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The Virus: Week Thirteen

Continued from The Virus: Week Twelve

By the following day, just past the freeway sign warning us about the virus, you could, if you looked quickly, spot a diminutive black square fixed to the chain-link fence alongside the overpass on the 405. It said, in stark white letters, JUSTICE 4 G. FLOYD. The uprisings were already spreading from Minneapolis to Nashville to Los Angeles to New York City and beyond. On the news there could still be seen the occasional feel-good virus story; in one of them, a sharply dressed black kid hosted a prom for his equally well-dressed white babysitter, since the virus had already killed all the graduations and all the proms. There were now over 40 million unemployed people in this country, and George Floyd was just three days dead. Trump just called for the military to shoot the “thugs” rising up in the streets in righteous anger over this latest casualty of police brutality. Nearly every protestor could be seen wearing a mask to keep the virus at bay as they gathered in solidarity, and almost no cop anywhere was wearing a mask, even though the virus doesn’t care if you’re the one being beaten in the streets or if you’re the one doing the beating. “When the looting starts,” Trump quoted admiringly, “the shooting starts.” Twitter slapped its first violation notice on his tweet, which, they said, after years of Trump glorifying violence, “violated Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.” That was Thursday. By the following day the uprisings had spread even further, and you could now see live TV footage of Omar Jimenez, a journalist, being arrested in Minneapolis without cause. People were already being beaten in the street, and peaceful protestors and journalists were being rounded up and hauled to jail. A police precinct office had just been torched; protestors were shot at in Louisville as they gathered in solidarity to the memory of Breonna Taylor, who’d been shot and killed by cops in her own home; no charges had been announced against the officer who killed George Floyd, that one with his hand in his pocket. It has been noted that cops have killed as many people during these last months of the virus as they did the same time last year when there was no global pandemic, a sign that there are at least a few things that even the virus cannot stop. Sometime later that hands-in-pocket cop was finally arrested. I don’t care about the virus anymore. All that is in my heart are the cries of George Floyd as he begged for breath and begged for his life, as he called out for his children, as he called out for his dead mama. The images are seared into our brains but it’s those words that are an absolute knife to the heart. NYPD precincts are overrun, their vehicles engulfed in flames. The very next night we get a frantic late-night call from my sister-in-law: Dad says he can’t breathe; he can’t breathe. She rushes him to the hospital, and after a night of struggle, he is eventually able to breathe again, and return home to those he loves. They’re calling out the National Guard to help quell the uprisings; journalists are being arrested and beaten, their eyes are being shot out. By the following night, we are in the sixth night of the uprisings, and the protestors are growing in number, and nearly all of them are still wearing their masks to limit exposing their comrades to the virus; their faces are covered but their voices keep growing louder and more insistent that this way of doing things must come to an end. Against the darkness of the night we watch the guardhouse just in front of the White House burn. Just one day later Trump is threatening to dispatch military troops to squash the gathering masses asserting their rights to free speech and free assembly. He is railing against the protestors and their demands from the Rose Garden as the protests erupt a few yards away. When we go to the store to get more mask-making supplies, there are two men standing around examining the Fourth of July merchandise, and both of them have their required masks dangling beneath their chins, and I listen to them jabbering and watch an elderly woman walk past them, and I see them see her and keep on jabbering, and so I confront them. I tell them that the masks are supposed to cover their faces, in case they weren’t sure three months into the pandemic how a mask works. One of the men meekly pulls his mask up over his nose but the other begins to mouth off about it, but I won’t be deterred, and I publicly and loudly shame him into shutting his mouth and doing the absolute minimum a person trying not to infect other people with the virus can do. After that the two men continue to consider which patriotic decor they’re planning to buy for their office cubicles. By the next day there are people in masks out in the streets and public spaces around the entire globe, all of them risking their lives and their safety to be heard: SAY HER NAME, SAY HIS NAME, BLM, BLACK LIVES MATTER, BLACK LIVES MATTER, DEFUND THE POLICE, FUCK THA POLICE, SILENCE = VIOLENCE, JUSTICE FOR GEORGE FLOYD, JUSTICE 4 BREONNA TAYLOR, JUSTICE FOR GEORGE GLOYD BREONNA TAYLOR AHMAUD ARBERY, TRAYVON MARTIN TAMIR RICE SANDRA BLAND FREDDIE GRAY, DEFUND THE POLICE, ABOLISH THE POLICE, ABOLISH THE POLICE, REST IN POWER. The next day was June 3, another Wednesday. The Wednesdays come so quickly now. My car won’t start. Walking up the road from the auto shop, I wait at a socially-distanced table outside of a small sandwich shop. The person working there is wearing a grey LETTERS TO CLEO shirt, and through the newly installed plastic sheets she apologizes in advance for coughing, “given the state of things.” We can’t figure out why the car wouldn’t start, but then it starts again and I head home. At the corner of a town where you’d usually only see a few anti-choice protestors now and then holding up STOP ABORTION signs or Scripture quotes next to pictures of glowing babies, I saw a group of protestors shouting and waving signs: “BLACK LIVES MATTER! BLACK LIVES MATTER! BLACK LIVES MATTER!” All of the people on the corner are young, high school age or college age, and all of them are wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus. When I get home the news is saying that the autopsy revealed that George Floyd had contracted the virus in April, but had (rather obviously, they state) survived. The virus that’s ravaging so many communities of color right now, the virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of people so far, couldn’t kill him; but a much older and deadlier plague surely did.

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