These past two weeks have been both a marvelous time and a shameful time for the United States of America. A major milestone in space exploration was reached, while cities burned, as protests erupted across that country over the needless death of a suspect at the hands of the Minneapolis police department.
Back in the space race
On 20 May 2020, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, with two astronauts aboard, was blasted into space atop the Falcon heavy lift booster rocket. It arrived right on schedule at the International Space Station orbiting overhead. Docking was flawless as the fully automated capsule linked up with the Station. (Although the pilot did take the controls briefly, to test that the manual controls did work).
This was a momentous space mission in that it was the first time in 9 years that a crewed rocket was launched from U.S. soil (the last time being at the end of the Space Shuttle program).
A man’s plea: I can’t breathe
At the other end of the spectrum, the USA faced turmoil as race riots erupted across the country after an African American man faced deadly police violence. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed when Minneapolis Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin, held his knee to Floyd’s neck for eight minutes in an alleged “resisting arrest” situation. Despite pleas of “I can’t breathe”, Officer Chauvin continued until Floyd stopped breathing and became unresponsive.
Within the hour, Floyd was pronounced dead at Hennipin Hospital.
Chauvin was fired from the police force and is now in custody awaiting trial on murder charges.
The death of Mr. Floyd has triggered nationwide protests from one end of the USA to the other. (This is not the first death by asphyxiation by cop. In 2014 Eric Garner was killed by the New York City police. I’m sure there were many more.)
Due process: part of the solution or part of the problem?
Fortunately or unfortunately, when a death like George Floyd’s occurs, due process must be allowed to run it’s course. It took only 4 days to move from the crime to the arrest. Although this was very fast for this type of investigation, many thought it was far too slow. (If I were to hold up a grocery store, hypothetically speaking, I wouldn’t have to wait 4 days to be arrested.) But due process is one of those things which keeps a democracy from turning into a total dictatorship.
However, for many black Americans, having to wait 4 days suggested that the honky police were going to get away with it again. Police brutality is not an isolated incident; many years of excessive force and other types of incidents have showed the backsliding of the civil rights gains of the past few decades. An isolated spark setting off a big powder keg, but one that would have not blown up if there wasn’t a powder keg there to begin with.
Barry McGuire said it best
Barry McGuire said it best on his signature hit, Eve Of Destruction: “You may leave here — for 4 days in space — but when you come back — it’s the same old place”. Gains in scientific knowledge are valuable, but not if they come at the expense of human rights.
The above song was released (for me, an unbelievable) 55 years ago. And today, the USA is experiencing the same kind of turmoil as it was from the late 1960’s. (I had hoped that those days would never come back. But I don’t see how anyone can avoid that now.)
Permit me to emphasize something: I’m not one of those who say, “we must make sure everyone on Earth has enough to eat before we spend money on space”. I feel that science has worth; that the things we learn in the pursuit of scientific truth benefit everybody in the long run. However, there must be a balance. We need to stop the needless loss of life by those who put themselves above the law — even if they are the law.
Nothing left to lose
Whenever there are riots, fires, and looting in the inner cities, someone always asks, “why are they destroying their own neighborhoods?” Certainly directing your anger inwards to your own community isn’t going to help you. But this is the sort of thing that happens when people feel they have nothing left to lose.
As major U.S. cities burn, the shops that can’t be protected any more get looted. It’s been suggested that using force is the proper way of dealing with looting, which is a major problem that goes along with rioting. But looters are not the main problem — it’s the problems of social injustice that led to the riot in the first place. Robbing stores of expensive items that people can’t afford anyway is just a target of opportunity that a riot provides cover for. Stop killing suspects (and I’m not just talking about George Floyd) and the problem will start to go away.
You don’t go to a riot wearing a face mask
As violence explodes across the United States, people are ignoring social distancing and personal protective equipment. There’s too much to be said about the Blue Virus to be worried about the Coronavirus right now. This will cause an uptick in deaths, but what can I say? People are tired of the lockdowns, and we all want to go out again. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and let people live their lives.
The USA is circling the bowl right now, with things going from bad to worse. Race riots are only the latest installment: Coronavirus, poverty, and the threat of inflation will continue to be around for a long time, combining to create a truly explosive situation.
A different response
During the urban riots of the 1960’s, U.S. President John F. Kennedy had a different response. He aggressively supported the struggle for racial equality instead of trying to silence the protesters (although much of the job was left to his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was one of the most important pieces of American legislation.
But what can I do?
I’m just a publisher of a small blog. But I’ve always made it clear in my about page that I was “determined to escape the growing insanity of [my] native USA, with its endless wars, fake democracy, and rollback of civil rights”. I now live in Europe, in a country with a lot more respect for the rights of individuals. Vive l’Europe!
Years ago, I was actively involved in the fight for the rights of minorities. Although I’m too old now for those struggles, my blog enjoys some small measure of influence, so I’m going to concentrate on that.
Escaping the USA
A common refrain in a U.S. Presidential election year is, “if so-and-so wins, I’m moving to Canada”. This allows someone to blow off some steam, as well as trash the candidate of their “unchoice”. But hardly anyone actually goes. And there’s never been any guarantee that Canada will accept them in the first place. As the United States descends into the quagmire, people will be increasingly desperate to get out. Who will take them?
When I first heard about Anne Frank, I wondered why her family decided to shelter-in-place in German-occupied Netherlands rather than get out. Some years later, I learned why: Anne’s father Otto wrote letters to many countries, begging for a visa for his family. But he was denied every time: the trickle out of the German-controlled territories became a flood, and the other countries didn’t want any more refugees.
Lesson learned: if you want to get out, get out fast, while it’s still easy. I moved from the USA in 2007, moved my money out in 2008 (there are now restrictions on money transfers) and cancelled my citizenship in 2018.
Beware the fat cat
America’s Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) extends tax and banking laws to foreign bank accounts held by U.S. citizens. Nearly every country has signed treaties with the USA allowing this. If the U.S. economy collapses and the dollar hyper-inflates, there is the potential for the Treasury Department to seize all the Euros, Pounds, Yen, and whatnot in overseas Americans’ accounts and replace them with dollars. I’m not saying this will happen, I’m just saying, the way the law is written, it could happen. However, I’m not an American any more, so I’m safe from that.
And if all that weren’t bad enough
The one thing that seriously frightens me, is that religious fanatics might gain traction and propose that we turn it all over to God. Which is not a bad idea, on the face of it: But it will create an opportunity for fakes and charlatans to say “they speak for God” (or that they are God) and offer to take over the entire world to save us from ourselves. They will perform miracles; but with the right technology, they can make apparent miracles appear at will. I hope that if that day comes we can resist giving away our planet.
And finally —
George Floyd, wherever you are now, I’m sure it’s in a place with plenty of light and air. We will not forget you.