COVID & George Floyd Killing Reveal a Failed State That Only Knows How to Police

Issue 256

Shay Gabriel O’Reilly Jun 2, 2020

The failure of our governments — local, state, national — to address COVID-19 with any real rigor is the result of a neoliberal rejection of all state functions, with the exception of policing, in favor of aiding capital accumulation. 

The best this system has managed to muster is a white cop outside my mostly-black building with a mask around his chin and his hand on his holster.

We see them imposing bans on opening businesses and penalties for hanging out in large groups. But they have failed, so far, to implement a real test-trace-isolate program, or to meet people’s basic needs while they are quarantined, or to keep a medical system that relies disproportionately on “elective” procedures fiscally solvent (or come up with an alternative).

The reopen protests are a reactionary endeavor conducted by a tiny minority. The demonstrators are mostly seeking to force others to get back to work for them — and potentially die — for paltry sums of money. But a larger number of people are feeling, rightly, that they can’t be quarantined forever and, with the police killing of George Floyd, they can’t be silent forever either. 

We were supposed to flatten the curve. It has been flattened, so now what? We were supposed to help buy time for our governments to build out medical capacity, to stock up on PPE, to put out a plan for how to stop the uncontrollable spread of COVID-19. That has not happened, except maybe some better PPE supply chains have been established. 

And it’s not just the federal government.

New York City and State haven’t come up with a real plan either. There aren’t ways for people to freely isolate themselves from their family members when they are crowded into too-small, too-expensive apartments. There are no universal systems in place to feed people (the free meals are spotty in quality, especially compared to other countries). No clear guidelines or assistance for safe relaxation and respite. No housing for unhoused people packed into shelters or evicted from the subway into rainy streets. And there is scant decarceration underway to free people from crowded prisons, detention centers and jailhouses.

The best this system has managed to muster is a white cop outside my mostly-black building with a mask around his chin and his hand on his holster. 

No wonder people are angry: The outrage over the continued killings of black people by police takes place against a backdrop of grinding poverty and thousands of preventable deaths concentrated in black and brown communities, while governments continue to invest in policing and prisons. 

Meanwhile, we’re being encouraged to blame each other.

It’s a natural human instinct: This is miserable, and we see other people who appear to be responsible for potentially spreading the illness. But when there’s a second wave with the same death and destruction (or worse) as the first, it won’t be the fault of people hanging out in a park or outside a bar. Just like climate change isn’t the fault of someone for driving to work instead of taking the bus. 

It’s the fault, instead, of political leaders who fear breaking the neoliberal paradigm because it could lead us to demand far more.

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