Three concurrent crises scarring the United States -- a deadly health pandemic, economic despair and widespread social unrest -- have reframed this year's presidential contest and prompted national reflection over racial inequality in America.
Is the country on the cusp of a transformation, or will systemic inequalities exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis persist, allowing alienation and marginalization to fester?
In weeks, the unprecedented strain has become the focal point of the ferocious White House campaign between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, two politicians approaching the disasters with very different strategies.
It has been several generations since the country has experienced such a sharp and rapid confluence of major emergencies, a national low point that philosopher Cornell West has branded "America's moment of reckoning."
Nearly 110,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, and tens of millions are jobless due to pandemic-prompted lockdowns.
At the same time, unrest has gripped dozens of US cities where protesters demand justice over the killing by Minneapolis police of unarmed black man George Floyd.
Repeated episodes of police brutality caught on camera, even as most demonstrations have been peaceful, have further laid bare the nation's deep social wounds.
"It's a pretty bad moment," said Daniel Gillion, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "The Loud Minority."
The crises, he told AFP, have been "horrific" for African Americans, who traditionally have poorer health care outcomes, have just a fraction of the household wealth of whites, and are more likely to face police brutality.
"I can't think of a (modern-day) period where blacks have experienced such strife, such pain, such hardship," Gillion said.
Among COVID-19 victims, a disproportionate number are people of color.
While Trump on Friday touted a surprise drop in the overall jobless rate from 14.7 percent in April to 13.3 percent in May, black unemployment actually rose, to 16.8 percent.
The injustice that erupted into an ugly view when a white police officer pressed his knee onto Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes is the latest manifestation of systemic racism that has persisted for generations.
"There's been a knee on the neck of black America since slavery was abolished," 30-year-old Minneapolis protester Kayla Peterson said from behind a pandemic face mask. "We've never really been free."
Trump could have delivered an Oval Office address to the nation this week to smooth tensions. Instead, he has exploited discord and launched a "law and order" crusade.
Trump has walled off the White House from protesters and launched fiery accusations that do little to calm the storm.
"The problem," he tweeted Thursday about recent controversial tactics deployed in Washington, "is the arsonists, looters, criminals, and anarchists, wanting to destroy it (and our Country)!"
While Trump has trafficked in the division, his November election rival has blasted him as "dangerously unfit" to lead.
Biden, 77, was largely absent for two months, hunkered down in his Delaware home as the pandemic played out and Trump used his bully pulpit to push to re-open the country.
"It is long past time we made the promise of this nation real for all of our people," Biden tweeted Friday.
Experts say that despite the recent chaos, Trump does have a path to victory.
Trump however has seen his poll numbers erode, particularly among two groups vital to his re-election: elderly voters and evangelical Christians. Source: AFP