I remember the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992, one of the largest and costliest race riots that has occurred in the United States in a history filled with them.
When footage emerged of LAPD officers beating mercilessly a black man on the side of the road and when those same officers were acquitted, whole neighbourhoods were torched - LA and other cities ground to a halt, our screens filled with carnage for days, coverage in the news cycle for weeks. Who could forget Korean Americans defending their shops with rifles, or the truck driver dragged from his vehicle, his head smashed by a rock? Who could forget the searing images of heavily armed militarised police, National Guard and the army trying, with outmoded tactics and poor leadership, to bring order to a chaos brought about by outraged citizens with nothing to lose taking to the streets?
From the perspective of the post-World War II period in American history, the narrative is peppered with race riots. The Watts race riots of '65 in south central Los Angeles, that left 34 dead - Detroit in '67 with 43 dead and the seemingly endless year of riots that was 1968. I teach about self-described 'law and order' presidents like Richard Nixon and George Bush senior who gained much, Nixon particularly, from talking tough largely to white, suburban 'silent majority' Americans outraged and bewildered that the country should be so at war with itself.
I also teach about apathy.
Voter apathy remains a problem in the United States. Low turnouts, especially among liberal leaning Americans, leads - as with the George Bush Junior election in 2000 or in 2016 - to some skewed election results. Apathetic is also a word I would use to describe many Americans in the wake of this on-going litany of violent, racial disturbance. People who profess to love their country and yet refuse to advance the cause of civil rights or repair the divisions among communities, between communities and law enforcement and with the clear systemic racism that pervades across the country. America remains a starkly racialised and racist state. Many white, and some black, conservative Americans have thrown up their hands in apathy and continue to do so.
IN OTHER NEWS:
In a nation that is predicated on the idea of being distinctive, exceptional and powerful, it never ceases to amaze me how wilfully blind white Americans especially are to their nation's shortcomings. For many conservative Americans, and indeed many centrists, the mantra of patriotism drowns out the obvious inequities and injustice, particularly racial injustice in the country.
There are two things, among many, which stand out to me as being salient in this fraught and fluid moment. A moment where curfews from civil unrest are in place for more than 40 cities, thousands of arrests have been made, 40 million are out of work, and 105,000 Americans are dead from a virus that has been handled disastrously by the country's leadership.
The first is the ongoing spectre of racism, social and economic injustice in the country. It is clear from all these protests, the riots over the past week, and the many protests that have come before, that America has not learned and has largely not improved the situation for poorer Americans. In particular for the many African Americans who struggle in a system that, as Spike Lee said this week, and echoing many others, 'was not set up to make you win'. Black lives Matter is a relatively new phrase, but it accurately reminds the quiet, forgetful Americans that the detail of the nation matters as much as the flag.
The other current that stands out to me at this time is the broken political system. This is a system that has produced in Donald Trump a President so divorced from both the office and reality, and so destructive by nature, that after three years of making America 'great again' and 'winning', the country is now in the worse shape that it's been in since 1932.
There is an absence of leadership and intelligence coming out of the White House.
Trump in his ineptness and ignorance, and by temperament and personality, has abdicated authority in the country. Not only is he not up for the job, he is actively, as Robert Reich recently argued, hell bent on taking it down by undermining, with abandon, all of the structures that not only do good in the country but are essential for a healthy democracy.
For this, the leadership of the Republican Party, highly partisan donors and right-wing media outlets are largely to blame. They have taken advantage of a broken polity and fed them repeatedly, not an alternative vision for America, but rather an opposition to America and to liberals, progressives and Democrats regardless of policy that they meet along this highway of negativity.
They have pursued power with no purpose.
The situation remains fluid, but Americans have a choice in November. By their vote they can do two things. First, they can bring about a realignment of the Republican Party, away from the rabbit hole of the populist far right. Second, with America's clear decline and withdrawal on the world stage, perhaps they might also start some much-needed self-reflection on other issues that lie behind riots, such as race, inequality and insecurity, rather than bombast.