Black Americans have seen white terrorists rampage before
Emotions flooded over us as we watched in anger, bewilderment, fear and resolve on Jan. 6
Inside the Beltway, reaction to the U.S. Capitol invasion was, as expected, mostly political.
Was the mob attack enough to force President Donald Trump to resign? Could Vice President Mike Pence be convinced to invoke the 25th Amendment?
Expected denouncements. Measured horror. Expected exclamations of, “This isn’t America.”
But it is. And away from the seat of federal government, in the middle of America, the place politicians fly over on their way to supposedly more important destinations, it was a gunman walking into a Charleston, South Carolina, church, killing nine parishioners.
It was the bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama, church killing four little girls.
It was the murder of a Chicago boy in a small Mississippi town.
It was one more moment of watching terrorists who have been disturbing the domestic peace for Black folks for centuries, initially getting away with something.
It was a moment that stoked a reaction beyond anger at politicians.
It stoked fear.
The nation watched Trump invite a MAGA crowd to cause trouble, bad trouble, to change an election outcome he refuses to accept. What happened was: They planned. They came. They had their way. And they went home.
They went home.
If they could invade a government building and leave enormous damage, five people dead and a nation reeling – with officers from at least 19 jurisdictions a phone call away – what’s to stop them from doing that anywhere they pleased?
“It was a blow to the gut because it immediately made me feel unsafe in this country,” said Tamara Winfrey Harris, a 51-year-old writer from Noblesville, Indiana. “These people were able to breach a place that has to be one of the most secure in the country. The doors were just opened for them, and that is about white privilege. So how am I supposed to feel safe as a Black woman in this country?”
She was watching TV, awaiting news from Georgia that Black women had helped elect the man who would give the Democratic Party control of the U.S. Senate in the next Congress.
“… But then you start seeing angry speeches and people marching toward the Capitol and all of this violence, and the violence seems to be going absolutely unchecked,” Harris said. “We watched protests all year long. We saw the response to [the killing of] George Floyd. We know how officers respond. That was not what I was seeing, and it was terrifying!”
Adam Hollier, a Michigan state senator and father of two, was sitting in the Florida room of his Detroit home. On the floor nearby was his 2-month-old son, Adam Jr., who was born the night before the November election and wouldn’t go to sleep the night after the election until all the Michigan ballots were in.
“I realized I wasn’t shocked,” said Hollier, a volunteer firefighter, veteran of AmeriCorps and the U.S. Army and now a state official.
He watched the riot on Jan. 6 and woke up Jan. 7 to a bomb threat at the state Capitol in Lansing, Michigan.
“Every chance I have gotten to serve my country, I’ve done it,” he said. “Patriots don’t do this. Patriots stand in the gap. This – this is what traitors do.
“I’m getting ready to take my daughter to day care, and there’s a bomb threat,” he said. “Everywhere I go, people are telling me to be safe because they know the world that we live in.”
This is the world that Black people live in, no matter what income, no matter what education. For many of us, the invasion was a scene played out hundreds of times since emancipation. Just when you think we’ve made progress, when you see CEOs react to Floyd’s public death while in police custody by promoting Black folks in companies and newsrooms across the nation, you see a step back.
The terrorists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 did not have to storm. They were welcomed in by the man who publicly told a horrified country that he loved them. And since the president invited them, what they did wasn’t really wrong, right?
After the mob burst in, rummaging through government documents, invading senators’ offices, “even after that, you still had a majority of House Republicans object and six senators object [to certifying the Electoral College votes],” Hollier said. “After the Capitol was taken, after five deaths, you still have a majority of Republicans object to my ballot.
“Every single one of those individuals committed a crime.”
Hollier said America cannot get better until white supremacy is no longer acceptable.
“It wasn’t enough to be white. At every juncture, they cannot accept the reality that we are not going away,” he said. “Black people, people who look like me, Latinos, we know the rules aren’t fair. The people who benefit from the rules always say, ‘No, you can’t change the rules.’ ’’
But Black people are getting, like the late Fannie Lou Hamer, sick and tired of being sick and tired. We’re sick and tired of thanklessly cleaning up other folks’ mess like the Capitol staff had to Wednesday. We’re sick and tired of being reduced to stereotypes or being hidden figures rather than the heroes we are as Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman was Wednesday. He steered the angry mob away from the Senate chambers. But when reporters initially asked his identity, according to Reuters, the department did not respond.
Mostly, though, we are tired of being scared in a country that offers so much to fear: an errant traffic stop leaving you dead, a terrorist walking into Bible study and killing your Bible class, confrontations with people who refuse to wear masks because they don’t think COVID-19 applies to them.
“The only way to change things is if we hold every single person accountable” for the Capitol invasion, Hollier said. “Every single person.”
Perhaps when white privilege stops being a get-out-of-jail-free card, fear can give way to the belief that America can be as safe for Black folks as white folks, white folks so carefree that they didn’t believe they could get arrested for starting a riot that left five people dead.