Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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May 31: President Trump announces plan to designate “Antifa” a domestic terrorist group. There is no evidence that “Antifa” exists as an organization. Protests continue for a sixth night. Thousands arrested. Curfews enacted in more than two dozen cities and the National Guard is activated in 15 states and Washington, D.C., where riot police push back thousands of protesters after a fire was set across from the White House. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) restricts access to her city’s downtown area, making it accessible only to residents and essential workers. Atlanta authorities fire two police officers and place three others on desk duty for using excessive force during a Saturday protest. The retailer Target announces it is closing 200 of its stores to avoid chaos during the protests.

From the Cutting Room Floor...

The momentum in the streets is palpable and electric. There is property damage, for sure, and business owners have boarded up windows. Yet, the overwhelming majority of protesters in cities from coast to coast are marching peacefully and chanting: “Say their names—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor … hands up, don’t shoot … Black Lives Matter” And, over and over again, a chant that speaks not only to the killing of George Floyd and Eric Garner before him, but to this pandemic year, simple and desperate: “I can’t breathe.”

These aren’t “riots” as history books often portray protests—this is a complicated business that needs a category of its own. The anger at the system allowing white cops to use lethal force against Black and brown bodies without any accountability is spilling over into more and more cities. A perfect storm seems to be aligning. Frustration at injustice. The steadily growing numbers of unemployed. The ever widening-cultural gap on who can wear masks in public to protect themselves from coronavirus and who cannot without fear of violence. A broken healthcare system that seems unable to serve anyone who cannot afford excellent healthcare coverage. Police forces equipped like military units. An executive branch of the federal government that seems unable or unwilling to do anything constructive on any of these issues. Add the ability to share stories and videos quickly through social media, and we have a recipe for explosive confrontations. Not everyone is convinced something needs to change. But many are. The distance between those two sides is becoming wider and angrier by the moment. Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabar summarizes it well: “What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge.”

Comparisons between this week and the summer of 1968 fly around the internet fast and furious, but this history is not a carbon copy of five decades ago. The 1968 protests erupted in ghettoized portions of Los Angeles and Detroit, and those communities suffered extensively in the subsequent crackdown. Chicago, memorably, erupted in parallel with the Democratic National Convention electing not to pull back from the conflict in Vietnam. In 2020, both protesters themselves and the city neighborhoods looted are relatively wealthier. Middle-class looters are targeting national chain stores rather than just local businesses exclusively. And these protests are not confined to the largest US cities.

Most importantly of all, the crowd in 2020 is decidedly multiethnic. Whites are there, holding signs, chanting “No justice; no peace!” and “Black Lives Matter.” Whites should not be rewarded simply for showing up. Still, it is a different level of participation than during the civil rights movement a half-century ago; different even than the original Black Lives Matter protests around Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. And for the most part these protests are peaceful, even featuring moments of true reconciliation. Unlike in Michigan or Texas a month ago, these protesters wear masks and do not carry rifles.

Rumors abound that much of the store destruction is being carried out by “outsiders”—either anarchists bent not on racial justice but destruction, or even “false flag” members of the police who are dressing like protesters and starting property damage to justify police retribution.[1] That is unsubstantiated. But it would be a classic move in American social violence. Rumors of Black attacks on whites inspired white Oklahomans when torching the entirety of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa—99 years ago today.



[1] Dan Evon, “Does Video Show Police Officer Smashing Windows During Minn. Protests?,”, May 29, 2020,

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Guardian News. “These Cops Love You”: Michigan Sheriff Joins George Floyd Protesters in Flint, 2020.

MidJersey News, “Black Lives Matter Protest Trenton NJ, May 31, 2020.”

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The National for Sunday, May 31 — “Unrest at protests across U.S. over George Floyd’s death,”

NBC Nightly News, “Escalating Protests Nationwide Over Death Of George Floyd” May 31, 2020.

The Telegraph, “Truck drives into George Floyd protesters on Minneapolis highway,” May 31, 2020.

The Oklahoman, “Interviews from OKC protest – May 31, 2020.”

Prof BlackTruth, “Man Attacks Dallas Protesters With Sword. TMZ Lies About It!” May 31, 2020,


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Godfrey, Elaine. “The Congresswoman Pepper-Sprayed by Police.” The Atlantic, May 31, 2020.
Hamer, Fannie Lou. “I’m Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired – Dec. 20, 1964.” Archives of Women’s Political Communication, December 20, 2019.
Aldax, Mike. “Community Mourns Death of Federal Officer Dave Patrick Underwood | Richmond Standard,” May 31, 2020.
Glasser, Susan B. “Trump Plays Macho Man as America Burns | The New Yorker.” The New Yorker, May 31, 2020.
Greenhouse, Linda. “Justices Rule Police Do Not Have a Constitutional Duty to Protect Someone.” The New York Times, June 28, 2005, sec. U.S.
Associated Press, “U.S. Officials Investigate Protest Disinformation, Possible Agents Provocateur.” MarketWatch, May 31, 2020.
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem. “Don’t Understand the Protests? What You’re Seeing Is People Pushed to the Edge.” Los Angeles Times, May 31, 2020.
Social media
Additional Links
  • CNN transcripts. “Transcript: ‘State of the Union’ Interview With St. Paul, Minnesota, Mayor Melvin Carter; Interview With Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ); Interview With Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; Interview With U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien; Interview With Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD).” CNN, May 31, 2020.
  • Gallardo, Michelle, Will Jones, Cate Cauguiran, and Jesse Kirsch. “Chicago George Floyd Protests: Businesses Board up after Day of Rallies Turns Violent; at Least 6 Shot, 1 Killed.” ABC7 Chicago, May 31, 2020.

* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.