Protesters take to the streets on Jan. 4 in Kenosha. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
After rage tweeting the press conference earlier this week during which the Kenosha DA announced he wasn’t going to bring charges against the officers who attempted to murder Jacob Blake, I knew I had to write more about what so many of us were feeling.
I’ve watched so many press conferences after police shootings and they are sadly predictable. I chose to watch this one thinking, maybe given the protests over the summer, things would finally be different. Knowing the racist history of this country, I knew deep down it was unlikely. A small part of me had hope, a thing I lost years ago in these types of situations.
As it turned out, this press conference was more offensive and infuriating than usual. I watched the mental gymnastics as people justified why a man should be shot seven times in front of his kids. The instant it was announced that no charges would be brought, I cried.
So many of us have been here so many times before but it still hurts each time. To watch people who are supposed to serve you (even people who are elected to represent you) justify why state sanctioned violence was OK in that moment in a punch to the gut. It’s a very unique but now familiar feeling for a lot of us. It was self defense, the officers feared for their safety.
Anyone who saw the video should have a hard time digesting that argument. Communities of color are often traumatized and terrorized by law enforcement for merely existing; for sleeping, for playing with a toy gun, for running in fear, for wearing a hoodie. Breonna Taylor, murdered in her bed, was not a threat. Anjanette Young pleaded, naked in her own living room with the officers that raided her home, that they had the wrong home and that she indeed was not a threat. Black, Brown, and Indigenous People of Color often have to prove to various institutions that we do indeed deserve dignity and that our mere existence is not a threat. This was all going to be the main focus of this piece. Then the pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Like most people, I took to social media and saw pictures and videos of terrorists breaking down windows and doors. I saw videos of police taking selfies with these people. I couldn’t help but be disgusted that the Capitol police acted this way. There was a real attempted coup underway and some of the people who could have stopped it were laughing and shaking hands with the violent mob. Capitol police were essentially steamrolled. In some instances it looked like they simply gave up.
Flash back to the protests of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police over the summer. Peaceful protesters (not the gun-toting Capitol mob we saw on Wednesday) were overpoliced, neighborhoods were militarized, and people were snatched off the streets.
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Cities went on high alert to defend themselves against people who peacefully marched to say that Black lives mattered — not mattered more than others but just simply mattered. To know that demanding our existence matter is met with this level of violent repression, is to see the fragility of white supremacy. white supremacy (because I refuse to capitalize that term) breeds the reactions that we saw this week, when the most marginalized people start to demand dignity. We saw the election of a Jewish son of an immigrant and the first Black senator from Georgia, a state with a long history of racism and lynching. When people who don’t look like the majority, and are often excluded from the political system, start to advocate for themselves, or demand our basic human rights, white supremacy starts to crumble.
I don’t say this to claim that white supremacy is anything but a powerful, well oiled machine. The fragility of white supremacists is evident when adult men have temper tantrums at the mere thought of Black people getting more power. Instead of being happy people are advocating for themselves, they see this as a direct threat to their own power.
The mob violence at the Capitol signifies that some people would much rather commit treason than to see Black, Brown, Indigenous and People of Color have a voice. We have a serious problem as a nation if we respond to the votes and voices of communities of color with terrorist acts. By delaying progress and a peaceful transfer of power because things didn’t go your way, you’re saying that you don’t think people of color deserve the same standing in society as you.
But what should be considered a threat? Is a teenager walking home in a hoodie after buying Arizona Tea and Skittles a threat? Was sleeping on a park bench a threat? Is having our communities vote in record numbers a threat? The answer is yes, if you are a person of color. Our bodies, our skin, our hair, our families, our sexualities, are all overpoliced in ways that white folks are not. Every time Black folks get a little bit of power and advancement in society, white supremacists freak out!
We saw it in 2008, and we see it now after the Georgia elections, just a few months after the protests that spurred our racial reckoning. Jacob Blake’s skin was a threat, Obama’s election was a threat, Black organizers doing amazing and empowering work in Georgia is apparently a threat. The thugs who stormed the Capitol apparently were not — at least not from the point of view of the police. At the time of this writing, only 33 people have been arrested for trying to take over our nation’s Capitol. Most of them were arrested for violating curfew. The Guardian reported on June 8th that in the first two weeks of protests after George Floyd’s murder, more than 10,000 people had been arrested across the country. Again, arrested for asking for accountability and justice, for saying our lives simply matter.
So I ask, who is the real threat? I think of my own identities and how they can be weaponized as I walk through the world. The work that I do puts a target on my back at times because the work organizers and activists do is a threat to the status quo. Empowering people to stand in their own power and agency is more of a threat to many in this country than the people scaling and breaking into the Capitol to disrupt our democracy. The same people who broke into the Capitol and took part in a violent insurrection said that Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem was disrespectful to our country.
The fact that some people are protected by the state, even when they are violently breaking the law, while peaceful protesters are deemed the villains and not offered that same protection, is a problem. A lot of us have been reminding people that the November election doesn’t suddenly fix the last 4 years.
Our democracy hangs by a fragile thread. So I ask, who is the real threat to this country? Hint, it’s not the people asking, pleading, and crying out for basic humanity, dignity, and respect. Who is the real threat to democracy? Is it the people invading the Capitol and attempting to subvert an election or is it the people who ask to simply be included? Communities of color are not the threat to this country; white supremacy is.
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