June 1, 2020

Good morning from Philadelphia, the poorest major city in America.

I woke up yesterday morning to the sound of helicopters hovering nearby -- never a good sign. Turns out that after the cops shut off access to the downtown, looters moved into the neighborhoods, and mine was one of them. They broke into the Lowe's, the Target, the Walmart, a Game Stop, my local Shoprite. Fortunately, there wasn't as much damage as I'd feared.

And I wasn't even angry. Just so, so sad that things have ever gotten to this point.

It was worse when I saw the pictures of the downtown stores, which looked like a war zone. By then, volunteers had already turned out in force to clean up the mess. Then I found out that the splendid Reading Terminal Market, one of the oldest public farmers markets in the country, had been broken into, too. Which made me even sadder, because the merchants there were trying so hard to hang on through the pandemic.

The King of Prussia mall was hit Saturday night. Well, I hate the monstrously huge mall. But people work there, and shop there.

Yesterday, a mob converged on the 52nd Street shopping strip in West Philadelphia, home to so many black-owned businesses. This is a vital shopping district in a black neighborhood, one that was destroyed in the 1968 riots. It was a long, hard haul before they were back on their feet, and here we are again.

Watching all this live felt horrible, but necessary. I felt compelled to bear witness.

By the time I went to bed, looters had converged in the northernmost part of the city and broke into the Franklin Mills Mall, one of the original and largest outlet malls. They spread out from there to several strip malls.

They also spread out to Upper Darby, the closest western suburb. There, they broke into and looted stores on 69th St., a major shopping artery and home to the Tower Theater, where David Bowie recorded his famous live album.

And this morning, the National Guard is here and there's another fire in nearby Kensington. (More helicopters.) I saw on the local news that people set fire to the strip mall at 62nd and Woodland -- where my mom took us to see JFK when he ran for president.

I am weary. I am exhausted, from witnessing the destruction of so many of our communal and personal touchstones. And yet.

And yet, I am not angry. Why should I be? I am... resigned? It feels cathartic, that America's racism is now so obviously right out there in the open, where we HAVE to deal with it. We have to.

Nothing I'm feeling now compares to the terror black and brown people feel when they see those flashing blue lights in the rear view mirror, or when their teenage kids have missed curfew and they begin to hyperventilate, wondering if they'll ever see their child again. Even the relatively minor indignity of being treated like a potential thief when I walk into a store is something I'll never have to deal with.

Imagine the constant fear, the drain on your emotional and mental resources it takes to be black in America. I mean, I feel constantly stressed because I write about politics under Trump -- and believe me, it takes its toll. (For the first year, I was on antidepressants just to stay functional.) But I'm white. My heart doesn't start thumping if a cop stops me. My white skin is literally a "get out of jail free" card.

I have a deep personal aversion to destruction. When I was 13, and first saw the Who, I couldn't even enjoy the music -- Pete Townsend smashing his guitar ruined it for me. One of the reasons I can't stand Republicans is because they don't know how to create, they only know how to break things.

But today, I feel like the structure of the house America is built on, so riddled with the rot of slavery, full of racist termites -- well, we can't patch it anymore. It has to come down. And we then have to build a new one, one that has a place for everyone and isn't built on making sure that some people are always going to get a lot less than everyone else.

I can live with that. Can you?

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