Elizabeth Ames: George Floyd riots and the coronavirus powderkeg

All Americans have been shocked by the death of George Floyd while in police custody. This sickening act has set off more than a week of unrest. But was it the sole cause? Or was it the match that ignited dry timber?

More likely the latter. History has yet to be written. But discussions over the coming weeks are sure to look increasingly at the role of the COVID-19 lockdown in putting the nation’s nerves on edge and inflaming these days of rage.

We should ask the politicians – especially the governors, mayors and others seeking to place blame for the violence – what did you expect? You created a historic economic crisis throwing 40 million people out of work.


Forty million people.

Did any of you who enjoyed appearing on TV every day telling Americans what they could and could not do — did you fully comprehend the full implications of pushing 40 million Americans into joblessness?

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You meant to save lives with your response to the pandemic. We get that. But then you went way, way too far, creating mass unemployment at levels approaching the equivalent of the Great Depression.

Did you ever stop to consider that a job is not only a paycheck, but also a provider of dignity and purpose? Author and commentator Arthur Brooks has written eloquently about how work satisfies a primary human need to be needed. Politicians who see employers as greedy overlords and businesses as soulless generators of profit can’t or won’t understand this. For many people, a job is not just about money. It provides a connection to the community, sometimes even a substitute for family.

Have you ever considered what happens to people when this vital connection is severed? We’ve been seeing it this past week. It’s no surprise that the Molotov cocktail-throwing Princeton educated-lawyer whose arrest made headlines in New York City had been “furloughed” from his firm. One wonders if he would have been driving his van around distributing homemade incendiaries if he had to be in the office the next day.

Yet, from the very beginning, the “woke” mainstream media have been largely asleep to the pandemic’s potential to foment widespread unrest.

And what of the millions of teenagers — many from single-parent families — who suddenly found themselves grounded at home after COVID school closings, often with little structure and purpose? Is it any surprise that some would take to the streets, perhaps with criminals released from prisons during the crisis by pandering, fear-mongering politicians?

Yet, from the very beginning, the “woke” mainstream media have been largely asleep to the pandemic’s potential to foment widespread unrest. Few considered how month after month of “social distancing” could ultimately undermine social cohesion.

Did any of those reporters, writing ad nauseum about Donald Trump’s fondness for hydroxychloroquine, ever consider probing the pressures building in low-income neighborhoods hit by lockdown-caused unemployment — where much of the rioting is currently taking place?


Did they ever consider asking residents of these communities how they felt being thrown out of jobs and confined at home, unable to pay bills, subjected to the seemingly unending uncertainty of ever-extended lockdowns — while enduring an incessant drumbeat of bad news?

The lockdowns no doubt also helped stoke rage among middle-class members of Antifa, providing them with more time on their hands to organize their unprecedented national assault.

Yet so far the relation of the present unrest to government-imposed COVID confinement has been largely ignored. The media have covered the pandemic’s impact on low-income unemployment mainly as a statistic. COVID stories have focused on data-driven reports of job losses, virus cases and death rates, the latest Donald Trump outrage, and pieces aimed at anxious elites. Two recent NY Times Editors’ picks: “Do Runners Need to Wear Masks?” and “Is it Safe to Keep Employing a Cleaner?”


No question George Floyd’s death drove people into the streets. And there needs to be an honest discussion of the lessons learned from this terrible tragedy.

Already there is the predictable chest-beating as the political class seeks to explain the violent response as justifiable frustration over “white privilege.” However, if there is any “privilege” to be blamed, it is that of overreaching politicians who used the power of their offices to deprive 40 million people of their dignity as working Americans.


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