The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, June 02, 2020 1:00 am

Echoes of '68 hard to ignore as 2020 unfolds

Ed Breen

Serious things we need to talk of today. The coronavirus: Too much too soon? We don't know yet, but we soon shall. The wave of rage that began at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis last week: We don't know yet; we just don't know.

All so reminiscent, I thought as I woke up Saturday, so much like 1968. Are we to repeat, to relive all those awful days, albeit with new names and faces and new sources of pain?

So long ago now. Fifty-two years. Days, as Dylan told us even then, when the times, they were a-changin'. They did change, didn't they? They must have. We worked too hard for change not to have come.

Then it was the war-that-would-not-end that provided the backdrop for all else. The marches and the murders and all those pieces woven into the skein that became 1968, that singular year about which books have been written and movies have been made and songs have been sung.

Now it is COVID-19 – corona virus disease version 19 – that underlies and overlays all else in our lives. Ever-present, like too much bass in the sound system of the car beside us in stalled traffic. The windows rattle. You can feel the vibration in the concrete and in your bones. You want to turn it off. To shut it up. But you cannot. The rhythm is repetitive and awful.

Why, even the pictures, the photographs, seem similar. In that awful year, there was the photo that Bill Eppridge made in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on that June night. Bobby was dead on the floor. Robert F. Kennedy had been killed. You could see the anguish on the face.

It was a week ago now that Darnell Frazier happened to be standing along the sidewalk in Minneapolis and used his cell phone camera to record the killing of George Floyd. Derek Chauvin shoved his uniformed knee into the neck of George Floyd and held it there ... for eight minutes. You can see the anguish on the face.

And in those days, in that spring and early summer, as the background din droned on, we were trying to figure out – just as many of us are now – what to do with a president we did not like. A president who was not telling us the whole truth because, in those days, we still believed the president was supposed to tell us the truth.

He had the decency to tell us he would not run again. “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party to seek another term as your president,” he said on that March night.

He went so far as to tell us he had made a mess. “I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office of the presidency.” Nary a tweet or a Twitter to be heard.

“Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today.” The chant was repeated endlessly by the people on the streets of Chicago and LA and Washington and everywhere there were people who believed they were unheard and unnoticed.

Last week and into the nights of this week, it is people of the same age on the same streets with the same pain. Only the words have been changed: “I can't breathe. I can't breathe. Black lives matter.”

And there is the terrible sameness of riot, of civil unrest, of wanton destruction. Figures silhouetted against flames erupting from burning homes and stores and restaurants – neighborhoods in flames – on early summer nights.

Then, in those days when we were young, it was the neighborhoods of Memphis and Detroit engulfed in self-destruction. Last night and the night before and the night before that it was Minneapolis and Atlanta and even our own backyard in Indianapolis.

Half a century it has been. A lifetime for most of us, with so much we have tried to do in those years, those 18,980 days and nights since '68. Tell me, please, that we need not do that again. Tell me that vaccine will vanquish virus, that we have become adults, and that we need not weep again as we did all those years ago.

Ed Breen is the retired assistant managing editor for photos/graphics at The Journal Gazette. He wrote this as a commentary for WBAT-AM in Marion.

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