The last time I was in Washington was four years ago. I have been to the United States a few times, but not a lot. I had been to Baltimore on that trip and stayed with friends from the university. I had met them through the John Hewitt Summer School. They had invited me to do a reading in a wee theatre and to interact with some of the artistic community.
What brought the Washington part of the trip back to mind was the report that someone had started a fire in the basement of St John's Church near the White House. It's called the Church of the Presidents, because Abraham Lincoln worshipped there.
I was taken to the church by Michael McDowell. Michael lived then in the Chevy Chase area of the city with his wife Susan.
I had not met him before but his father Hamilton McDowell had been on the senior staff of the News Letter at the time that I was working on sister paper the Sunday News. And Michael had frequently emailed me about articles I had written since.
Practically every political operator from here who went to America had met Michael at some time or other.
His son was training to join the Marine Corps. Conor McDowell died in a training accident, which Michael wants investigated so that the United States will take better care of its own soldiers.
Anyway, Michael wanted me to go to church with him and see where Lincoln had prayed. He told me that Obama had also come over to the service one Sunday morning and then been embarrassed by the burden that security had imposed on the congregation and not come back.
The day before this I had taken the train from Baltimore and walked around the city, from the station to the Congress building, when the cherry blossom was out, up the Mall past the big museums to the White House.
I was approached by a black man begging outside a pharmacy and offered him money. He was scruffy but he wasn't drunk or drugged. He said he'd rather I bought him a sandwich.
"Can't you buy it yourself?" He said the shop wouldn't let him in. So, I bought a sandwich for him.
At the White House railings I joined a group of people who just stood and stared through, like pilgrims.
One man that I saw reached in and took a twig from the ground and showed it proudly to his wife. He seemed to be treasuring it like a relic.
After the church service Michael introduced me to some of his friends. I met a young woman with her child and husband and someone mentioned that she was back at work after time off. I asked her what she did. She said she worked for the CIA.
And we stood around in the church hall as we might have done in Lisnaskea, or Portaferry, and had tea and cake.
That evening I took the train back to Baltimore through grubby, swampy, littered land into the big, ugly city.
America is like another country I've spent more time in: India. Both are huge, rich countries with swathes of poverty and dereliction. In both it is obvious who isn't making it to the table, and in both this fact of wealth beside poverty and de facto segregation seems accepted as normal, as no particular reflection on the people who are doing okay.
With exceptions. In a recent article in the India Quarterly a woman writing her lockdown diary spoke of the embarrassment of privilege, knowing that however bad things got for her, they were many times worse for millions of others; like the migrant workers in the big cities, who were left to walk back to their villages when lockdown was declared.
Actor Colin Farrell used the phrase "white privilege" in an interview on The Late Late Show on Friday night, referring to the shame of doing well in a country that treated black people badly.
In Michael McDowell's neighbourhood the Vice-President Mike Pence had lived for a while, and in contempt for his feelings about gay people, many of the neighbours had hung out rainbow flags to let him know that they did not share his prejudice. But how many black people have made it into such salubrious suburbs?
Mark Tully, who was the BBC India correspondent, now writes occasional pieces in the Hindustan Times. In a recent piece he described how migrants workers, travelling on foot from Delhi into Uttar Pradesh, were treated when they approached a state boundary near the Ganges at Brij Ghat, a place I used to live in and visited twice last year. Mark's friend had seen the police there beating hungry and weary migrants back with lathis (canes).
But the police can do what they like with people who have nothing.
And in a society where huge numbers of people are excluded and treated as surplus, cheap labour and otherwise a nuisance, you get class or caste distinctions and an indulgence of cruelty towards them as normal.
Every time race riots have erupted in the US the trigger has been the same: police brutality.
In April 2015 Freddy Gray, a black man, died in police custody with neck and spine injuries. In 1992 Rodney King was videoed being beaten by cops.
And there have been numerous protests about such callous brutality, where the scale of the reaction has not been what it was this week.
There is one thing that would help mend this historic problem in the US and that is better control over the police, better training, better selection procedures and rigorous discipline.
I have tried to pay for goods here with a counterfeit note the way George Floyd did. I didn't know it was counterfeit. The shop assistant tested it under a light and handed it back to me. I apologised and gave him a real one.
He didn't call the police. No police officer put me on the ground and knelt on my neck to squeeze the life out of me.
And no one believes that officer in Minneapolis would have done that to me either, a white man.
Training up a competent police service won't end racism, but it ensures that at the point of contact between the underdog and the state there is a professional and civilised person in charge.
Of course, we can say that's obvious. How can people not see that?
American cities burn in anger every decade because that's just the way things are.