As the sun was setting on Friday, May 29 I turned on the news to catch up with the day’s events. A crowd had gathered in downtown Atlanta, allegedly to protest the unfathomable and inexplicable death of George Floyd at the hands of four men in blue in Minneapolis four days earlier. As this was transpiring, a friend made this comment on social media:
Atlanta – we are standing in the shadows of the most peaceful protestor the history of America has ever seen. Let’s make him proud and our city shine. We support your cause. Your voices need to be heard. George Floyd deserves honor and respect and to be dignified in his death. Prayers for his family and friends.
A couple of minutes and one police cruiser engulfed in flames later, I made a comment of my own:
Epic fail, Atlanta.
As the evening progressed and the crowd of ‘protestors’ grew larger and larger, it was hard to fathom what was taking place only a few miles away from the birthplace of Martin Luther King. An unruly crowd gathered in front of the CNN Center, smashing windows and throwing rocks, fireworks and – unless my eyes deceived me – a water balloon at the contingent of uniformed police officers lined up inside. One man repeatedly smashed his skateboard against the window, occasionally taking a breather to demonstrate his defiance and utter disregard for the law. Several times little red dots appeared on his torso, indicating a rather large number of firearms were aimed in his direction. The last time I saw anything like it, I was watching a DVD of The Purge.
Atlanta wasn’t the only city under siege that night; not by a long shot. Major cities all across America were dealing with protests of their own; some weren’t as violent as the one in Atlanta, while others resulted in death. The country appeared to be – in a word – imploding.
Meanwhile, the leader of the free world was preoccupied with having a full house at the Republican National Convention and expressing his dissatisfaction with social media as his country was literally engulfed in flames.
There may never be another year in the history of our country like 2020. For all of our sakes, we should all hope not. While the entire world is experiencing the pain of the Coronavirus pandemic, racism has risen to the forefront here at home. Before the three white men behind the senseless murder of Ahmaud Arbery – black man simply out for a jog - were brought to justice, a white Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of a defenseless and handcuffed black man named George Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds. While no explanation was offered as to why Mr. Floyd was held on the ground for that amount of time, it proved to be long enough to take his life. There’s reason to believe that could have been why.
In a time when every state has been left to its own devices to deal with a pandemic that continues taking a toll on our economy and appears to be changing our entire way of life, our country doesn’t appear to be capable of dealing with anything else, particularly a problem that, when all is said and done, is a matter of black and white.
Remember the Coronavirus Task Force and its comprehensive ‘three phase plan’ for reopening the country? That was back when the President said any governor that didn’t follow it was going to have to answer to him, and when he was advised he didn’t have the authority to tell the governors what to do he changed course and said he was leaving it up to every governor to decide what was best for their respective states. Right after that Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp made the decision to open the important businesses – bowling alleys and tattoo parlors and the like – only for the President to publicly say he was ‘upset’ with Kemp’s decision. If memory serves, the ‘three phase plan’ lasted less time than it took to put it together.
At that point everything turned into a free-for-all. Governors instructed their states to do this, mayors instructed their cities to do that, and people did whatever they wanted to do. Abbott and Costello’s ‘Who’s on First’ routine was being played out on a daily basis, from sea to shining sea.
As I watched the chain of events that took place on Friday, May 29, I realized that the governors of each state were – once again – left alone to decide what was best for their respective states. In a time when the country needed a leader to step forward and take charge, there was none to be found.
To this day I’m still not sure if I should wear a mask out in public. I’m pretty sure I should, but from what I see of the person in charge of stopping our country from imploding, I could be wrong.
But I really don’t care if he chooses to wear a mask or not; what matters is that he steps up and leads our country back to some semblance of normality.
Whatever normal is; it’s been so long, I’ve forgotten what that means.
Scott Ludwig lives, runs and writes in Senoia. His latest book, “Southern Charm” is a collection of his first 101 columns for The Newnan Times-Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .