Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Sep 2: President Trump tells supporters in North Carolina that they should vote by mail and then cast an additional vote in person to play it safe. This suggestion comes after months of accusing Democratic voters of planning to vote illegally. President Trump orders federal agencies in a memo released Wednesday to find ways to slash funding to Democrat-run cities. “Anarchy has recently beset some of our states and cities,” The writes to Attorney General William Barr. “My administration will not allow federal tax dollars to fund cities that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones.” Fauci rejects a so-called “herd immunity” strategy that the White House has been touting. The U.S. debt will exceed the size of its economy for the first time since WWII. 

From the Cutting Room Floor...

Among the personal narratives that we received this year, a few themes stuck out. Probably the most prominent was the sense of helplessness in the face of overwhelming power. People lacking wealth or position, or those with darker skin tones or non-English primary languages, have expressed not only the usual fear that they are being targeted by police, but the larger dread that no one would work afterward to see that justice was done. Below is one such account from a young woman in Oregon.  Her story about her brother exposes the ways that embedded, structural responses (including expectations of violence) to and by African Americans in police interactions has destroyed lives.

There are so many ambiguities in this story. Did the cops do the wrong thing in this instance, given the rules that dictate how they can respond? From their perspective, someone called 911, asking them for help. When they got there, the narrator admitted that her brother had struck her. Perhaps the police were worried for her safety, or his. What choice did they have but to arrest him? They likely believed that they were simply doing their job. Yet, from the sister’s perspective, given her brother’s previous beating at the hands of police and the stories of Daniel Prude and others like him, the police represented an overwhelming threat.

Contributors' Voices

Around the beginning of COVID when it first started getting more extreme, a couple months back, I decided that I needed to get to my family in Washington. My brother has been developing mental health issues in the past 4 years. We think it’s related to a traumatic brain injury he suffered in high school. He got in a skateboarding accident at school and was honestly never the same since. I don’t know, it’s really weird and sad. We’ve taken him to many doctors… some think he has schizophrenia; some say he is bipolar, but there has been no clear diagnosis. I remember some stuff from senior year of him acting a little violent and having episodes of anger, but nothing too serious. It has progressively gotten worse though since I moved out for college. … the night before I left for the trip my mom called me and told me that my brother was not doing well and was going through another episode. …

Okay wait, actually before I tell you about what happened when I got to Washington something happened about 3 years ago to my brother. He was driving on the freeway at night and having a bad mental health episode, so I guess he was driving unsafe and someone reported him for swerving. He ended up getting pulled over by the police and was asked to step out of the car. I don’t really know how it escalated but my brother was beaten by the police that night and then arrested just for having a mental health episode. It’s so sad because there are photos of serious bruises that he got that night.

I was confused when it happened and didn’t know what to think. I knew my brother was not a bad person and definitely did not deserve to be beaten. Also, he was in prison for almost a year. He did not deserve that… My brother is not a criminal

… It’s so sad because obviously he was already having problems with his mental health and being in prison definitely made it worse. He probably thought of himself as a criminal and it hurt me so much that there was nothing my family could do to help him. We didn’t have the money to afford good lawyers or anything like that. My mom and I would literally drive out an hour and a half every other day to visit him to try and remind him that he is normal, but I honestly don’t know if it even helped. He has never been the same since.

The whole situation sucked so much. I just know for a fact that had the same thing happened to a white man they would definitely not be treated like that by the police. It’s because my brother is black. Anyways, I remember when he came home finally after they decided to relook at his case and realized that he was not being held for the right reasons. They finally let him leave. I remember he came home wearing the same pajamas he left in that night when he went for a drive. It was so sad. …

It ended up taking 26 hours for me to drive [to mom’s house]. Right when I walked in the door, I already felt a little bit weird. I don’t know how to explain it, but things felt off. The house was messy and grimy and just not well kept. Growing up my brother’s room was always cool, you know, he had posters and stuff that he hung up and it was personalized. But his room there was so bland and just not him at all…

The third day I was there was when the incident happened.

I had driven my brother and I to the park to go on a walk together and a couple minutes in he started saying abrupt and rude comments. I don’t remember exactly what he was saying but it was just rude, and I was getting fed up. So, I started asking him not to talk to me like that. I explained to him super politely that it hurts my feelings when he speaks to me like that especially after all I had done for him. I also explained calmly that even though mommy was probably used to the way he talks that doesn’t mean I am and that I’m more sensitive than mommy. Pretty much I was asking him to be less aggressive and this definitely tipped him off because he cut me off and said, “If you don’t stop talking right now, I’m going to punch you. I am seriously going to punch you so hard.” In the moment I was positive he was just threatening me. He had never hit me before, so why would he right? But when I started talking again, he did it. He punched me really hard in the stomach…

I was shocked and terrified. He knocked the wind out of me a little. It didn’t hurt too bad, but the fact that he even did that was so scary. I ran straight to my car, got in and locked the doors. I drove away because I was so upset and scared and honestly didn’t know what to do in that moment. I was crying and needed to be alone, but I also knew my brother couldn’t be alone, so I called my mom and told her to go pick him up. I told her that he hit me and that I left him there, and that I would be home later that night. Then, I just went for a drive and ended up going to the beach for a little bit to just be alone. I slept in my [converted camper] car that night not necessarily because I was scared of my brother but because I wasn’t ready to confront him or my mom. The next morning, I went inside, and he apologized to me right away. I wasn’t really sure if it was for punching me or just for upsetting me… I forgave him because I know he didn’t mean it. In the back of my mind I was kind of still worried about pissing him off again because you just never know how people are going to react or what they will do.

Later that morning, I was eating cereal in the yard and my brother came outside and tried to take my cereal out of my hands. When I told him to stop and said he couldn’t have it, he aggressively tried to throw it at my face. I started sobbing and ran inside, because enough is enough. I knew his aggression was getting out of hand and something needed to be done about it. So, I ran in and starting yelling at my mom about how she isn’t taking the necessary steps to help my brother with his mental health and now he is acting crazy because of it. I pretty much blamed it on her because she has been with him this whole time I’ve been at college and should’ve done a better job getting him the help he needs. I know my mom doesn’t react well when I yell at her like that, but I didn’t know what else to do. I was so upset, so I just left her room and went into the bathroom. I guess my mom started stressing out because I freaked her out.

The next thing I know the police show up at my house. I see them approaching and all I could think was why in the world are the police here. So, I ran back into my mom’s room and asked her why they were there, and she said she called them because I told her she never does anything to help my brother. This was the only thing she could think of at the time. When the police came inside, they asked me about the situation and if my brother hit me. Obviously, I had to say yes. It broke my heart though to say that and give my brother up to the police. It was so hard, and I was literally sobbing the whole time so that probably didn’t help his situation either. They told me they were going to arrest my brother for domestic violence.

I did that. I was the reason my brother was arrested that day

… I became a victim of domestic violence and for the second time my brother was not given the help he needed to improve his mental health. He was just sent to prison. The police always resort to locking people up. It’s all they know. I told them when they asked me about the incident that it was because he has mental health issues that we have not gotten him help for and I know the reason they didn’t care had to do with the fact that my brother is black

… Black people are always wrongfully arrested and treated poorly by the police and this was no exception. If the same situation were to happen to a white male, I don’t think they would have been arrested. I just felt so guilty… The last thing I wanted to do was send my brother to prison again. Last time it took months for us to get him out and I was so scared that he was going to have to go through that again or that we all were. Luckily, because of COVID, they didn’t keep him for long…

I saw such a sad video recently of Daniel Prude’s arrest, which ended up killing him. He suffered from mental health issues, just like my brother, and was suffocated with a bag because he was Black and thought to be a “threat” by the police. Prude’s brother was the one who called the police because he was worried his brother was experiencing a mental health episode. He even said on the phone not to kill him because this thought automatically crossed his mind. What the heck, right?! This could have been my brother. My mom’s phone call could’ve ended in my brother’s death just like Daniel Prude. That is just disgusting. How are the police allowed to act with such violence and brutal force? I guess that’s why I didn’t even think to call the police that day because of all the overwhelming incidents of black people becoming victims of police brutality that I have seen in the media. It scares me so much and makes me so angry.

Read more

Pete Williams, “Some Police Departments Overhaul Use Of Force Training,” NBC Nightly News, September 2, 2020,

Rosenhall, Laurel. “California Lawmakers Failed to Enact Sweeping Police Reforms. Here’s Why.” CalMatters, September 2, 2020.
Elmore, Joann G., Pin-Chieh Wang, Kathleen F. Kerr, David L. Schriger, Douglas E. Morrison, Ron Brookmeyer, Michael A. Pfeffer, Thomas H. Payne, and Judith S. Currier. “Excess Patient Visits for Cough and Pulmonary Disease at a Large US Health System in the Months Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Time-Series Analysis.” Journal of Medical Internet Research 22, no. 9 (September 2020): e21562.
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Additional Links
  • Kendi, Ibram X. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Reprint Edition. Bold Type Books, 2017.
  • Ignatieff, Michael. “The Nightmare From Which We Are Trying To Awake.” In The Warrior’s Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience, 166–90. London: Chatto and Windus, 1998.