We Can’t Move Forward From the Capitol Riot Until We Reckon With America’s Racist History

2021 hasn’t been here a full week yet and America continues to fall apart at the seams. Yesterday’s attack on the U.S. Capitol—carried out by white supremacists emboldened by Donald Trump’s calls for violence—wasn’t an act of anarchy or protest. It was domestic terrorism.

Trump has spent his entire tenure ripping the very fabric of democracy that this country prides itself on. But after his loss in the presidential election to Joe Biden, the stakes have gotten higher. From lying about voter fraud to coercing government officials to overturn election results, he knew exactly how to incite his followers to action.

At a rally just hours before the incident, he referred to his political adversaries as “the enemy of the people” and “bad people.” He also called his supporters “warriors” who needed to stop “fighting like a boxer with his hands tied behind his back.” His rhetoric fueled a mob to storm the Capitol armed, determined to get their message across.

The images from it are appalling to say the least: crowds of people climbing scaffolding meant to serve as a barrier to the building, terrified congresspeople running for cover, politicians in gas masks curled up on the floor, Confederate flags being paraded throughout the Capitol.

Pro-Trump rioters break into the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Win McNamee

The fact that extremists wielding Trump flags were able to even enter the building without a sustained, coordinated response from the police served as a stark contrast with the Black Lives Matter protests that took place last year. As Black folks celebrated the Georgia Senate election results yesterday—in which Democrats gained control due to extraordinary Black voter turnout—our attention has yet again been usurped by the brutal reality of white supremacy.

The attack on the Capitol was a callous reminder of the dehumanization that we face daily. When we peacefully protest police brutality—which disproportionately affect Black people as well as people of color—we are met with SWAT teams and tear gas and rubber bullets and water hoses. We are labeled “thugs” for breaking down and looting storefronts, but no one answers our cries for justice. 

We are deemed unruly and dangerous for simply taking a knee to express that we deserve grace, consideration, and compassion like everyone else. “That’s not the right way to protest,” we’re told. Meanwhile, violent racists destroy federal property and threaten the lives of politicians trapped inside yet walk away completely unscathed. Hundreds of people descended on the Capitol; 24 hours later, a few dozen arrests have been made. When Black Lives Matter protestors remained out even a few minutes after curfew over the summer, thousands were taken into custody. The juxtaposition underscores America’s unequivocal hatred of Black people—when we have been killed for much, much less by law enforcement.

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