The Coronavirus Diaries, 8th June 2020

I am still disturbed by the conversation I had with with the man about George Floyd. He dismissed the killing saying it was no worse than any other murder, so why were people so upset. He said Floyd had been a criminal, that black men are killed by other black men and no one starts marching. The idea that a policeman, a white policeman, murdering a black man while his colleagues looked on and did nothing, did not seem to him to make the murder more significant. The fact that black men and women in both the US and the UK are more likely to be stopped by the police when going about their business did not trouble him. It reminded me of a sketch on Not the Nine O’Clock News. But it also made me wonder if this man has formed these views on his own, or if they have been shaped by what he is read or heard. On my visits to the Co-op I didn’t look at the newspapers’ front pages. Is this the line some editorials are taking? If so, it is deeply irresponsible, deeply divisive. We live in societies that value white lives over black ones, where we have a Prime Minister in this country who talks about picaninnies and watermelon smiles, then wonders why people of all colours take offence. The pandemic has shown how black and minority ethic groups have suffered most, not because they have less immunity, but because they are more exposed, are more often to live in poorer housing. The pandemic has laid bare the inequalities of our society we have been ignoring for years.

Is it any wonder a moment comes that ignites all the frustration? When people take to the streets to protest? The vast majority of the protests are peaceful. The bursts of violence and looting are the ones that get the most coverage. Easier to condemn such behaviour than look at the fundamental injustices in our democracy that have led to it.

During our constitutional walks in London Celia and I have spent time enjoying and admiring the new estate in Myatts Fields. The old estate was a warren, and a place dominated by gangs and violence. The new one is human scale, the design has been carefully thought out to encourage openness and interaction. Our neighbour Cynthia describes it as a piece of Scandinavia in south London. It’s all the more impressive as it was built after austerity began. The council must have taken the decision to pursue its plans despite budget cuts. Yet in the short term, building high rises would have seemed the sensible financial solution.

When black people tell me they have lost count of how many times they have been stopped by the police I have to contrast it with my own experience as a white person. We have the choice of accepting discrimination as an unalterable fate or to argue and campaign for change. Human beings are hard wired to be more accepting of people we see as being like us. Learning to widen our minds often requires a conscious effort, especially if you live in an area where most people are alike, and white, but it can be done, and the rewards are great. Living in London among people of all colours and creeds can help that step, as we all become not cockneys, but Londoners; citizens and neighbours in one of the world’s most diverse cities. It’s a nice vision, but in reality only certain areas are diverse. I am lucky enough to live in one of them, and it has put me off monoculture for life. The more money you have the more you are likely to live among people who also have money. The less you have the more likely you are to live among those similarly circumstances. I don’t know how to express it without sounding like a prig, but living in a multicultural neighbourhood enhances my own culture while in no way diminishing it. When your daily dealings are with people from different social and ethnic backgrounds to your own it doesn’t take long to realise that our concerns are equally similar and diverse, that to cast people as this or that on the grounds of colour or ethnicity is nonsense.

We have a chance to reboot our society, to make equality a reality, not an election slogan. I hope we take it, for all our sakes.

Tonight I have learned that my friends’ Jack Russell Ziggy has been put to sleep. He had cancer and was in pain. The whole family is bereft as you would expect. Ziggy used to come here and I have posts with photographs of him on das Boot. An initial uncertainty about the pontoon gave way to confidence. I think the last time he came, the only reason I knew my friends had arrived was when an eager little dog climbed on board. His happy ghost prances around the marina as I write. Something of him will always be here for so long as I have the boat. Bless you Ziggy, you brought a lot of joy into our lives.

Stay safe. Keep well.

11 thoughts on “The Coronavirus Diaries, 8th June 2020

  1. Isobel, I am so sorry to hear about Ziggy’s passing. That we lose our dear animals is the worst thing about loving them.

