streets with the pandemic-driven imperative for mutual protection in a context in which COVID-19 infections rates keep rising?