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June 12, 2020

What has changed?

Opinion

June 12, 2020

As protests continue to mount over the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, what has turned the Black Lives Matter protests of 2014-2016 into mass protests today?

Has the zeitgeist shift so much in the past five years? Did people truly started to realize that the police have unchecked power and systematically treat black men and women far differently from their white compatriots? Is the videotaped murder of Floyd any worse that the footage of Eric Garner’s or Michael Brown’s murder?

It is none of these things.

While increased frustration at the police’s unequal treatment of black lives may explain part of the change, particularly among the black victim population, there is something else that has transformed these into mass protests.

It is Donald Trump and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most liberals refrained from criticizing Obama for his deportation of three million undocumented immigrants, as the ‘Deporter in Chief’, during his first term but found the deliberate separation of migrant families under Trump un-American. Similarly, police violence against black lives under Obama did not cause widescale protests, but they clearly have recently under Trump.

The police, in their militarism, brutality and racism seem to be of the president’s ilk. It is difficult not to see the similarity in the fascist-like tendencies of both the police, in their violence towards protesters and journalists, and Trump, in gassing protesters for campaign photo-ops and advocating for violence against them (“looting will lead to shooting”). Because the police seem to be an extension of Trump’s rule, liberals are far more likely join the BLM protests than they were under Obama. Under Obama, liberals typically supported the government and, therefore, were less apt to criticize elements of his government, even if they were local and not directly connected to the federal government, like the police.

The other piece is the Covid-19 pandemic. When mass protests erupted in late May, many Americans lived in states that were still in the early stages of reopening after two and a half months of stay-at-home orders. As social animals, physical isolation took a heavy psychological toll on all of us.

In late May, as things – for the time being – seemed to be getting a little better, social isolation translated into a strong desire for community, to physically interact with others and a strong penchant for solidarity. Unlike in 2014-2016, this helped drive masses of people to join the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Excerpted from: '2014-16 vs Today: What Made the Mass BLM Protests Today So

Much Larger than Five Years Ago?' Counterpunch.org