The Atlantic
The Atlantic
It's Up to the Police to Practice Nonviolence
(Amandla Baraka)With protestors marching against police brutality in cities around the nation, the police are out in force, ostensibly to quell violence and keep the peace. That’s one of the core functions of a police department—but given that these protests are responding to police violence in the first place, there’s no reason to believe that a massive show of police force will restore peace. It’s like asking a river to repair flood damage.Whether traditional law-and-order policing is a good way to respond to other sorts of volatile demonstrations, from political protests against candidates to riled sports fans to anti-WTO marchers, is an open question. But as cases from around the country, for years, keep proving, police force can’t pacify protests responding to police force—and only the police can break the cycle of violence.I noted this pattern in Baltimore in 2015, during protests after Freddie Gray died in police custody. Demonstrations turned violent only when law enforcement decided to move aggressively, clamping down on protests and shutting off public transportation. Suddenly, after days of relative piece, rioting erupted. Over the last few days, many of the worst clashes have taken place in cities where police have moved aggressively against protests. In New York City, a police SUV plowed through a crowd of protestors. In Minneapolis, MSNBC filmed police advancing unprovoked on protestors and firing tear gas. But in a handful of places with hands-off approaches, peace has prevailed.[Read: The absence of legitimate authority in Baltimore]It shouldn’t be hard to understand why typical law-and-order policing isn’t a good solution in these tense situations. Protestors have come to the streets because they are rightly angry at police brutality, furious at the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others. For communities of color, these are the latest incidents in a decades-long pattern of repression by the police, with a lineage stretching back to slave patrols. Some white protestors may only have awakened to the problem after the deaths of Michael Brown, or Eric Garner, or Freddie Gray; even they have many examples of needless deaths at the hands of police in the last few years to draw on.To expect that these protestors are going to react well when police, often dressed head-to-toe in military gear, start corralling them or blocking them off or pinning protestors to the ground with their knees, is delusional.This isn’t a case where the cops can present themselves as a disinterested third party simply keeping the peace between the protestors and their targets. They are the targets, not only because it is police violence that sparked the protests, but also because the reforms the protestors demand, from ending qualified immunity to abolishing police altogether, will affect those officers.Police also face the stress of having hundreds or thousands of people chanting slogans at them. This comes with the job—police have to be able to keep cool in challenging situations—but it’s clear that all too often, some of them are unable to do so, and it’s no surprise that this problem recurs during police-brutality protests. The result has sometimes been police deploying excessive force against protestors demanding an end to the use of excessive force by police.This creates a conundrum: The police are the body that society has granted the authority to deal with disorder, and a monopoly on the use of force to accomplish it, but if the police hadn’t already ceded their claim to legitimate authority and judicious use of that force, the protestors wouldn’t be in the streets in the first place. And while the relationship between the community and the constabulary is not the same in every place, the last several years have demonstrated that few American cities are without tensions around policing, notwithstanding apologist rhetoric about “a few bad apples.”Who, then, will keep the peace? Some governors have called in the National Guard, a step that President Trump has encouraged. But given the militarization of the police, as my colleague Nick Baumann writes, there’s not a lot of space between the tactics of police and those Guard to begin with. And given the anger in many cities toward the federal government as represented by President Trump, the Guard isn’t likely to fare much better. The president himself seems determined to crank tension as high as he can.When rioting breaks out, it’s common for the press and politicians to call on protestors to observe nonviolence, usually with rote reference to Martin Luther King. But in these cases, it’s the community that has been brutalized by the state in the first place, and so it’s the police who have the ability to break the cycle of violence.Amid a lot of bleak scenes around the country, there have been occasional, more positive ones. These are cases where the police have decided to give protestors a wide berth—or even better, to join them. In Camden, New Jersey, the chief of police marched alongside protestors. That’s probably not a spontaneous choice: As James Surowiecki notes, the city has been in the midst of a years-long reconsideration of its policing strategies to focus on de-escalation. In another case, a widely shared video from Flint Township, Michigan, showed the local sheriff marching with protestors, having taken off a helmet and baton as a gesture of good faith.[Read: When police view citizens as enemies]Even where officers aren’t personally getting involved, police can avoid escalation. Durham, North Carolina, where I live, has seen a string of cases of police violence over the last few years, police blocked off streets to make room for a march, and then kept their distance. There were no reported clashes. It doesn’t hurt that Durham’s activist community is experienced and highly self-disciplined, nor that the local chief of police, sheriff, and district attorney are all African American (though as Baltimore shows, black leadership is no guarantee of positive police-community relationships).Yet just down the road in Raleigh, which has also seen a number of recent police-brutality incidents, officers moved aggressively, tear-gassing crowds. The mayor and chief of police say they were responding to objects being thrown; activists say police fired first. Whatever the sequence, the result was rioting and destruction in downtown Raleigh.In the initial days after George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, many law-enforcement officers broke the “blue wall of silence” and condemned the killing. But as police and citizens have come into conflict, the violence in the streets has downed out those condemnations.The demonstrations around the country take as their starting point that police are brutalizing citizens of color. Law-enforcement officers and agencies have two ways to respond: They can affirm that complaint with aggressive policing and overwhelming force, or they can work to show they are on the same side, against brutality. Whether what happened in Camden and Flint Township would work elsewhere around the country is hard to know, but it’s very clear that the aggressive strategy doesn’t.
