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COVID

The Worst Is Yet to Come

A mass pandemic in a violent country is a chilling combination.

Terrible things have happened during the pandemic, and terrible things will continue to happen, amplified by the unwillingness of our state and local governments to take care of people. I strongly believe that the following story, to put it mildly, is an indication of how much worse the pandemic will become.

On Saturday, a 35-year-old Pennsylvania man named Adam Zaborowski was shot and arrested by police after having pulled a gun on a cigar shop clerk the previous day. The clerk had insisted that Zaborowski put on a mask when he entered the store and offered to serve him curbside when he refused. A witness said that Zaborowski took a piece of paper out of his pocket and said that it contained evidence of a state law that allowed him to not wear a mask.

Zaborowski then took two cigars and left the store without paying. According to surveillance footage, the clerk followed him outside. Zaborowski then pulled a handgun out of his pants and shot into the air before shooting at the clerk twice. 

The night he was arrested, police were parked outside Zaborowski’s house when  Zaborowski got into his truck and drove away. When police stopped him, he shot at them with an AK-47 rifle and a semi-automatic handgun, injuring one in the arm. Police then shot Zaborowski in the leg and the buttocks, requiring him to be hospitalized. When he’s released from the hospital, he’s expected to be detained at Lehigh County Prison.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of this incident — aside from the fact that Zaborowski shot at a clerk after being told that he needed to wear a mask — is this explanation from Zaborowski’s lawyer for his recent behavior. From Lehigh Valley Live:

In the time leading up to his shootout with police, Adam Zaborowski lost his job, lost a custody battle for his child and was “just not handling the pandemic well,” his lawyer said Sunday.

[…]

[Defense attorney John] Waldron said he learned that Zaborowski lost his job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also recently lost custody of his child. These factors don’t justify Zabrowski’s behavior but do lend insight to his motives, Waldron said.

“He just wasn’t dealing well with the loss of his job, the loss of his child, just not handling the pandemic well,” Waldron said. “I think he was getting stretched too tight.”

Many things can be said about the details of Zaborowski’s arrest. Ponder a world where Zaborowski wouldn’t have a military-grade rifle because he wouldn’t be allowed to possess one in the first place. Or the fact that a group of seven cops shot and hit Zaborowski, a white man, a total of two times and gave him “non-life-threatening [injuries]” when he shot at them with said military-grade rifle, while cops murder Black people for doing far less. Or the fact that cops can wait outside your residence to arrest you, then follow you to arrest you, and that you can injure one cop in a shooting but be charged with the attempted murder of seven of them. 

Zaborowski’s story is sensational because his behavior seems to revolve around the cigar store clerk enforcing mask policies. That seems like the laughable but dangerous outcome of a months-long conflict between state and local leaders who’ve adopted mask orders, the law enforcement officials who won’t enforce them, the working-class people who are left to do the enforcement at their places of work, and the oft-unhinged anti-maskers who are keen to lash out at workers for asking them to leave a place of business.

It is easy to write off what Zaborowski’s lawyer is saying — that he’s just not handling the pandemic well — because many, many people are not handling the pandemic well, and yet aren’t shooting at people who ask them to wear a mask. There’s clearly no justification for what Zaborowski did, no “troubled white man” card he can pull that would excuse his actions. We also don’t know the circumstances that led to the custody battle, or what Zaborowski’s home life was like, or many other things.

But we have to grapple with the reality of what this pandemic, and our government’s piss-poor response to it, is going to lead to. We live in a country where people’s rages and hatreds all too often resolve themselves through violence, or where people take their traumas out on the rest of society, and by continuing to leave so many millions of people out in the cold, our leaders are playing with fire.

People are being left to drown in misery. Last week, people unemployed or furloughed as a result of the pandemic saw the expiration of their extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits. There’s a nationwide hold on student loan debt repayment — that too will run out within the next two months — but there’s no cancellation of rent, or mortgages, or utility payments, or any other expense that demands payment despite the country’s record number of unemployment. During a pandemic, I cannot imagine the damaging effects that these losses will continue to have on people. Most of those people will suffer in silence. Some of them will not.

I can’t help but think about the concept of police abolition, of dismantling and world-building, when I think about what is to come for people who no longer have what they need to sustain themselves emotionally, financially, or otherwise. I don’t write this as a direct connection to Zaborowski’s encounter with police, but more as a connection to the circumstances that he and hundreds of thousands of people are currently experiencing. I think about Angela Davis’s exploration of these ideas on Democracy Now!, emphasis mine: 

[Defunding the police is] about shifting public funds to new services and new institutions — mental health counselors, who can respond to people who are in crisis without arms. It’s about shifting funding to education, to housing, to recreation. All of these things help to create security and safety. It’s about learning that safety, safeguarded by violence, is not really safety.

And I would say that abolition is not primarily a negative strategy. It’s not primarily about dismantling, getting rid of, but it’s about reenvisioning. It’s about building anew. And I would argue that abolition is a feminist strategy. And one sees in these abolitionist demands that are emerging the pivotal influence of feminist theories and practices.

Another world is possible — one where people like Zaborowski aren’t pushed to violence because they’re taken care of financially and mentally, regardless of whatever other issues they’re experiencing in life. Another world is possible where our government has halted rent and mortgages and is paying people to stay home and supplying them with groceries and other needs for survival. 

But we don’t live in that world, and the longer we don’t live in that world the more likely we are to see people suffer in a very violent, public way. That isn’t to assume that Zaborowski’s behavior might be different under different circumstances, but that his situation is illustrative of a larger problem. 

There will be other people who suffer and are unable to cope. People who will be enabled by our country’s gun culture and lack of reform, and will make others suffer too. And if they won’t make others suffer, they will turn the violence on themselves. I am almost surprised that we’ve yet to experience a violent COVID tragedy such as what I’m describing — a mass shooting as a result of these circumstances — but we are living under pressure-cooker conditions, the vilest of them being enacted or supported by our government itself.

Screenshots via the Morning Call; Remix by Samantha Grasso