In his masterpiece, Colombian writer José Eustasio Rivera describes the extreme worker exploitation and violence in the Colombian Amazon during the rubber boom of the early 20th century. He titled it “La Vorágine,” the maelstrom.
Today, we in the US are living in an unprecedented maelstrom, the confluence of a popular movement against racism and police brutality, a lethal pandemic, and economic collapse. And we people of color, especially our Black and Latino communities, are the ones suffering the consequences of this great vorágine the most.
Each year in our country, police forces kill almost 1,000 people; 24 percent of them are Black, despite the fact that they comprise only 13 percent of the country’s population. We Latinos are the second most punished community in this dreadful category.
The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands at police officer Derek Chauvin, the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, and the murder of Breonna Taylor during an illegal police invasion of her home, in addition to countless other deaths of Blacks answered with impunity, have unleashed an uprising of furor and indignation unprecedented since 1968. Not only in the US but around the civilized world, tens of millions have raised their voices against racism and social injustices in solidarity with the US Black community under the motto of Black Lives Matter. Each year in our country, police forces kill almost 1,000 people; 24 percent of them are Black, despite the fact that they comprise only 13 percent of the country’s population. We Latinos are the second most punished community in this dreadful category.
The marches and rallies in support of our Black sisters and brothers have been overwhelmingly peaceful, amid the violent repression they have suffered, fanned by Donald Trump’s incendiary rhetoric. Regardless of his attempts to asphyxiate everything that is decent in our country, his construction of a wall around the White House, and his hiding from the American people, Trump now lives right next to Black Lives Matter Plaza, Washington, DC.
So far this movement in favor of decency and justice is succeeding in advancing one of its fundamental goals—defunding the police. The Minneapolis City Council has overwhelmingly voted to completely dismantle the police department. New York City mayor Bill De Blasio announced plans to transfer a substantial portion of his $6 billion police budget to school and social services. Regardless of the Trump administration’s efforts to vilify the protestors, a crushing majority of voters (84%-27%) support their cause.
But without justice there will be no peace. The police officers responsible for the killings of Black citizens must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The police must permit protesters to march and speak out for justice and accountability, not instigate violence. And the country and its political system must work for all of us, no matter where we are from, our gender, or the color of our skin.
Let’s keep in mind that this explosion of popular clamor also comes from a pandemic that has infected more than 2 million people and killed more than 113,000. Blacks and Latinos are almost three times more likely to know someone who died of COVID-19 than white Americans. As a consequence, we are witnessing an economic collapse that has destroyed more than 40 million jobs and started miles-long lines of impoverished Americans at the country’s food banks.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is intensifying its attack on public health protections, such as the recent elimination of environmental review of major infrastructure projects. This incomprehensible decision especially puts at risk Latino, Black, and Indigenous populations, which are already disproportionately suffering the effects of air and water pollution.
The protagonists of “La Vorágine” finally triumph over those who mortify them, but not over the system that represses them. That is our charge, today and in the future.
Javier Sierra is a Columnista with Sierra Club. @javier_SC
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