Cities Are Using the Poor as Collateral Damage to Block Protesters

Illustration for article titled Cities Are Using the Poor as Collateral Damage to Block Protesters
Image: AP

Nationwide protests in honor of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer held him in neck restraint, haven’t put a pause on a collection of ongoing traumas–the covid-19 pandemic, the economic precarity that has come in its wake, or the essential workers risking their lives to carry on in public spaces. But officials in major cities are using the protests as an excuse to suspend vital services that are especially crucial because they impact all of the above. Cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Miami have instituted closures that have canceled food distribution and cut transit hours, leaving countless people bereft of basic needs.

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Hold food and transit hostage to demand compliance. It’s a deeply manipulative strategy that uses poor people as armor to ensure that nothing, structurally, will ever change.

In Chicago, Chicago Public Schools suspended a food distribution program that provides meals for students amidst covid-19 induced school closures. The rationale: Citywide protests. The announcement came late Sunday night, with a social media post stating that due to “the evolving nature of activity” the city would suspend meals starting Monday. This came after the CPS president sent a letter to parents earlier in the evening assuring them that the meal program will continue without issue.

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The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the CPS has given over 12.5 million meals since the start of the covid-19 crisis. Given that over 75 percent of Chicago’s public school students are low income, the suspension could lead countless children to go without meals for however long the city decides to drag this out. These communities were hurting before the pandemic and before the uprisings across the city; now, they’re being used as collateral damage.

But Chicago isn’t alone in its decision to disrupt key services. On Saturday, the Miami Herald reported that Miami-Dade abruptly suspended transit service county-wide over the weekend, suspending commuters coming home after late-night shifts. Though Miami-Dade Transit announced that service will be back in order on June 1, its return is conditional. The official Twitter account for Miami-Dade Transit tweeted, “We will continue to monitor the current situation & as events evolve, adjustments may be made.”

Meanwhile, Philadelphia also announced closures: Transit was suspended from Sunday evening to Monday morning, and all city-wide food relief supersites are closed Monday.

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Cities are attempting to regain control of a series of protests that have left protesters injured by overzealous police officers and buildings vandalized by disaffected citizens. That the most vulnerable have to pay the price for some graffiti is unconscionable. But the pop up pantries in South Minneapolis, the epicenter of the original protests following Floyd’s death, are a single heartening example that show that in lieu of help from public services or other outlets, communities can and do come together to fill a void.

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It just shouldn’t be their responsibility.

Staff writer, mint chocolate hater.

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DISCUSSION

westerosironswanson
The Ron Swanson of Westeros

Oh God.

. . . I cannot emphasize enough how potentially catastrophic this idea is, or how easy it will be for the worst elements of society to wage a successful hearts and minds campaign because of this. You think rioting was bad before? Watch what parents do when their kid hasn’t eaten for four days.

And this isn’t going to be a couple thousand people, shot through with anarchist nut jobs who dream of kicking off the Turner Diaries. It’s going to be everybody. My God. I’m an attorney, but I don’t have a car, and can store or carry only about a week-and-a-half’s worth of food in my house. If you deny me food for three weeks? By two-and-a-half, I will break laws in order to get food.

Let me be emphatic: “We’re the only ones who can provide you food” is the operating rationale for Hezbollah. In the same way that someone who diagnoses cancer is not rooting for cancer, I feel obliged to point out that I am horrified by any potential comparison to Hezbollah, and categorically am not rooting for an American equivalent to even conceivably take root. This is how civil societies fall. These cities have no idea what the grenade whose pin they are currently pulling will do if it goes off.