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What Happened to the People Who Started Dating Just Before the Pandemic?
When stay-at-home measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 went into effect earlier this spring, something weird happened to our sense of geography. For many people who were confined to their homes, physical location suddenly flattened into a binary of “here” and “not here.” Any person who didn’t live in your home was essentially accessible only via phone or videochat, whether 5,000 miles were between you or just a few city blocks.This had particularly brutal consequences for people who had been enjoying the giddy, touchy-feely early stages of a romance. In the beginning of March, Christine O’Donovan-Zavada, 26, had gone on two great dates with a guy she met on Tinder; they’d cooked dinner together at her home on the second, and she was planning to meet up with him again for a third. Luis Barcelo, 25, had spent a full week hanging out every day with a woman he’d recently met on Bumble. Jessica Magallanez, 23, had just gone on a surprisingly great frozen-yogurt date with a friend of a friend; afterward, he’d ended up accompanying her to the restaurant where she works as a waitress and getting a table in her section so he could talk to her more.But over the following weeks, as social-distancing protocols set in, the texting communication between Barcelo and his Bumble friend went from a steady stream of check-ins to a slow trickle of memes and occasional jokes. (“We just send each other things that the other might find funny,” he told me. “Nothing of substance.”) Magallanez and her date FaceTimed occasionally late at night, she told me, but they were both tired, and “it wasn’t really the same.” O’Donovan-Zavada and her Tinder guy texted for a while, but before long, “we were saying the same things over and over again. Like, ‘Oh, I wish we could be hanging out,’” she told me. Eventually, “it just fizzled.”When the coronavirus arrived, many people involved in romances that were just starting to materialize found themselves thrown into what felt like an involuntary long-distance relationship—and then watched their promising new fling sputter and slow down, in many cases to a complete halt. As states and cities begin to lift their strict social-distancing guidelines and single people start to (cautiously, distantly) seek out one another’s company once again, let us spare a moment to mourn the new relationships and budding flirtations that were felled by the coronavirus this spring—and to consider why exactly they were lost.The loss of physical togetherness, for one thing, can take away some of the foundational experiences that lasting relationships are built on. The first few weeks or months of a dating relationship are typically considered to be some of the most magical. They’re also some of the most dependent on physical proximity: Caresses, hand-holding, and long mutual gazes at close range all help to build intimacy. As well as, you know, other stuff: Among the things O’Donovan-Zavada and her Tinder date found themselves texting each other repeatedly, she told me, was, “I wish I could make out with you!”The early stages of dating are also when new partners gather the context clues that help them understand and make sense of each other. What are this person’s friends like? How does this person talk to waiters, to children, to strangers who need help? Coronavirus protocols have put a serious damper on new couples’ ability to learn about each other organically, because phone calls and videochats necessarily exclude the elements of the outside world that make many of these observations possible. Some couples have found themselves in a sort of holding pattern, having been in touch for a while but not feeling like they’ve gotten to know each other any better.If they want to move forward, there are only a couple of options, both of which could feel unnatural: They could slip into essentially a long-distance relationship or decide to become exclusive and join each other’s “quarantine pod” or “quarantine bubble.” Either choice poses a considerable threat to a delicate, developing relationship.