The aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police (unjustified by any standard) includes spontaneous waves of peaceful protest by many and opportunistic looting by others. It is not surprising these have occurred in the context of the Covid-19 disasters, which include sickness and tremendous personal and economic losses. People in the US are angry, frustrated, and on edge. It would be a mistake to attribute the protests to the pandemic, however. They have a deeper meaning.
The main point of the disturbances is that the police in the United States have too much power over people. If there is a silver lining to the horrendous situation, it is that the public, including people of all races, may be realizing this. The most glaring examples of this are unlawful deaths of citizens at police hands, but more mundane examples, such as public searches and abuses of property, also cause anger and humiliation.
The peaceful protesters of the Black Lives Matter movement are calling public attention to the interaction between racism and police abuses. Healing will not be possible if leaders and fellow citizens refuse to listen to them. The history of slavery, segregation, and brutal racism in the United States cast a long shadow. Scholars, politicians, and ordinary people disagree about exactly how this shadow affects all aspects of life, including interactions between the public and police. But refusal to acknowledge the shadow causes tremendous hurt, and more anger.
In a context of excessive disorder, it is more difficult than ever to discuss police abuses and enduring racism rationally. Looting and mayhem often produce a political dynamic of escalating polarization.
But in politics nothing is foreordained. The United States can find a better way, one that gives the police the incentive and resources they need to work for people, providing them with information and keeping the peace. Thankfully, some Republicans and Democrats recognize this possibility.