Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Aug 23: Protests erupt in Kenosha, Wisconsin after police officers shot a Black man. A video of the incident was posted online, showing officers appearing to shoot the man, identified as Jacob Blake, several times in the back at close range as his children watched. The Republican National Convention begins. The FDA issues an Emergency Use Authorization for convalescent plasma as a potential promising Covid-19 treatment.  President Trump calls the treatment a “powerful therapy” with an “incredible rate of success,” a statement that draws some criticism from experts who claim that the treatment might be mildly helpful but has not been rigorously tested or proven safe. Other experts argue that the treatment is “largely a continuation of the status quo” for convalescent plasma. Fires continue in California.

Aug 24:   The CDC restricts its testing recommendations to only symptomatic individuals who have been exposed to the virus, reportedly due to pressure from the White House.  The CDC recommends that doctors should restrict COVID-19 testing to only those who exhibit symptoms after being exposed to the virus, excluding asymptomatic and possibly infectious persons with the disease. According to Politico, the quietly released new guidance was the result of political pressure from the White House. Fauci disagrees with the guidance. After it is revealed the decision had bypassed CDC’s usual scientific review process and without internal review, the changes are reversed. A global, multicenter study finds that the antiviral drug remdesivir had little effect on patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The findings, published in JAMA, indicate there were no significant differences in duration of supplemental oxygen or hospitalization between the intervention group given remdesivir and the control group given standard care.

From the Cutting Room Floor ...

After reading the article by John McWhorter[1]I spend the evening watching the video files on Greg Doucette’s Google Doc, tracing all reported police violence associated with the BLM protests. He began the list under three months ago, and it’s now up to more than 850 instances.[2] I also scroll through the subreddit “r/2020policebrutality”—it goes on for thousands of entries.[3] One hour goes by. Two. After two and a half, I can’t take any more images of men (and it’s almost always male cops) chasing, beating, and spraying people. And for what? I know the counterarguments: you don’t see enough, they were resisting arrest, they disobeyed an order and so on. But no cop seems ever under any real threat during video after video. I can’t find more than an instance or two of anyone doing anything but throwing a bottle of water or a teargas canister that the cops fired in the first place. Most of the time, name calling by protesters receives a physical beating or spraying. Sometimes, it appears that merely showing a press badge is enough to get pepper sprayed or worse. These videos look very much like what international news has been showing out of Hong Kong these last two years, or Prague in 1968 or Budapest in 1956.[4]

There is so much old anger and trauma in this nation. The police believe that history has proven the protestors to be thugs and terrorists. The protestors believe that history has proven the police to be murderers and fascists. I struggle to see how we can ever loosen the hold of this grief and fury whose power traps us in an unending, ever-repeating, yesterday. We are prisoners of our past, which, in the words of Michael Ignatieff, is not past.[5]

The violence has not stopped since George Floyd was murdered thirteen weeks ago. Last night in Kenosha, a crowd assembled in the immediate wake of Jacob Blake being carted away by an ambulance. Protests against police brutality started up almost instantly. Then the frustration seemed to boil over. A fire broke out in a dump truck. An empty lodge meeting hall burned. Today, the protests are spreading to other cities. In many cities, the BLM protests had not stopped since George Floyd’s death. In Portland, Oregon, for instance, protests continue. Right-winged counterprotesters and militias have replaced the federal troops, often driving their trucks into protesters, Trump flags flying behind their pick-ups. This weekend, a street brawl occurred between men carrying the Blue Lives Matter flag and Black Lives Matter protesters. Police issued a “do it again and we’ll issue a warning” warning. The police who are sworn to “serve and protect” look away or simply are absent.[6]

Maybe McWhorter is right, then, but in a twisted way. Maybe bigotry is not a necessary condition of police violence. Maybe the clubbing and spraying is just going to happen as soon as you give a person a badge, a club, and pepper spray. Because to everyone armed with a hammer….




[1] John McWhorter, “Racist Police Violence Reconsidered,” Quillette (blog), June 11, 2020,



[4] Preeti Jha, “Five Flashpoints in Hong Kong’s Year of Anger,” BBC News, August 31, 2020, sec. China,

[5] Michael Ignatieff, “The Nightmare From Which We Are Trying To Awake,” in The Warrior’s Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience (London: Chatto and Windus, 1998), 166–90.

[6] Helier Cheung and Christopher Giles, “Were Triads Involved in Hong Kong Violence?,” BBC News, July 22, 2019, sec. China,

Read more

“Shooting of Jacob Blake sparks protests in Wisconsin,” CTV News, August 24, 2020,


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McWhorter, John. “Racist Police Violence Reconsidered.” Quillette (blog), June 11, 2020.
Thornton, Chandler, and Dakin Andone. “Louisiana Officials Are Investigating the Police Shooting of a 31-Year-Old Black Man.” CNN, August 24, 2020.
Wyatt, Megan. “Trayford Pellerin, Who Died at Hands of Lafayette Police, Had Lengthy Criminal History.” The Acadiana Advocate, August 25, 2020.
McLaughlin, Eliott C., and Amir Vera. “Wisconsin Shooting: Kenosha Police Shoot Black Man as Children Watch from a Vehicle, Attorney Says.” CNN, August 24, 2020.
McDonald, Jessica. “Trump Touts Misleading and Flawed Excess Mortality Statistic.” FactCheck.Org (blog), August 24, 2020.
Sharlet, Jeff. “‘Say 12 More Years’: At the RNC, Trump’s Authoritarian ‘Joke’ Slips Closer to Reality.” Vanity Fair, August 24, 2020.
Boseley, Sarah. “Six of the Most Promising Treatments for Covid-19 so Far.” the Guardian, August 24, 2020.
Holmes, Aaron. “Zoom Users Are Reporting Significant Outages That Are Preventing People from Joining or Creating Meetings.” Business Insider, August 24, 2020.
TMZ. “New Angle of Jacob Blake Shooting Shows Struggle With Cops From Other Side.” TMZ, August 24, 2020.
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Additional Links

* 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.