[Read: So, what can we do now? A guide to staying safe this summer]As couples spend time together, they build what Amy Janan Johnson, a communications professor at the University of Oklahoma who researches long-distance relationships, calls the “culture” of the relationship. As couples spend time together, they start to think of themselves as more of an “us.” And the more two people feel like an “us,” the easier it is for them to adapt their relationship to a long-distance or remote format, Johnson told me: “If you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, you have norms established. Your ability to transition it to not just be face-to-face is greater.”Going long-distance is, of course, a challenge for just about any couple—even ones who have been an “us” for a long time. But Johnson has found that the most successful long-distance relationships are between people who have been together for enough time that they have shared memories—or even images or artifacts (say, a partner’s sweater)—to spend time with or revisit when they miss each other. Couples who have just recently started dating “may not know each other well enough to have those,” Johnson said, “and that may be one reason [new relationships] are dying more quickly.” Other key ingredients in successful long-distance relationships, she added, include a consistent visiting schedule and, ideally, a concrete end date for when the two parties can be permanently in the same place again—luxuries that new couples separated because of the pandemic don’t have.The alternative, though, is no less intimidating. If couples don’t want to be long-distance but do want to keep dating, they can either take the plunge and move in together, or sacrifice the company of other friends to create an exclusive quarantine partnership between their two households. Both indicate a pretty serious dedication to a relatively new, perhaps even still vaguely defined, relationship—and the person who suggests such drastic measures runs the risk of alarming or overwhelming their new partner. Coronavirus protocols “are forcing people to talk about that commitment question earlier than they might otherwise,” Johnson said. For some, it may be too much too soon.[Read: The love confessions of the coronavirus pandemic]Certainly, not all dating relationships that began just before the pandemic have been casualties of it. Steven, 31 (who asked to be identified only by his first name to avoid being recognized by people who know him professionally), started seeing someone who lived in the neighborhood adjacent to his in Brooklyn right before stay-at-home orders went into effect. Both parties have been careful about minimizing their exposure to the virus, he told me, limiting their interactions to FaceTime and attending virtual events together (such as a sake-tasting webinar, in which samples were delivered to attendees ahead of time). Earlier this month, they made their relationship official, and last week, Steven and his now-girlfriend hung out together in person for the first time since March, at a six-foot distance, in her neighborhood.Laura, 18 (who also asked to be identified only by her first name to protect her privacy), was initially worried when we spoke in March that the guy she’d just started seeing on her college campus would forget about her or begin flirting with someone else after classes were canceled and students were sent home. Two weeks ago, she made the three-hour drive from her home in Pennsylvania to meet his whole family. (Because he lives in a small town where few places are crowded, Laura said, they forwent any social-distancing measures at his home—but spent a large chunk of their time together outdoors.)“I’ve never been a long-distance person,” Laura told me, but “talking on the phone was the thing that really made me feel like, Okay, yes, we can do this.” She enjoyed his conversation, she said, and was surprised to find that she felt close to him even without seeing him. When we spoke in late May, she told me that he had plans to come visit her family and stay overnight.Not everyone has been so lucky, however. As the weather gets warmer and some states lift their restrictions on places such as public parks and restaurants, single people getting to know each other—carefully and at a distance, perhaps at restaurant-patio tables or on picnic blankets or at the beach—will soon become a familiar sight again. But plenty of those singles will still be privately nursing the heartache of having lost touch, or momentum, with a promising partner during quarantine.Magallanez and O’Donovan-Zavada, when we spoke, were both resigned to the notion that their pre-pandemic prospects had faded into the past, and were ready to start meeting new people after restrictions are fully lifted in their areas. Still, others hang on to the hope of reigniting their old flames. Barcelo told me he’ll be ready and waiting to see his Bumble match again whenever his social life is finally back to normal. “I’d like to see where it goes, once this is all over and it’s safe to spend time with somebody,” he said. “It’s something I’m definitely not going to just let die off.”
Listen: Is America Going to Make It?
