On Wednesday morning I sent out a piece about Aussie searching everywhere for Trump votes. As it went out, I saw the first news about rioters breaking into the Capitol. When things subside, I may hear from Aussie about how she broke into the Capitol, too. For now, she’s quarantined and I tell her I don’t want to hear one word from her. I tell her, “It’s not funny, Aussie.” And then I remember saying this to Bernie a number of times, and he replied: “Something is always funny, Eve.”
After sending the post out I could do nothing but look at the papers online and then switch to TV. I rarely watch news on TV, but this time I couldn’t step away till after 10 pm, when the Senate voted to accept Arizona’s electors. I thought that that would be it, that the Republican Senators who said they would challenge other states’ electors would now be too shamed, or simply tuckered out, to challenge more states. I was wrong, and Joe Biden wasn’t certified the winner till 3 am US Eastern time.
The next day I could barely focus on anything. To a lesser extent, it’s still true. My finger has a tic and leaps off the keyboard to click on online newspaper outlets. “Focus,” I tell myself. I’m focusing, and among all the things grinding at my insides, one hurts like no others:
How did rioters get into the Capitol with such ease? How did the police do so little, how were they so unprepared? How did they talk to them like pals? How did they do selfies with them? Where was the alarm?
Yes, some shepherded the Congress and Senate to safety, good for them. Some drew their guns. Others just stepped away and let the rioters take over, or else stood on the sides with no one taking command.
For the rioters, this was a picnic. They looked like happy kids on some big adventure, with just enough obstruction to make it a little challenging, but nothing serious. No shouted threats on bullhorns, no batons or guns, very little tear gas. They climbed up those walls as if they were on some outdoors tree-climbing course. They broke windows and clambered inside as if this was a movie. One woman did that and was shot and killed, and that is terrible. But—what was she thinking?
I stared and stared at the pictures, and always the same words flashed in my mind: And if they were black? What would have happened if these people were black?
Hours after thousands of National Guard came in, two hours after the curfew had set in at 6:00, people sauntered down the streets, laughed, high-fived, compared photos, posed for selfies. “Why aren’t they arresting them for violating curfew?” I asked my housemate, who was watching, too. “They’re treating this like it’s not even a minor disturbance.”
Where was the rush with tear gas, batons, and guns that we saw in American cities this past summer? Kid glove treatment doesn’t begin to describe the caution, the neutrality, and even the friendliness that some of the police exhibited.
If you were to say that they were outnumbered, overpowered, and faced limited choices, how did such a situation arise? Does anyone alive over the past year believe that if the people coming to DC to protest were black Americans, such a situation would have arisen? Could you imagine the high alerts, the quick authorizations, the thousands in riot gear? Could you imagine a Defense Department not authorizing the National Guard to rush out to the Capitol out of some perception of political correctness if they were going to face black people?
That is what I’ve carried in my belly since Wednesday.
I don’t think privilege ever punched me in the stomach as did those scenes on television. I watched and watched and watched, much as I’d watched and watched on 09/11 as those towers came down. As if a voice was whispering: Take this in, bear witness, take it all into the deepest places of your conscience, the depths of your heart/mind. Never forget.
I’m aware that there are major constituencies out there that have long felt neglected by the powers that be, their cries for help in the rural heartlands, on Main Street, and in factories rusting away unheard. I know that big money and corporate lobbies have ransacked the Capitol long ago far more effectively. But those are not the people described in the profiles of rioters; they described people who follow certain social media, who still think the coronavirus is some kind of hoax, whose hatred of liberals boggles my mind, and who have made it perfectly clear what they will do to perpetuate their vision of this country. Camp Auschwitz said a lot.
This is the last cry of privileged white males, some say. Demographics are on our side.
Maybe, but it’s a very prolonged last cry. The guns they carry are real and they are condoned by our legal system. Too many of our police see comrades in this sea of white faces breaking windows and wrapped in the American flag. I think they see them as recognizably white, people who’re a little misguided but don’t really mean harm, good guys who occasionally overdo it but are still good guys. When will they extend even half that goodwill to people with a darker color skin?
It’s not that I want the same violence that exploded in Seattle and other cities to happen here; that kind of police brutality goes nowhere. And good things are happening, too. Raphael Warnock winning a Senate seat in Georgia almost brought tears to my eyes. A black pastor from the famous church where King preached, what could be better than that? It’s as eloquent as almost any of King’s speeches.
Yes, demographics are changing in Georgia and other places, bringing the inevitable change to American society, a more diverse country where multi-culturalism isn’t happening just in some big cities but penetrating the heartland.
I thought all that when I watched television on Wednesday. And still I stared and stared, forgetting to blink. “Remember this,” a voice said. “Don’t ever, ever forget what they did here, and how police responded.”