The Mutating Virus Worse Than COVID-19

Clete Wetli | June 1, 2020 | Opinion Article

The other day, I woke up to get ready for work and turned on the news right after CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his production crew was arrested for no apparent reason as they did what all journalists do when professionally reporting civil violence and unrest. To be perfectly clear, the CNN crew did absolutely nothing to merit arrest. As I sipped my first cup of coffee, I became aware that a white CNN journalist was also reporting literally one block away, yet he wasn’t questioned, detained, or arrested.

There’s no dispute the riots were a result of police murdering George Floyd by using extreme and excessive force while arresting him as a suspect for forgery, which happened to be caught on video. I’ve seen this whole thing play out in thousands of different flavors before. Different names, different places. Sometimes, the police have murdered completely innocent people who have no record whatsoever, sometimes they have a record and it becomes a shallow justification for their inexplicable violence often for a petty offense.

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It’s standard operating procedure now for law enforcement to respond with the overwhelming and disproportionate force that often turns deadly with little or no provocation. For decades, the use of excessive force has been encouraged and even celebrated. The judicial system has enabled it and allowed it to continue unabated.

So, I’m a middle-aged white guy who doesn’t pretend to know what it’s like to be black and targeted. But, I do know it’s unquestionably wrong and I know it’s way past time for radical changes in law enforcement and our judicial system. I also know that white men, especially like me, have a duty to speak out against racism and, more importantly, take meaningful action against systemic racism that permeates all aspects of our culture.

Racism is a pernicious virus and it’s mutated since the Civil Rights Act. In the last several decades, it becomes generally less overt, though no less pervasive. Yet, in its more recently mutated form characterized by socially acceptable subtlety, it’s become much more insidious and, arguably, more infectious. That’s why Trump said about the racists marching with torches in Charleston, “There are good people on both sides.” Sadly, his supporters enthusiastically agreed.

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So, here we are, America, engulfed by two viruses while being led by a divisive, ignorant, racist, and pathologically narcissistic embarrassment who plays at being president while destroying the norms and institutions we hold dear. Our cities are burning from one virus and the other one has leftover 100,000 dead in just a few months.

Ironically, many of the same people who refuse to wear masks or social distance also tend to be the same people infected with racism who think police brutality is just a necessary evil that keeps “those people” in their place. We saw them when they protested at the Michigan State Capitol with all their assault weapons and MAGA hats. They are incurably sick and they don’t even know it.

By the way, it’s not a “few bad apple” cops, it’s a “thin blue line” culture that’s reinforced with training and policy and mentality of “us against them”. Cities across America have spent small fortunes trying to make their police forces into para-military storm troopers. This didn’t happen by accident or necessity. It happened because conservatives made it their agenda because they understood the effect and political benefit to them with things like the infamous Willie Horton ad and Reagan’s mythical “welfare queen”.

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Yes, racism has mutated like a virus, but it’s flaring and spiking again. Just like COVID-19, there’s no vaccine or effective treatment yet. However, we can contain it and work towards its eradication. Just like wearing a mask, socially distancing, and personal hygiene can help stop the spread of COVID-19.

With racism and police brutality, we can demand that our lawmakers and decision-makers change the laws, policies, and institutions that foster and enable it. We must speak out every single time. When Childish Gambino released “This is America”, it was more accurate and eerily prescient than we cared to admit.

Racism is viral because white folks like to pretend it doesn’t exist and most remain complicit through silence and inaction, it’s the same reason infections and deaths from COVID-19 are spiking in Alabama.

It’s time we say something and do something to take a stand against both.

Clete Wetli is former Chair of the Madison County Democrats and a liberal political activist.

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