If you watch the news, the country seems deeply divided about the coronavirus. But polls have shown an uncommon unity among Americans.On this episode of the podcast Social Distance, the staff writer James Fallows joins to share some historical perspective and answer the question he’s found himself grappling with across his decades-long career: Is America going to make it?Listen to the episode here:Subscribe to Social Distance on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or another podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they’re published.What follows is an edited and condensed transcript of their conversation.Katherine Wells: Is this the worst time ever?James Fallows: The unemployment rates are going to be the highest that almost any living American has ever seen. I say almost because there are people who were around, of course, in the depths of the depression.When I was a little kid, just before I went to kindergarten, polio was still an active fear. I remember the summers when we couldn’t go to the pool and couldn’t go out and picnic, because of the fear. This is the first time since then where we’ve had such a widespread public-health fear.I would say that right now is not even the worst time overall for the U.S. in even my lifetime; 1968, I think, still has 2020 beat as the worst year in modern American history, with Martin Luther King Jr. being killed and Bobby Kennedy being killed and a president stepping down and all the tumult of Vietnam too. That was a worse year overall than this has been so far, but it’s only late May.Wells: I don’t mean to be cheeky with the question, because, of course, I know that we’ve been through horrific times in this country, but it feels incredibly critical right now.James Hamblin: People keep using the word unprecedented. And yet when I hear you talking about unprecedented times, I take it seriously.Fallows: I’ll give you my voice-of-history overview here. I did a piece for The Atlantic a couple of years ago where I said that I realized that every article or book I’d ever written had really been about just one question: Is America going to make it? The story of the U.S. is trouble and the response to trouble.But one thing that’s particular to this moment is that national leadership is the worst in my lifetime, and arguably the worst in our history. We’ve never had a head of federal government as unmatched to the duties of that role as we currently do. The question is how all the other sources of resilience and health in the country balance that singular but very important point of dysfunction and the party that supports him too.Wells: What does good leadership during a crisis look like?Fallows: In my sordid youth, I worked as a speechwriter in the Carter White House, and what’s interesting beyond party and beyond era is that in a time of crisis, every effective leadership message boils down to a very simple matrix. If you look at FDR’s Pearl Harbor speech or if you look at George W. Bush after 9/11 or Reagan after the Challenger explosion, they always do three things.First, they express empathy and compassion. We recognize this has been hard and terrible. We recognize you are scared. We recognize that people have lost loved ones and lost livelihoods. I recognize, as the sort of head of the national family, recognize how terrible this time is. The second thing they do is express long-term confidence. We’ve been through hard times before. This is hard. But we know how to persevere. The third thing they do is provide a plan. Tomorrow, we’re going to do this. Next week, we’re going to do that. A year from now, we’re going to be in this position.That is just the three-part summary of what any leader says in a time when that leader’s people are distressed, injured or wounded, afraid, et cetera. And we have not heard a single message of that sort from the White House.I think there’s kind of phantom-limb pain. People recognize they should be hearing it, and they are hearing it from mayors and they are hearing it from governors and they are hearing it in their communities. And that’s the contrast.Wells: Phantom-limb pain is an interesting way to describe that. I feel like I have totally felt that.Hamblin: I like that comparison as well. If governance has become so dysfunctional, how can we as a country unite against the virus? It feels like, initially, nearly everyone was unified around the need to shut down and take extreme measures to prevent this, but now it’s growing into a wedge issue. How do we keep that from getting worse?Fallows: Part of the responsibility is for all of us in the media to keep things proportional. There is a small group of people who think the disease is a hoax and won’t wear face masks, but it’s a small group. It’s a cinematic group and a dramatic group, but it shouldn’t be all over cable news all the time.Wells: I have often been totally locked up at home consuming national news sources, and it’s hard not to feel completely disempowered by it. You must have a method for somehow putting into context the things you hear in the national news.Fallows: I hadn’t thought about this until you all brought it up, but I’m realizing that we have a whole country right now of people whose firsthand experience is being attenuated. Most of us are seeing the world through the media or through Zoom calls, and there’s only so many Zoom calls you can stand. It’s a nationwide, maybe perilous experiment of what it’s like when most people can’t see the world except out their own windows.When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I find myself turning to historical times of trouble. The U.S. is in most ways a success story, but it’s a success story in constant turmoil, constant injustice, and constant trauma. I find it weirdly reassuring to read what people have been through before and how their struggles fit into our struggles too.Hamblin: We did an episode about the World Health Organization, which emerged in the late 1940s in the aftermath of unprecedented turmoil. What can we look forward to coming out of this moment, if indeed our history is as cyclical as you’ve suggested?Fallows: We have all the problems now that we did in the original Gilded Age, from grotesque inequality to dislocation to even pandemic. All of these fabulous reform movements that blossomed out of that, from the women’s rights-movements, the good-government movement to the environmental movement. That is the hope: that minus two world wars and a world depression, you could begin to build a better world. You can imagine that a year or two from now, people would be thinking, Yes, we’ve come through this horrible time. But let’s see what we can do.I worked on the Jimmy Carter campaign back in the 1970s, after the only president ever to resign, after the Vietnam War, after lots of economic shocks. But there was, for a while, a sense of possibility. The early Kennedy years had that same sense of promise and possibility. The question is converting that potential into reality.Wells: You said at the beginning of our conversation that all of your work has been about whether America will survive. What do we have to do to ensure that the answer is yes?Fallows: There’s a difference between complacent optimism and conditional optimism. Complacent optimism is the assumption that things will get better. Conditional optimism is the assumption that things could get better. The question is, what will it take to, again, to convert the potential to the actuality of a different republic? That specific task of converting the “could” to the “will” is what I feel most driven to work on in the months and years ahead.
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