It’s not why they’re protesting. It’s why it doesn’t happen more | Monday Morning Coffee

June 1, 2020 7:11 am

A protester outside the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Saturday, May 30, 2020 (Capital-Star photo).

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

A month ago — a lifetime ago — in this space, I wrote about a hike my daughter and I took along the Appalachian Trail. And how, in the quiet of the woods, with my only child by my side, I thought about all we’d been asked to give up during this great quiet, during this great pause.

I wrote about how, as we made our way down a steep mountain path on a chilly April afternoon, I left the woods with the quiet hope that we’d come away from this trauma changed for the better. That we’d come away a kinder people, one more understanding of each other, and one more willing to do the hard work of not only reopening the country, but renewing it as well, of making it really live up to the promises of our foundational documents.

For everyone.

There’s been plenty to shake that quiet hope since then: There’s been the loss of one of my own family members to COVID-19. There’s been the grim threshold of the 100,000 deaths from the pandemic — more than some of America’s wars. There’s been a deeply partisan and deeply bitter debate over something that should be neither partisan nor bitter: Keeping each other safe in the midst of the worst public health crisis in a century. There have been leadership failures across the spectrum — none more vivid than in the White House.

Black Lives Matter protesters match down Harrisburg’s Front Street in response to the death of George Floyd, May 30, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

And during all that, America’s racial divide cracked ever wider with the deaths of Breona TaylorAhmaud Arbery and George Floyd, two of whom died at the hands of law enforcement, all of whom died because they were Black.

And this weekend, the pain of that accumulated trauma, coming on top of so many other accumulated traumas never healed by justice, exploded in an outpouring of rage and sadness.

It would be enough to shatter your faith.

The faith of so many of our fellow Americans — our neighbors, friends and coworkers —  has been shattered again and again by a system that fails to recognize their basic humanity; that fails to value their lives as equally as the rest of us, and who, because of that fundamental inequity, have lost too many of their loved ones already.

And every time white America is asked to atone for that original sin, too many of us look up in surprise, as if to say, “Who me? I can’t be racist. I don’t have a racist bone in my body. I like rap music.”

While that may be true one on one, it fails to acknowledge the structural inequities built into our society; it fails to acknowledge that, as a white man, I’ve already started on first base because of a system that is inherently designed to advantage everyone who looks like me.

It fails to address the fact that too many Black and Brown Americans receive inequitable treatment in our judicial system, from street level arrests to trial and sentencing, to the obstacles thrown in their way when they’re reentering society after having served their time.

The crowd at the Pa. Capitol (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

So the question isn’t “Why are they protesting?” It’s “Why the hell aren’t they protesting every day of the week?

For all its pain and trauma, the pandemic has at least had the salutary effect of laying so many of those inequities bare. And it’s forced us to confront them head on.

It’s driven home the disparities in access to healthcare that led communities of color to suffer so much from the pandemic. It’s made vivid the disparities in educational opportunity that found school districts racing to provision students with laptop computers and broadband access during a frantic pivot to distance learning.

On Friday, I introduced you to my best friend and fellow journalist, Rob Woodfork, who is Black. The words he spoke then bear repeating here — they go to the core of these structural inequities and the heartbreakingly simple remedy that, even after all these years, continues to elude us.

“Trust me when I say: We’d much rather have equality than hand outs or set-asides. What we’re asking for is reasonable — life, love and the pursuit of happiness on the same level as white people, and a better understanding from law enforcement that our skin color doesn’t make us a threat,” he said.

“Frankly, we’re tired of asking — and in George Floyd’s case, begging — to live. We are American citizens, same as white people. We shouldn’t have to ask for American privileges like freedom and equality but we do — and usually pretty damn politely. Please listen.”

The crowd at the Pa. Capitol on Saturday, 5/30/20 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

So it would be understandably easy to despair, to give in, and throw your hands in the air and say the problems are simply too big to solve. I’m human enough to admit that I was overwhelmed by the enormity of it.

I think instead, though, we’re now being called to hope harder; to love harder; to work harder; to listen harder than we ever have before. So many voices are crying out that we cannot do anything less.

I was on the streets of Harrisburg with my daughter on Saturday. I was working. She was raising her voice for a better world, one voice among a multi-racial, multi-generational crowd.

And as is the case with so much, the answer was right there before me.

So I’m throwing myself into this anew for my daughter; for Rob’s daughter; for all my Black and Brown friends, and for all those people struggling against this injustice that I’ve never met and never will.

We owe them all a far better, far kinder, far more just, and far more equitable world. We owe them an economic, educational and judicial system that values them and their lives, and opens the door to the equality of opportunities that my friend Rob articulated so eloquently.

It’s not easy work. It’s not comfortable work. It’s work that never ends. But it’s work we cannot fail to do.

So I stand with you, friends. And I’m listening.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
In this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket, Cassie Miller digs into some polling data, and analyzes the inevitable partisan split when it comes to how much Americans trust such medical experts as Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Washington Reporter Allison Stevens has this look at an emerging effort on Capitol Hill to get more federal aid for the Great Lakes region — which includes Pennsylvania.

From the weekend, there’s a full package of coverage from around Pennsylvania on the rallies in support of George Floyd:

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Ray E. Landis says America can’t sacrifice its elderly on the altar of reopening. And Dick Polman looks at President Donald Trump’s latest assault on truth and decency as he drags a dead woman through the mud for political gain. 

The skyline in Center City Philadelphia (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

Philadelphia is still being rocked by violence and looting, the Inquirer reports.
A day after anti-violence protests, Pittsburgh was quiet on Sunday, the Post-Gazette reports.
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse has blamed outsiders with ‘violent agendas’ for the unrest that marked protests in the capital city on Saturday, PennLive reports.
The Morning Call explains why demonstrations in the Lehigh Valley remained peaceful over the weekend.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:–Y/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link


WHYY-FM explains how ‘centuries of injustices’ boiled over for Black Philadelphians with the death of George Floyd.
WHYY-FM reporter was arrested while covering protests in Philadelphia, the PA Post reports.
PoliticsPA has last week’s winners and losers in Pennsylvania politics. goes deep on how rural small businesses are struggling for federal aid amid the pandemic.
The White House is divided internally over how President Donald Trump should address the nation’s racial tensions, Politco reports.

What Goes On.
Both the House and Senate are out this week. Things are pretty much quiet until after Tuesday’s primary.
Time TBD: Daily COVID-19 briefing.

You Say It’s Your Birthday.
Belated best wishes to Alexa Greek, who celebrated on Sunday. And congratulations go out this morning to Erin Laudenslauger at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and Gabby Richards, in the office of U.S  Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon. Enjoy the day, friends.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s some great, new music from veteran singer-songwriter Russ Tolman. From his upcoming LP, it’s ‘The Trees Are in Love With You.’

Monday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
In a thoughtful opinion piece for the New York Times, author Steve Kettmann says Major League Baseball has an opportunity to reintroduce itself when play resumes after the pandemic.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.