Racism in America – January 7, 2021
On Wednesday, I listened as sirens blared outside my Washington apartment, within walking distance of the Capitol. Along with the rest of America, I watched the most astounding images on television and social media of violent instigators.
But just as disturbing were the images of the U.S. Capitol Police treating white militants with kid gloves, even as these agitators — dare I say, domestic terrorists — broke into the building, smashed windows and physically assaulted the police.
I could ask you to imagine how these agitators might be treated if they were Black. But we don’t have to imagine what we already know.
The Capitol Police are not exactly known for their restraint. In 2013, a Black woman named Miriam Carey made a U-turn near the White House and the police fired at her 26 times, killing her. Her baby daughter was in the backseat and survived.
Nationwide, police showed similarly lethal force, aggression and anger this summer against Black Lives Matter protesters. We saw the endless smoke of tear gas, the rounds of rubber bullets, the blood of nonviolent protesters whose heads were smashed by police with batons.
We know the stories of Black people shot dead by police for walking on the sidewalk, jogging in their neighborhoods and, like Breonna Taylor, sleeping in their beds. We’ve seen police choke Black men to death, from Eric Garner in New York City to George Floyd in Minneapolis.
We know the history of this country, from slavery to Reconstruction to Jim Crow, when the law, legal institutions and state-sanctioned violence conspired to control and dominate Black people. In contrast, white people did not have to be dominated in the same way; the same institutions appeased white people when they got angry. Black protesters must be controlled. White supremacists must be appeased.
Perhaps even more disconcerting than the response we saw Wednesday is the knowledge that the anti-democracy vigilantes made no secret of their intentions. And did anyone doubt that President Donald Trump would encourage the hordes? He who told the Proud Boys to “stand by?” Yet, the Capitol Police didn’t staff up on Wednesday, didn’t hold a perimeter, and, once overwhelmed, had to plead to other law enforcement agencies around the region for assistance.
And why? As a Black man from a Black community who has seen all that American racism has to offer, I can say it’s most likely because the police just don’t inherently see white people as violent. They don’t see what I saw yesterday: a planned attack on the democratic foundation of our country and our people, encouraged by a president who refuses to accept that millions of people — many of them Black, Latino, Asian, Native and immigrant — voted for a progressive future for our families.
On Wednesday, we saw an insurrection unfold on national television spearheaded by angry white militants. It was eerily reminiscent of the violence that has accompanied every progressive advancement in this country, from Reconstruction to the civil rights movement to the election of President Barack Obama, to the election of his vice president.
Wednesday was supposed to be a day of celebration, a day to rejoice over the win of the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the heir to the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
Warnock’s Senate victory was the result of years of investment in the changing electorate in Georgia, with Black-led organizations like the New Georgia Project Action Fund leading the way.
People of color organizing and pushing their friends and family to go out and vote flipped the Senate. Black women, especially, helped to make Warnock the first Black senator to represent Georgia, as well as the first Black senator elected in the South as a Democrat. Democrat Jon Ossoff will be the first Jewish Senator to represent a Southern state since the 1880s.
But instead of celebrating our increasingly multiracial democracy or marking this as a moment when we bend the arc of history a little more toward justice, our story was again occluded by the backlash and violence that progress engenders.
We must push through. This presidential election was held during a pandemic — some people literally risked their lives to vote. We the people have spoken; this is our country. And in our country, we have a peaceful transfer of power. And anyone who stands in the way of that should resign or be removed.
Despite the chaos, Congress confirmed the Electoral College victory of President-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. It is a monumental step that allows us to continue to acknowledge, not just our racist past, but a racist legacy that reverberates so strongly that white people can attack the building that embodies our democracy and face little, if any, force.