The coronavirus has been a nightmare for the entire world, but it has hit America particularly hard. Folks have been holed up in their homes for over four months. We have had more cases of the virus and more deaths than any other country, with blacks and Latinos infected at an alarming rate.
Non-essential business have been closed, sending our economy into a tailspin. Many landmark hotels and restaurants may never reopen. Unemployment is at nearly 25%, the highest since the Great Depression. So when states and local governments finally gave the go ahead for a gradual return to normalcy, everyone took a collective sigh of relief. Of course there would be restrictions, like continuing to wear facial protection and maintaining social distancing. Then came the bombshell. A 48 year old African-American man named George Floyd attempted to buy goods in a Minneapolis store with a fake $20 bill. Four police officers attempted to question Floyd after he returned to his car. A struggle began while Floyd was being handcuffed and he eventually collapsed to the ground. That’s when one of the officers pinned Floyd by placing a knee against his throat for almost nine minutes. Floyd would die and all hell broke loose.
Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo immediately fired all four cops and the ringleader of the group, officer Derek Chauvin, was charged with third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. But the other three officers remain free, and enraged protesters have taken to the streets, not just in the Minnesota twin cities but in major urban centers across the USA. At first the protests were generally peaceful. In recent days however, the crowds have become violent mobs, smashing store front windows with wide spread looting. Many mom and pop shops along Lake Street in Minneapolis were burned to the ground, most of them owned by Latinos and Somalis that had just recently opened up again due to COVID-19. While the peaceful protesters were wearing masks, the looters were not, raising concerns that they could further spread the virus.
The crisis will present a significant challenge for Chief Arradondo, who was appointed to his position in July of 2017. The Minneapolis Police Department has long been accused of racial discrimination and Arradondo, who is of black and Mexican-American heritage, once sued the department earlier in his career over related charges. But he has yet to completely clean house. Chauvin, a 19 year veteran on the force, had 18 formal complaints of poor conduct in his file.
Back on Lake Street, Eduardo Barrera, manager of a large complex of small shops called Mercado Central, is concerned about the future.
“What happened to Mr. Floyd was horrible,” admits Barrera, while noting that his corner building sustained considerable damage. “If there is no justice, no change, then there is no hope. But my people are hurting too.”
As rioting continues in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego in support of Floyd and his family, the focus will be on Chief Arradondo and how he handles this situation at ground zero. Yesterday he knelt before protesters in a form of respect, and promised to do his best to make things right. I guess that’s a start.