The demonstration last night took a violent turn fairly early at around 9:30 pm. Large phalanxes of police twice charged and beat up demonstrators in downtown Brooklyn. I can’t say whether an incident triggered the assaults or the cops were just trying to enforce the 8:00 pm curfew. The fear was less of getting arrested or beaten than of being trampled to death. There’s no physically identifiable leadership at these demonstrations, and even if there were, it’s impossible to know (at any rate, for an outsider like myself) whether to invest trust in them. For all anyone knows, they could all be agents provocateurs. So when troubles begin, it’s unclear just what to do: Run for your life or (as some folks frantically beseeched) Stand your ground!
This points to a larger problem. There’s no discernible political agenda. The slogans range from the primitive, such as “NYPD, Suck My Dick!” (vigorously shouted by female protesters) and “No Justice, No Peace/Fuck the Racist-Ass Police!), to the more or less political, such as “How Do You Spell Racism?/NYPD” and “Whose Streets?/Our Streets.” The hordes of police (many African-American and visibly uncomfortable at being on the wrong side of the barricades) are entreated to “Take the Knee” (most unlikely as, in these circumstances, it would signal not atonement but weakness), or “Quit Your Job” (also most unlikely as they struggled hard to get those jobs). Towards the end of the night one heard the old Leftist standards, “The Whole World is Watching” (probably truer now than when we shouted it in the ‘60s) and “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” (shouted, alas, when our numbers had already dwindled).
On the subway ride home, I got to talking to a young, well-spoken, and respectably groomed Haitian-American protester who is studying psychology at City University of New York. Like most of the demonstrators I’ve met, she was morally intense; what’s happening is most certainly not a youthful lark. At some point I asked her what she thought of the overwhelming White presence at these demonstrations. “It makes me sad.” “Sad?”, I wondered aloud in incredulity. “Yes, sad, because White people care more about our cause than we do.” But, I rejoined, “Isn’t each group represented roughly in proportion to its numbers in New York?” She didn’t agree. Whoever is right, one thing seems certain. These demonstrations aren’t just about racist cops. One can’t but be struck at the rage of White young people at the cops. It’s distilled hatred. But not, I think, only because a lot of these cops are sick racists. It’s because they are the armed battalions, the physical enforcers, of a System that has wrecked the lives of all young people, and that blocks any exit from the nightmare they daily endure and which almost certainly will get worse. It is estimated that more than 40 percent of those laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic will not be rehired. And that translates, for these young people who have no savings and just barely squeak by each month, into eviction. Most of the protesters probably attended the Bernie rallies. It is often forgotten that the official slogan of the 1963 March on Washington (where MLK delivered his “I Have a Dream speech”) was Jobs and Freedom for All! It is to be hoped that a leadership, if and when it emerges, will demand both End Police Brutality! and Jobs for All!
When I got off the subway at 10:30 pm, I was the only one in the streets. Two police officers politely but firmly stopped me, “Are you aware there’s a curfew?” “Yes, I’m on my way home.” “Where do you live?” “A couple of blocks away.” “Okay.” I couldn’t help but ponder, Were I Black, I wouldn’t have gotten off so easily.