James Blake was shot in the back by a Kenosha Wisconsin police officer 7 times rendering him paralyzed, quite possibly for the rest of his life. The subsequent protests were equally as violent when Illinois teen Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17 year old with a military-style rifle killed 2 people at a protest. It should be noted that all parties in the altercation were armed and Kyle Rittenhouse claimed he was defending a business. Video of him walking past police officers after shooting the protesters inflamed social media. The way he walked past the cops without them so much as stopping him seemed to be white privilege on display.
Kenosha is on fire and so is America
The first American civil war was not quite as innocuous as the situation in Kenosha. History does not know who fired the first shot in Charleston, SC in 1861. Fort Sumter was attacked by a South Carolina militia. It is said that it was the militia that fired the first shot but even people at the time were not quite sure. However, in the days after that battle, states began succeeding from the union and America was forever changed. If Kenosha is indicative of the troubling times into which we have been thrust, at least we’ll know who fired the first shot.
The violence in Kenosha comes at the end of a summer of riots and violence throughout the country. Protests have come from both the Left and the Right and this comes after such shattering events as Charlottesville. Leftists in Seattle took over a portion of the Capital Hill district to reclaim the land from the city. They took over the 3rd precinct and put up barriers with ominous signs reminding people that the CHOP zone was lawless and anyone who entered was on their own. The police stopped responding to calls in the area at once point and after a month, the police took back the building and dismantled the zone.
If we don’t get what we want, we just take over
Right-wing militias, protesting mask orders, invaded the Michigan state capitol and began a recall petition on Governor Gretchen Witmer. They showed out with guns and military style gear as if ready to fight. Left and Right protestors have clashed throughout the country, the Kenosha incident is merely the most high profile. In the past several years churches, synagogues and other places have seen violence from those who have had it with society. It is amazing that more people haven’t been shot and died.
On 23 September, the state of Kentucky announced that only one officer would be indicted in the killing of Breonna Taylor. Militias took the streets as did protestors and two officers were shot. This kind of violence around these issues used to be rare but now it is heating up. Protests broke out around the nation as well. This is no longer just a local problem, it has become a national problem. More violence in more places is breaking out.
This is our politics now. Political dialogue and change at the national level has essentially broken down. Now, we’ve been reduced to violence in the streets. With so many people unemployed it is a wonder, they have plenty of time to protest and air grievances. Our current political discourse is a failure of politics and a failure of society. We are not really facing up to that reality. Society isn’t working for a variety of people and more and more people are looking for a change. The problem is that while one party has embraced the problem, the other party denies it’s existence. This can be applied to a variety of issues ranging from healthcare to the violent streets.
Are we past the moment of compromise?
In 1850, a great compromise about slavery was reached. It established the Mason-Dixon line which kept slavery in places where it already existed and attempted to keep it from going out west. This was also backed up by the “free soil” movement at the time who wanted new territory to be truly free and not have slavery expand farther West. The slavery question was already a divisive issue. Although the forced and uncompensated labor of real humans was at the heart of the issue, the issue was also deeply economic. Slavery represented $2 Billion of property in 1860 and was the back bone of the agrarian economy, despite the fact that slavery was, in fact, becoming economically unfeasible. The compromise of 1850 delayed the inevitable by 10 years. As is typical of American politics, they kicked the can down the road. We have done the same with police brutality. The reality is that the police have too much power and are shooting people in the streets. We as a society have failed to confront that problem and instead have wrapped it in identity politics which is incredibly dividing.
We find ourselves in the same position as 1860. We have a union divided once again over the peculiar institution of the police and what their powers should and should not be. We are once again deciding who is American and who is not and who has rights and who doesn’t. This question has plagued the United States since its founding. We also find ourselves trying to secure our right to vote in the face of voter suppression and a benal discussion over mail-in voting during a dangerous pandemic. We also find ourselves concerned with the role of the federal government. The last question was also a problem in 1860. Should the federal government take an ever-larger role in our lives or should it stay away from things like healthcare and childcare? Should we really institute paid family leave? Should we raise or abolish the minimum wage?
Is violence inevitable?
Violent days may be ahead. Most Americans are little prepared for what is to come. Civil wars are a moment of complete societal collapse, followed by a reforming of society around new shared values based on who wins. However, civil wars can also drag on for years with little resolution and leaving people living in refugee camps away from their homes, friends, families, and lives. In our country, millions would die from the violence and hundreds of thousands more from poor sanitation, hunger, and disease. The economy would collapse and foreign interference would be rife on both sides. In a nuclear world, this is the worst outcome.
What are we to do from here? Normally this would be the part where we would write some erudite solution to the problem at hand but the solution to this problem is far from clear. I don’t know if America will survive this kind of violence when armed people are willing to take to the streets to combat protestors seeking relief of their grievances. It has been a long, hot summer and winter may very well be no better.