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The fact that domestic terrorists were able to so easily breach the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6 isn’t surprising—it’s proof. Proof of what the majority of BIPOC activists have known and been calling out for years: The police will treat white protestors with patience and dignity. Black and brown people get violence.
Last summer, Black Lives Matter protestors were met with tear gas, rubber bullets and brute force. Nonviolent demonstrations standing up against repeated acts police brutality against Black people were labeled as “riots.” Yesterday, a pro-Trump mob of hundreds—most of them white men—assaulted, harassed, and vandalized their way into one of our nation’s most historic structures, all while lawmakers were inside—and Capitol police did little to hold them back. Can you spot the difference? I keep thinking about these comparisons:
Jacob Blake and Trayford Pellerin attempted to avoid altercation with authorities and were shot more than once. White pro-Trumpers took selfies with police officers and were escorted out of the building with gentle hand-holding.
During my first protest on May 29, 2020, in New York City, someone threw a plastic water bottle at police officers from a far distance. We were then trampled and pepper sprayed. On Wednesday, Proud Boys hurled chairs and trash cans at cops wearing riot gear as the police stood down.
This display of terrorism conducted by privileged white Americans seems to alarm white people. But for Black and brown people, the lack of retaliation has a familiar stench. I’ve witnessed fellow BIPOC organizers be pummeled into the concrete. I’ve seen protestors suffer broken limbs and burning eyes for holding signs or marching in the streets.
It’s obvious: If Black Lives Matter protestors were planning to host a siege in a government building, we would be kettled at the barricades—or worse. We would not be escorted off the property gingerly. There would be more than 52 arrests. (On June 1, 2020, during the height of the protests in Washington D.C., 289 people were arrested for “unrest-related” activity.)
All eyes were on D.C. on Wednesday. People around the world witnessed the destruction of our Capitol and listened to fearful politicians who pleaded with President Donald Trump to command his supporters to stand down. That is, despite the fact that he was the one to encourage them to march to the Capitol building from the nearby “Stop the Steal” rally. But in a video statement, the president told the mob, “We love you. You’re very special.” Over the summer he called the Black Lives Matter movement “a symbol of hate.” When the protests began, he tweeted, “These people are ANARCHISTS. Call in our National Guard NOW. The World is watching and laughing at you and Sleepy Joe. Is this what America wants? NO!!!”
As I watched everything unfold from my home in New York, my favorite Maya Angelou quote floated into my mind: “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.”
That’s the message I carry with me as I look forward. I won’t stop fighting for Black and brown lives after President-Elect Joe Biden takes office, after Senator Kamala Harris becomes the first Black female Vice President, or because the Senate is now controlled by the Democrats.
What happens over the next four years can instill permanent change for the communities suffering at the hands of the systems meant to bury them. We have so much work to do and we can’t allow this recent attack to undermine the progress we seek. America will still be in turmoil after Biden’s inauguration on January 20. The future of direct democracy will still be under attack. And we’ll keep fighting to preserve it.
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