the city of the pandemic ACAB summer

NYC I Love You

Erin Taylor

Everybody has moved to their roofs. I look around me and every roof in Brooklyn is full of people sunbathing, drinking, chatting (some distant, some not), and laughing. It’s been a strange year, April became June in a world of ambulance sirens - quickly followed by police sirens - and now strange calming amnesia. The grief of the city has been palpable, the terror panic carried in our bodies and restless sleep as many of us lost loved ones and everyone had to isolate as much as we could from those that typically are the essence of our lives. Months went by that were a blur, this blog actually was the only consistency I had in my life during lockdown. Writing my feelings on memes gave me a little grounding purpose but I can’t talk about memes today. I have been avoiding writing about memes for the last two weeks because it felt frivolous, even though there is much to be written about the memes that have come about amidst the Black Lives Matter Movement (or straight obfuscation of information in the form of the Black Square meme that many people who had been strangely silent all week posted while using important hashtags). I just couldn’t do it. I felt so overwhelmed by the city that had all of a sudden come alive with a rightful rage. You don’t think about the virus when you’re in a crowd yelling about injustice, the crowd is inherently an act of protest. The bodies on bodies that become uncontrollable and the more power in movement and footsteps. The city became terrifying for a moment, not because of the protests themselves but because of the police response. I am not just talking about the brutalizing of protesters but also the helicopters always circling and the undercovers surveilling the city throughout.

At the same time, the spirit of life was in the crowds. My generation grew up online, we all witnessed the police in the United States murder innocent Black people due to racist policing and get away with it time and time again. The hashtags piled until there was no longer any character count left in a single tweet. We all watched closely because everything in our lives and worlds has been documented and posted online, even though I was in Oklahoma I could easily see what happens in a gas station in Florida or a street in Missouri. Yes, sometimes social media platforms may deplatform activists, remove resources and posts, but the initial gut reaction of watching a policeman murder someone on camera will never leave you. The protests erupted after the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, but the rage encapsulated so much more than that because to think of even all those who have been lost in the Black community by police forces, well the grief cannot be measured.

When I went out, I wasn’t thinking about the pandemic. Of course, I took precautions and wore a mask and gloves but what I really was thinking about was how dangerous carceral whiteness is. I watched cops beat protesters who were running for their lives. I almost had to bail my friend out of jail, for a moment I had no clue where she was. I started writing a will. I had to run away from cops arresting protesters while my friends and I were waiting for street medics to help a diabetic houseless man, they stayed but I couldn’t risk arrest for my own reasons. The sky in Manhattan was a blue pink and New York City was under curfew. That night my friends were stuck on the bridge. Everyone I knew was out because we have grown so tired of the carceral state and of Black people being murdered by a racist system. There was also the very real fear of fascism, as the United States has long been a state that puts forth fascist ideology in order to serve its own needs. Police in the United States has been getting away with brutality, militarization, and surveillance of the American people long enough. Combine that with a government that barely provides for its citizens, evictions on the horizon, and a very real and deadly virus.

I had a conversation with my little sister the first week because I believe it’s important to talk about the reality of policing, as so many people who have been privileged by whiteness only understand police through copaganda, through TV shows and movies in which cops are actually helpful, treat everyone equally, and actually do protect those they should. My little sister’s friends watched a man drive an RV into protesters in Tulsa and as my mother screamed at my little sister to get off the phone, I said “so now you know, the police will watch your friends get hit by an RV and do nothing.” I actually was almost hit by a cop car in Clinton Hill walking to Barclays during the first wave of protests that hit New York City, as movements erupted in every city like great balls of hope and anger. The weaponization of vehicles has been widely used by cops during the protests which almost hits with severe pain as that is how Heather Heyer lost her life to white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2017. I remember sitting on my porch in Philadelphia on an August afternoon sobbing with grief.

Very quickly in the 2020 protests, the country erupted with photos and videos of cops using cars to hit protesters, using tear gas, using batons, rubber bullets, pepper bullets. My friend who had been covering the protests in DC carried back little bullets in his weed bag, the strange gifts of a state so afraid of its citizens. It felt wrong to write about memes as everyone I knew and loved was on the street and while no Black person can comfortably exist without being surveilled, harassed, or fearful of cops. We need a world without cops, without prisons, without incarceration. A world of community and accountability, a world of deep care. I deeply suggest going to the #8toabolition website (with a list of brilliant thinkers responsible here, all credit to them I’m just showing y’all). If we want a world of liberation for everyone, we all need to get behind abolition, we need to defund the police, and separate ourselves from carceral approaches of how we even view and interact with one another.

I never feel like more of a New Yorker than when I exist in a crowd and this week I have never felt more proud to exist in a community of beautiful radicals who dream of a better world. The protests are still happening, they happen every night and all over the city New Yorkers continually keep returning to the street as we enter into the first pandemic summer. A summer of abolition and of illness. Heat takes the city, the rooftops fill, the parks full of the socially distancing (and the not so socially distancing). The spike could come every day and yet we all smile in the streets, we all keep a distance but many have stopped wearing masks. It almost feels embarrassing when I see people not wearing a mask, the social faux pas of not caring if those around you die. The summer shall be brutal and unforgiving in more ways than one, the world we want to build we must actively labor to become.

We are a city that cannot forget, anyway resign Bill De Blasio.

It should be clear that it isn’t the protests that will lead to the spike but the reckless policies by the New York State government (such as Cuomo not letting go of those incarcerated during the beginning of the pandemic, which has only led to mass outbreaks in places of incarceration) and the carelessness of those who have grown bored and tired of isolating. It is not a judgment here, there must be some sort of harm reduction approach to socializing and I’m not entirely sure the best route of action yet.

I am simply a blogger, I am no expert! All I know is even with all that is happening there is nowhere I would rather be than New York City, and with that, the pandemic ACAB summer begins