The world watched the historic insurrection that occurred this week, Jan. 6, 2021, on Capitol Hill. On the heels of President Trump’s encouragement, a disgruntled and rabid mob of his followers descended on the Capitol and stormed the building.
Not since the War of 1812 had the U.S. seen a sight like this. Millions watched in horror for hours as elected officials and their staff ran in terror, and rioters roamed the building unencumbered by law enforcement.
Five people, including a Capitol Hill police officer, eventually lost their lives. How was this allowed? Where was the overwhelming law enforcement response? Who will be held accountable?
These issues will continue to be investigated in the coming weeks and months. However, there is a larger question at hand.
What do these events say about America?
The tragic dichotomy of our nation was on full display this week. The day before this riot, the officers who shot Jacob Blake were cleared of any charges. Georgia witnessed a historic special election that gave Democrats control of the US Senate. These stories are also critical to consider as they convey the irony of the American experience.
The Georgia election was groundbreaking as it represented tremendous individual and collective progress. It also gave President-Elect Biden the majority he needs to ensure that his legislative agenda will not be thwarted. The consequences of the victories of Senators Warnock and Ossoff may be felt for generations.
Yet, in the same week, American symbols of injustice and white privilege were on full display. Despite a video recording of the incident, none of the police officers involved in shooting Jacob Blake in the back multiple times will face charges. Though he was unarmed and a victim of excessive force, there will be no punishment.
The next day, rioters broke into the U.S. Capitol, destroyed property, and terrorized public officials for hours before being removed. The double standard at play in these events infuriated millions.
No one could imagine a racial reversal with the same outcome in the Blake case. Nor could anyone picture people of color storming the Capitol with no repercussions. The idea that a group of Arab, African American, or Latino residents could behave in the same way is inconceivable. In America, the degree to which terrorists are deemed threatening is based heavily on skin color.
In response to the events in D.C., Congressional leaders immediately put on a full show of verbal outrage. The condemnation of the violent acts was almost universal and included Trump-enablers like Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell. Even the president was cajoled into an obligatory anti-violence statement.
I could not help but think how simple it is to condemn violence without condemning the ideology that caused it. It is no surprise that years of Republican leadership empowering a president who peddles in false grievances, racial division, and conspiracy theories would produce an insurrection. In fact, it most likely will only create more of the same. Once Trump has left office, Trumpism will remain.
Contrary to the public statements of Republicans, the actions at the Capitol are not antithetical to the principles of this administration or party. They are a full manifestation of them. Without a firm repudiation of an immoral ideology that preys on the poor, demonizes immigrants, celebrates gun culture, idolizes selfishness, rejects empirical evidence, and willfully ignores cries for racial justice, the Republican party will continue to dig its own deserved grave.
For the rest of the nation, moving forward is only possible with strong evidence of legal prosecution and swift policy changes. There must be a series of arrests and additional prosecutorial efforts that include the president. He and his followers must bear full legal responsibility for the misinformation and violence they have engendered. Wednesday’s insurrection was the result of years of language and action for which people must be held accountable.
Additionally, Dominion Voting Systems and other groups who have been defamed by the president’s misinformation campaign should be supported in their legal fights for justice. Lastly, the Confederate flag, present heavily at the insurrection, must be outlawed and treated like a racist and seditious symbol.
It is beyond time to remove this celebration of slavery and treason from our public spaces. These measures will produce some faith that equal justice can exist in this nation. Without them, the damage done this week to our democracy and the rule of law may be irreparable.
The totality of this week’s events begs the question, is this America? The perception of the world is that it is a land of opportunity and freedom. There is still truth in this statement. However, the United States has been criminally negligent in fulfilling its promises for millions of its citizens. It has long celebrated a culture of violence, inequality, and racial exclusion. The Capitol insurrection is more of a mirror of our national identity that most care to believe.
Ironically, it was men of color who heavily cleaned up the Capitol after the rioters. Moreover, it was Stacy Abrams and other African-American women who delivered Georgia to the Democrats. It was African-American pastors in Kenosha who pushed for peace in response to the recent Jacob Blake announcement.
It is remarkable that generations of marginalized groups have continued to hope beyond hope. In Dr. King’s final speech, he says:
All we say to America is, be true to what you said on paper.
These groups have hoped that despite injustice, brutality, double standards, and the blatant violation of Constitutional principles, America’s promise is still true. Although the events of this week make this difficult to believe, I, along with millions, refuse to lose faith. It is these perpetually disregarded yet truly patriotic people that continue to save America from itself.
Written by Guest Author Ted Williams III
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
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Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Tyler Merbler’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image Courtesy of Blink O’fanaye’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image by Minnesota Historical Society Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License
Ted Williams III is a Professor and Actor based in Chicago, Illinois. Learn more at www.tedwilliamsIII.com