I felt a little hope this week.
The uprising in the streets of our country (and much of the rest of the world) brought me that hope.
Or more accurately, the reaction to that uprising, which for once veered away from the usual tut-tutting about property damage and instead focused on how the police attacked peaceful protestors. The blatant racism and casual police violence that have always been a part of our society are now under serious scrutiny.
There is a call for real and systemic change in how we handle public safety, something I’ve wanted to see for many years and yet never expected to see. Sometimes, despite being a science fiction writer, I lack imagination when it comes to change in my own world.
The fact that the city of Los Angeles is looking to cut its police budget right now sends a huge message, even though it is a token cut at best. Los Angeles is notorious for police misconduct. And they’re not the only city starting to consider changes that were never on the table before.
I never expected that. I expected that those of us angry about police misconduct and violence would continue to protest and write our city council members and push for laws holding cops accountable without getting any more than token response.
Maybe it will all blow away, this positive reaction, but somehow I don’t think it will. I’ve been attending and watching protests for a lot of years, and this time feels different. (I’ve watched this one from home.)
I do worry that those protesting will get sick from the virus, especially with the unconscionable tear gas attacks and the fact that police officers, despite being people at significant risk of getting sick, aren’t wearing masks. (They mask their badge numbers and names, but not their germs.)
But I applaud the courage that led people to get out in the streets despite the fact that the United States has done such a terrible job of handling a pandemic that everyone who had paid any attention at all knew was coming. The people in the streets knew they were at risk from both the police and germs they can’t even see, but they went.
There’s a possibility that by making it impossible to continue ignoring the racism and inequality that underlie our society, this uprising can help bring about the changes that are vital to saving our democracy from those who want to turn us into an authoritarian state devoted only to making the rich richer.
Addressing our fundamental flaws instead of tip-toeing around them may be the thing that saves this country from the ruin that is staring us in the face.
I didn’t expect the country to ever face those flaws.
All my life I’ve been aware of many things that I knew were wrong, but never expected to change.
For example, I knew the mythology surrounding the Confederate side in the Civil War was pushed to enforce Jim Crow laws against Black people and to keep in place massive economic inequality that affected everyone. But despite the Civil Rights Movement and the many changes that came along as a result of those many years of hard work, I never expected anyone to get rid of all those monuments or to acknowledge that, in fact, the Confederates were traitors. (I had ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. They were traitors.)
Yet that has happened. And it’s gone farther than the U.S. In Belgium, a statue of the horrendous King Leopold II, who killed between 10 and 15 million people in Africa, has been toppled.
We might come out of these chaotic times — and I’m speaking of the period since November 9, 2016 to the present as magnified by the pandemic, not of the protests, which are all too necessary and only become chaotic when the police attack — able to build a better society.
But it’s coming at a huge cost in human life. So many deaths from a pandemic that could have been properly managed had competent people been in charge. So many deaths and so much abuse by police who should have been reined in decades ago. So many more deaths from a failed health care system, from an economic system that refuses to deal with crisis for fear that it might upset the stock market gains of the very wealthy, from people who think guns and violence solve problems.
If the human race had become civilized by now, perhaps we could make the changes that are so vital — end racism and economic inequality, address climate change with something other than platitudes, deal with the reality that infectious disease is global — without so much loss and suffering. We have the capacity to do those things, but we have put too much power in the hands of those who don’t care about their fellow humans.
Alas, I don’t expect the human race to become civilized in my lifetime, or even in the next few centuries. Maybe in a few millennia.
I’d love to be proved wrong.