As if we Americans were not already staggering because of more than 100,000 dead victims of this pandemic, or laid prone by double-digit unemployment, hopes for racial equality are being now crippled.
In plain daylight, the police killed an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis. The knee on the neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds squeezed the life from more persons than just George Floyd, however: This atmosphere of polluted justice has made it harder for any American to breathe.
As predicted earlier on these pages, the nation’s triple whammy has summoned tens of thousands of Americans to mass protests against systemic police brutality.
Predictably, lack of leadership enticed looting and confrontation with helmeted police and weapon-wielding military, turning some American streets into Banana Republic battlegrounds.
Except in the Poconos.
These are the reasons we can count our blessings in these mountains. Our hospitals were stressed by the virus but did not break. Churches went to video to pray for redemption. Schools provided lunches to shorten the lines at faith-sponsored food banks. Businesses adapted to public health dictates and invented ways for online ordering and curbside pick-up. Graduates celebrated at raceways and in virtual ceremonies. People respected each other by wearing masks and waiting at six-foot distances marked with tape on the floor.
Significantly, the Poconos enjoyed peaceful protests without police clashes. Even the unfortunate social media posting of a racist sentiment was quickly quashed, protested and retracted.
Unlike so much of the nation around us, we Poconovians seem to have contained the raging fires of dissent and despair. While we count our blessings, however, we should recognize that our safety zone was constructed over the years by hard work.
Civic organizations like the NAACP for African Americans, FLECHA for Latinos, and Monroe County United with all of us have built bridges over the years. The Pocono Mountains’ Visitors’ Bureau mobilized our businesses, the county commissioners presented level-headed guidance. And these are just the groups I personally know: There are many more.
But we are not out of the woods. We have grown communities of very different timber here in the Poconos. The sociological markers of race, religion, culture and income make some areas seem like the Bronx in New York City and others like Happy Holler in West Virginia. Around the United States, such social differences have been combustible. With the raging flames of racial conflict, fear and distrust around us, can we in the Poconos expect to escape the conflagration forever?
We are not likely to get guidance from politics. Just as there were two different autopsies about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, there are two different opinions about enforcing state public health regulations coming from the courthouse on Seventh Street in Stroudsburg. Police say they will obey the governor’s order and our District Attorney says he will not.
In Harrisburg, the Republican representatives warn their own about members infected with COVID-19 but say they don’t have to inform the Democrats. Sadly, the pillars of common purpose in Pennsylvania have been charred by smoldering partisan antagonisms.
In a more sane world, politicians would drop the rhetoric of tribalism to recover the spirit of patriotism. But America today is no longer a sane world. I wish our 2020 politics would orbit around the sage question of Ronald Reagan, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Instead, we likely face a campaign season of down and dirty character assassination.
Republicans will label Donald Trump’s time in office as the "greatest," viewing force as necessary retaliation against attacks from "socialist" Democrats. The other side calls Donald J. Trump a "fascist," adding other names that cannot be published on this page.
Recognizing that we Poconovians live in a tinderbox where one incendiary remark might set our whole house on fire, how long will we be safe? So, count your blessings, but keep your fingers crossed.
Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies, Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York. He serves on several community boards including FLECHA, the Federation of Latinos/as for Education about the Cultures of Hispanic America.