    And thank you for your righteous comments about the misery we are going through in this country. I empathize with your disquiet about the man whose reprehensible and uninformed and inhumane opinion troubles you. It is ASTOUNDING the speed and flip-ness with which such opinions are formed, no doubt to preserve smug, self-centered, imagination-bereft ease and peace of mind. The facts about how the police govern themselves in this country are outrageous. Protection of rogue police by their labor union is rampant, baked-in, and unregenerate. Lying is rampant. Did you know that the initial report in Mr. Floyd’s case actually did not see fit to mention the notorious nine minutes?

    And on a related point, did you know that the initial reports of the autopsy “revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxiation,” and that “potential intoxicants” and preexisting cardiovascular disease “likely contributed to his death”?

    This was the way it was initially reported in the media. Despite that those statements came NOT from the medical examiner, but, instead, from the charging document with which the prosecutor charged the policeman with third-degree murder. A charge that was subsequently upped to second-degree murder, after the state’s medical examination AND a private autopsy demanded by the family concluded that Mr. Floyd’s death was a homicide.

    And there’s still politicization in the medical examiner, who concluded — what an artiste with words — that the cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” “Subdual” is supposed to mean that they were subduing the poor man.

    The independent autopsy found that Mr. Floyd died due to “asphyxiation from sustained pressure” and “compression” on his neck and back, which cut off blood flow to his brain.

    As early as the mid- to late-nineteenth century, African-American activist and journalist Ida B. Wells wrote: “Those who commit the murders write the reports.”

    Tell that to your smug man.

    On second thoughts, don’t bother. He’d be bound to come up with something else equally infuriating.

    • There is so much in your comment that I did not know about. Thank-you for taking the time and trouble to list this. It just gets worse and worse doesn’t it?

      I think the smug man is ignorant and reluctant to change a viewpoint he has probably held unthinkingly for most of his life. We learn our prejudices in subtle and unsubtle ways from early childhood. Only when we are confronted by them, by say living somewhere we meet those we have been taught to think as lesser, that some of us will wonder why we have those prejudices and discard them. If you never have that personal moment of epiphany the prejudices continue unchallenged for ever.

  2. An excellent and thoughtful post, Isobel. Most commentators I have listened to believe that the protests are bringing about real change in policing policies. Since the “get tough on crime” political rhetoric going back many years stemming from our drug problems, the police have become increasingly militarized. And the racism that has been present for over 400 years is protected by institutional racism and strong police unions. Lots of speculation about how this will impact on the election in November. So far Trump has made a disaster of his response to all the problems that we are facing – and his supporters continue to love him. Although this seems to be eroding. I am scared shit-less but also hopeful, if that makes any sense.

    • We have had ‘get tough on crime, get tough on the causes of crime’ for decades. But it translates into longer sentences, less rehabilitation. We have a punitive approach to crime, not a holistic one. We lock up, we don’t address.
      A majority of people who voted to leave the EU also support the reintroduction of the death sentence.
      We have a long way to go.

      • I hear you – same here. But many people are now saying they finally get what Blacks have been saying about police brutality. Maybe a beginning. But as I told my Dr. when we were talking about people who think the pandemic is a hoax, you can’t fix stupid.

        • Some people don’t want to get it. I saw footage of a gathering of white policemen in the US last night. Their spokesman was getting very angry, and saying they wanted to be treated with respect. I can understand if you are a police officer who tries to carry out out your duties in a respectful, non-confrontational manner, being lumped together with your less than morally conscious colleagues must be painful, but this protest played into an us and them idea which will not take things forward. Another black academic was talking about the moment when you have to sit down and have that talk with your young children about slavery. I had never thought about what that moment must be like, it was shocking.

        • You are getting good coverage. I saw the police rally that you describe. I would say to them to not protect bad apples in your ranks if you don’t want to be bunched together with them. The police unions are protecting bad cops to the detriment of all. There is also a difference between good cops and good cops who also know how to do the right thing in Black neighborhoods. It is not enough to ‘not be a part of the problem’, police also need to be part of the solution. Black parenting in the US is very difficult. Parents have to teach children to excel in a culture that is out to kill them. And this has been going on since slavery was abolished, Jim Crow laws, and desegregation. A nonworking social justice system is our elephant in the room – and it has now been exposed. We need to face the shame of genocide (both Blacks and Natives) and correct the social injustices that have continued for over 400 years.

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