More than 100,000 Americans are now dead of COVID-19. Think about that. One hundred thousand lives, each with a unique way of walking through this world. On May 24, The New York Times marked the grim milestone by listing one percent of those lost on its front page. On the newspaper’s website, we can scroll through a huge graphic that helps us glimpse the persons behind those 1,000 names:
“Carol Sue Rubin, 69, West Bloomfield, MI, loved travel, mahjong and crossword puzzles….”
“Lakisha Willis White, 45, Orlando, FL, was helping to raise some of her dozen grandchildren….”
“Eugene Lamar Limbrick, 41, Colorado Springs, CO, loved automobiles, especially trucks….”
As if 100,000 pandemic dead weren’t bad enough, yet another African-American is dead at the hands of police: George Floyd, in Minneapolis. His alleged crime? Using a counterfeit $20 bill. That’s something I might do myself, without realizing, but if I ever did, I wouldn’t end up dead. My skin’s the “right” color.
George Floyd cried out for his mama and begged for help as a police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. For the last three of those minutes, he didn’t speak or move. For the last two minutes, he had no pulse.
The New York Times could fill its front page with the names of African-Americans who have died wrongfully through the years at the hands of police. A huge scrolling graphic on its website might help us glimpse the unique persons behind those names and how easily they were dispatched from this life:
“George Floyd, 46, Minneapolis, MN, called `Big Floyd’ by his friends, a `gentle giant’ with a quiet personality who would `give you the shirt off his back.’ Killed by police outside a grocery store.”
“Breonna Taylor, 26, Louisville, KY, a first responder, killed by police while sleeping in her bed….”
“Dominique Clayton, 32, Oxford, MS, killed by police while sleeping in her bed….”
“Eric Garner, 43, New York City, killed by police after breaking up a fight….”
“Tamir Rice, 12, Cleveland, OH, killed by police while playing in a park….”
“Atatiana Jefferson, 25, Fort Worth, TX, killed by police while babysitting her nephew….”
“Walter Scott, 50, Summerville, SC, killed by police while driving to an auto-parts store….”
“Philando Castile, 32, St. Paul, MN, killed by police while driving home from dinner with his girlfriend….”
“Botham Jean, 26, Dallas, TX, killed by police while eating ice cream in his living room….”
The list would go on and on.
Even during a pandemic, we dare not keep silent when yet another unarmed person of color has been “lynched.” I applaud the peaceful marchers and demonstrators. If I could, I’d be out in the streets with them. As for the rioters, looters and arsonists, let’s be clear: in many cities, community members and public officials agree that the vast majority of them are using the outrage over George Floyd’s death as a cover for their own agendas. Authorities should investigate them and prosecute, where appropriate.
I’m not being political. I’m being clinical. Like all dutiful citizens, I’ve been monitoring the health of our country. The vital signs aren’t good. The coronavirus has only aggravated our nation’s “pre-existing morbidities.” Our risk factors include the rise of white supremacy; deepening scorn for the rule of law, even by those sworn to uphold it; the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots; religious arrogance and hypocrisy; stubborn contempt for science and analytical thinking; pervasive idolatry of “self” and “individual liberty” at the expense of fellow feeling and civic responsibility; suspicion and loathing between political parties, and between liberals and conservatives. We’re fighting a civil war, lung against lung. The guns just haven’t started firing yet.
These symptoms are grave. Survival isn’t guaranteed. The recovery of the nation depends on … well … us. We are the medicine for what ails America. We are the vaccine, tested and true.
You heard me right. We the citizens are both patient and cure. Even from behind our masks, we must help one another breathe—now, before it’s too late.