This week’s events have laid bare, once again, the racist double standards that fester in the heart of our country.
When a largely white Trump-supporting mob followed the president’s exhortation to “stop the steal” of a fair and legal election and stormed the nation’s Capitol on Wednesday, it encountered little resistance.
Some took selfies with Capitol Police, while another officer appeared to hold the door for some of the invaders when they finally left. Efforts to call for police reinforcements were initially denied. In the wake of the Capitol attack were five deaths (including a Capitol Police officer), the disruption of Congress and the peaceful transition of power — and a nation shaken. Wednesday’s riot yielded just 82 arrests by Thursday evening, with the most common charge for curfew violations that happened after the Capitol breach.
The contrast to the police response to protests for racial justice and police accountability following the police killing of George Floyd could not be more stark or telling.
On just one day — June 1, 2020 — in the aftermath of the police killing of Floyd, police in D.C. arrested 326 people, the same day President Donald Trump had protesters advocating for racial justice in policing violently cleared using chemical agents near the White House so he could do a photo op outside of a church. Attorney General Bill Barr instructed law enforcement to “flood the zone” in D.C. with thousands deployed, according to The Boston Globe.
In Seattle, the use of “less lethal” weapons against racial justice protesters resulted in a federal judge finding evidence in June that Seattle police used excessive force “on some occasions … disproportionately and without provocation.”
The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation put it this way on Twitter, “When Black people protest for our lives, we are all too often met by National Guard troops or police equipped with assault rifles, shields, tear gas and battle helmets. When white people attempt a coup, they are met by an underwhelming number of law enforcement personnel who act powerless to intervene, going so far as to pose for selfies with terrorists.”
Another contrast could be found in the reactions to Wednesday’s riot. Just as some did after the racist and anti-Semitic 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, many people reacted to the Wednesday riot with shock, saying “this is not who we are” as a country. This, even as the action was encouraged by the sitting president of the U.S.
Many Black, Indigenous and other people of color, on the other hand, were unsurprised that the president’s supporters — who said exactly what they were going to do in advance — followed through on their threats.
As the poet and author Maya Angelou said, “when someone tells you who they are, believe them.” Trump and his supporters told us who they were for years, and those most under threat by their actions and policies, believe them and stay vigilant.
Seattle Times reporter Sydney Brownstone reported Friday that the disparate treatment was not lost on many Black Washingtonians. She quoted UW sociologist and professor Alexes Harris who said, “It was interesting that particularly white people are saying they’re dismayed, this isn’t America, they’re shocked, they’re hurt,” Harris said. “And for me and [for] the Black folks on Twitter, we’re like yeah, this is America.”
Michelle Obama weighed in as well, writing, “And for those who call others unpatriotic for simply taking a knee in silent protest, for those who wonder why we need to be reminded that Black Lives Matter at all, yesterday made it painfully clear that certain Americans are, in fact, allowed to denigrate the flag and symbols of our nation. What do all those folks have to say now?”
But as one pediatrician made clear in a much-viewed tweet, the goal should not be to abuse protesters equally, it should be to be more circumspect about when force is used and who it is used against. He wrote, “We’re not asking for you to shoot them like you shoot us. We’re asking you to NOT shoot us like you don’t shoot them.”
One of the saddest aspects of this week is that the extraordinary achievement of a Black-led, multiracial band of organizers across Georgia to flip the Senate and elect the state’s first African American senator was pushed to the margins of public debate in the chaos of the D.C. riot aftermath.
As one of my chosen family, Malkia Devich Cyril said to me, “We can’t even celebrate one of the biggest civil rights victories in recent history without violent white supremacists taking center stage.”
This is unlikely to be the last display of violence aimed at overturning our election. Perhaps in reaction to increasing victories and the growing power of racial justice movements, they may only increase. I take comfort in knowing, at minimum, that the hate is met with ever growing calls for change.