A Matter of Focus

I returned a couple of days ago from three days camping at the Rio Chama in Rio Arriba County to a burning country and images of the Orange Beach Ball in Washington DC holding a bible in the middle of tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets fired by federal troops at peaceful protesters. The man is absolutely bat shit bonkers, nauseatingly cynical, and an utterly villainous coward, making a disgustingly transparent play to his Christian fascist base. A bible! As Kevin Costner said in JFK, “Now we’re through the looking glass here, people…” And indeed we are, into a surreal realm where no one has any idea what will happen next, only that it will be ugly, violent, and dystopian, spinning off crazily in all directions without a center to grasp for understanding, orientation, or direction.

George Floyd is our Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on December 17, 2010 in protest against persecution by authorities, which in turn ignited the Arab Spring, which in turn went down in fiery disaster, without a coherent program or decisive leadership, much like the demise of the Occupy Wall Street movement, similarly lacking in a clear vision and articulate leadership. If COVID-19 is the tinder, George Floyd is the spark. The image of Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck brings to mind Orwell’s words, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”

What a cipher, this man, Chauvin, what a destiny, to end up in history books as a goonish zero, an archetypal, sadistic tool of the oppressive apparatus, now the quintessential fall guy. How many thousands, millions, of Derek Chauvins have there been throughout history? Did we not see him at the Crucifixion? At Auschwitz? Is he a nothing? Is he to be disregarded entirely as a human being? Is he of no worth, whatsoever? Does he have children, friends, wife, brothers, sisters, father, mother? We all know about George Floyd, the victim, but is he not so different from Derek Chauvin? Are they not tragic, antipodal examples of the “non-essentials” of a brutally violent social and economic system that, through some historical, cultural quirk, placed them in their appointed roles in this horrific scene?

I have nothing but revulsion for Derek Chauvin. I am revolted by his racist murder of George Floyd, of course, but compounding the horror is the vacant expression, the matter-of-fact positioning of his knee on George Floyd’s neck, clearly, consciously, focusing his body weight on that one point, through the knee, placed strategically on the most vulnerable place on the body of a helpless man: Derek Chauvin’s active, conscious life force focused on throttling the life force of George Floyd: murder in the first degree. As if in some recurring human drama the two men played out their roles, now with social media, on a global stage, but when, midst the uproar, rage, and confusion, are we going to pull aside the curtain behind that stage and focus our attention on the institutions and people who assign the George Floyds and Derek Chauvins of this world their bit parts in this lurid, ongoing drama? What are the dynamics that keeps one employed and the other without work and desperate? Who are the people making these decisions, and where are they? What are they doing? What are they thinking? Do they feel safe? Satisfied? Clear of conscience? Is the world inhabited by two different species that identify as human? Are we forever bound to a system of oppressor and oppressed? Is there, finally, as Margaret Thatcher infamously said, no alternative?

Richard Ward divides his time between New Mexico and Ecuador. His novel about the early 70s, Over and Under, can be seen here. He can be reached at: r.ward47@gmail.com.