Change, inevitable and constant, flows like a lazy river until the currents of history accelerate into rapids of sudden crises, hitting boulders of status quo resistance, then rolling past a tipping point over the falls.
Lately, the pace of change seems to be accelerating. Six months ago, U.S. unemployment stood at 3.6 percent; President Donald Trump had been impeached but was about to be acquitted, as predicted, so it seemed likely he would ride the economy and the perception of vindication to another four years in the White House.
Then, a virus started its world tour — and changed everything.
As of June 27, Covid-19 deaths nationally have eclipsed 124,000, including 5,868 in California and 562 across the Bay Area, while globally, fatalities now exceed 493,000.
The shutdown of “non-essential” businesses to slow the spreading virus has ballooned the unemployment rate to 13.3 percent, helping sink the economy into a recession that could persist into a depression before all is over.
The virus, though, doesn’t care if anyone gets a haircut, as recent figures show a sudden spike in new cases among states where restrictions were relaxed.
Record numbers of new cases emerged in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma and South Carolina, while health officials attribute increases to gatherings over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Yet on that same weekend, the death of one Minneapolis Black man in particular, George Floyd, suddenly bumped the pandemic to the second tier of media headlines. In 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time it took former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to suffocate Floyd with a knee on his neck, the virus was pushed to the back burner of public attention.
Widespread uprising against white racism and police brutality swept cities across the nation, carrying with it serious talk of reform, including “defunding” police departments, though exactly what that means is up for debate. It might mean redirecting funds for police departments to other areas such as education, healthcare and youth services. On the other hand, some see it as a call for completely dismantling police departments and replacing them with some kind of social services.
The Atlantic reports the U.S. spends roughly double on police, prisons and courts than on food stamps, welfare and income supplements.
Cities like Eugene, Oregon, Austin, Texas and Camden, New Jersey have tried versions of this approach. The Minneapolis City Council pledged to disband its police department, replacing it instead with an undefined community-based public safety program.
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said in the San Francisco Chronicle that the call to defund the police “is either one of the dumbest ideas of all time or the hands-down winner of the worst slogan ever.”
The Los Angeles Times reported San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced that in coming months some police officers will be replaced with trained, unarmed professionals to respond to calls for help on noncriminal matters involving mental health, the homeless, school discipline and neighbor disputes.
Whether or not they embrace certain policies, cities across the country facing hard economic realities may have to cut police funding to balance their budgets. Tax revenues fall with failing businesses, so they might not even have funding to hire enough “unarmed professionals” for the job.
According to the Chronicle, the SFPD’s annual budget rose by an inflation-adjusted $170 million over the past decade as the city added more than 500 new officers and staff.
Between fiscal years 2010-2011 and 2019-20, the total Police Department budget rose from $524 million to $692 million when adjusted for inflation, a Chronicle review from an open-data portal and budget documents from the city controller’s website concluded. Most of these increases were driven by the addition of full-time employees and negotiated salary and benefit increases over the years.
According to a spokesman from Breed’s office, the city estimates it will need to close a $1.5 billion budget deficit this year.
Other civic actions, like the hundreds of protesters marching behind the Refuse Fascism Bay Area banner through San Francisco’s Mission District on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day, target fascism, with chants like “no Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!”
In other times, the threat of a fascist USA might seem extremely remote, even silly. But recent threats by President Trump to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act against protesters, which would empower him to call up the U.S. Armed Forces and National Guard, and his actions to clear non-violent Washington D.C. protesters from a path to St. John’s Church with chemical agents and military tactics raises the specter of fascism as a distinct possibility.
The Insurrection Act has been invoked throughout American history. It was used in the 19th century against First Nation people, during labor conflicts in the early 20th century and in the mid-century to enforce federally mandated desegregation. It was invoked again in 1992 during the uprising in Los Angeles.
Its use could lead to U.S. military on American streets, so coupled with the distinct possibility that Trump might fear an election loss in November, the idea of a fascist regime might seem more than plausible to more than just these protesters. Mussolini’s fascists took advantage of social turmoil to seize power in Italy. The Nazis went from a fringe party to a national contender because of the economic collapse during the Great Depression.
On a more hopeful note, nearing the end of the June 6 Mission District demonstration and acknowledging the pandemic, a request was made for everyone in the crowd to pull out whatever hand sanitizer they had and use it, then share with others who did not.
It felt almost ritualistic, how so many people pulled little bottles from their pockets and then shared them with friends and strangers standing around them.