“The ultimate measure of …[people] is not where …[they] stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where …[they] stand at times of challenge and controversy.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
It has been almost two weeks since the moral fabric of America was soiled by enemies from within on January 6, 2021.
It has been almost two weeks since white supremacy unapologetically reared its ugly head in the form of white insurrectionists who stormed the United States Capitol and left a legacy of disrespect and chaos.
It has been almost two weeks for the United States of America to reveal to the world its dual system of injustice for Black & Brown people and its tolerance and benign acceptance of white anger and unpatriotic behavior.
The lie has now been made visible.
The truth is this: Capitol Police never “feared” white domestic terrorists who were armed and dangerous;
Capitol Police barely confronted a raging mob of white people who were armed, verbally aggressive and threatening violence against anyone who disagreed with them, and feeling entitled to “take back” the Capitol and the U.S. Senate; the police’s lack of engagement with white terrorists is in stark contrast to how #BlackLivesMatter protesters were greeted by the same police — suited up in military gear, and heavily armed with rubber bullets, tear gas, etc.
The truth is this: Despite the unfortunate loss of one white policeman’s life, the assault on a Black policeman, we must reckon with the images of Capitol Police (white) standing inside the Senate Building calmly speaking to whites acting with mob mentality and asking them to leave; we see images of Capitol Police (white) never drawing a weapon against the white people who had bogarted their way through police barricades unimpeded and broke windows; and we have proof of Capitol Police (white) taking selfies with a white raging mob.
These Capitol Police showed the same lack of urgency and implicit agreement that was reminiscent of the historic behavior displayed when white mobs attacked Civil Rights activists in the past; and we see white police (and a few Black ones) approach a white crowd — hell bent on destruction — without any fear. The police protectors also failed to draw their weapons, even when the insurrectionists had violated the halls of government.
And we know that police can act when they have the will. Witness their violent response this past 2020 spring and summer and their brutal response to nonviolent Black and Brown protesters. Also memories of police response in 1968 after Martin Luther King’s assassination still haunt me. I recall walking to the laundry mat with armed National Guards in the streets of Chicago!
In effect, the Capitol police, with their passive approach to white protestors, turned insurrectionists and domestic terrorists, into comrades, and gave tacit permission for them to disrespect a symbol of democracy and terrorize government staff and elected officials.
These police should be fired and held accountable in a way they are NEVER held accountable for shooting unarmed Black and Brown people. While yet another white policeman is excused by the justice system for shooting an unarmed Black man in the back, the public is expected to have sympathy for law enforcement even when the evidence is clear that they failed enormously to take action when faced with a white mob.
These whites in blue also disrespected democracy through their inaction — though hundreds of people disrupted Senate proceedings to affirm the electoral democratic vote of the American people, trashed government property, illegally handled confidential Senate documents, and made threats to take revenge against people like Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence, only a few will ever be brought to justice because of Capitol Police failure to take action, adopting a passive approach to security and demonstrating implicit complicity with the white mob! Such are the contradictions of America and its law enforcement.
The outgoing VP Mike Pence must also be held accountable; he should go down in history as a coward. By failing to invoke the 25th Amendment, he has failed to protect American democracy during his final days in office. In not taking action, similar to the Capitol Police, Pence, who has supported for four years an erratic, mentally unstable, and narcissistic man who has delusions of aristocracy, granted Trump sufficient time to do even more damage to the fabric of democracy. Just as the Capitol Police enabled the white mob, Pence gave implicit permission to a man, known for being revengeful, to wreak great havoc before leaving office.
Anyone with an ounce of wisdom knows that you do not leave matches in the hands of an known arsonist or give a hand grenade to a child! Donald Trump should never be able to hold another political office ever again — but Mike Pence failed to erect that barrier.
There is no question that Trump was willing to go through any length to disrupt and destabilize our democracy. Pence should be viewed as guilty as Trump for every pardon he gave, for every injustice he provoked, for every challenge he made to disrupt American unity, equity, and inclusion and sowing the seeds of chaos.
America has lost its right to stand tall on the global stage and critique authoritarianism after a moment of insurrection that has not been seen since the Civil War. We have no right to ever accuse any country or foreign leader of not telling the truth, when we have allowed for four years a man to reign (for Trump saw himself as a king) who does not believe in truth. By not invoking the 25th Amendment, Pence disgraced the democratic principles he swore to uphold. Pence allowed the “enemy within” to continue to wield power until his final hour. That shame will follow him and us throughout history.
America’s political contradictions are showing like a ragged lace slip. Ironic that many of those who follow Trump are working to hold political office in a system they seem not to care about or believe in, and for which they need to be removed from office. And make no mistake, the cries of the MAGA –“Make America Great Again” — supporters are no more than a desire to return to a time when white supremacist beliefs and actions were the rule of law.
And for those white apologists who claim “this is not who we are,” Black Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and authentic Latinx (not the white wannabe self-hating Hispanics like Ted [Raphael] Cruz) beg to differ.
The white, irrational, non-fact-based behavior we saw arrogantly on display in the U.S. Capitol and U.S. Senate on January 6, 2021 is exactly who white America is, and has been, since the founding of this country. We must also acknowledge that sometimes they are accompanied by the occasional token Black buffoon — who will be kicked out when he ceases to serve his purpose of being a traitor to his race and to democracy.
Until America takes ownership of the reality of its white supremacy origins; until America tells the truth that it has an imperfect and unjust legal system; until America publicly acknowledges that it has institutionalized a militarized majority white police force that targets Black, Brown & Native people; and until America begins to dismantle the industrial socio-economic and political structural complex that continues to produce daily and generational disparities for non-whites in education, health, political representation, employment, and wealth, this country can NEVER move forward.
America will never grow or change until it speaks the truth about what it has tried to hide for far too long.
Right now America is in denial about the depth of its own social and political dysfunctionality, for which Donald Trump is the poster child, and Mike Pence is his major — though not his only — accomplice.
The day of reckoning is upon America. President Joe Biden must keep his promise to Black America, who gave him his win. He must make structural, financial, and social amends. Towards that end, I have some recommendations.
What President Biden can do to embark on a path of righteousness and justice
1. President Biden can begin by forgiving the loans of all HBCUs and embarking on repairing and building their infrastructures, with jobs going to Black contractors and laborers. As a condition, however, HBCUs need to toss out the old Boards of Trustees and install new ones that are intergenerational and with fixed term limits! They must open their books and show where the money drain is on these institutions and set themselves on a path of financial accountability and sustainability.
2. President Biden can also institute a college debt forgiveness program for historically underrepresented minorities, and charge the new Executive Cabinet Office of Science and Technology with funding aggressive STEM programs in inner city schools to create the workforce of the future. Since writing this article, it is now on the table (https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/joe-biden-student-loans).
3. President Biden can establish a Commission (like the Kerner Commission) in the Justice Department to investigate all police shootings in which police were not charged or had charges dismissed. This Commission must analyze how Black, Brown and Native people are policed and compare their treatment to how the white insurrectionists were handled, and make concrete recommendations for change. They should also call for all charges against #BlackLivesMatter protestors be dropped in light of the leniency shown white insurrectionists.
Such a Commission may come in the future; but for now, President Joe Biden did sign an Executive Order that advances the notions of equity and seeks to support underserved communities.
The path forward for America cannot be simply a message of Hope; it must be a practice of concrete actions. The future and route to a united America must be rooted in equal justice for all, a rescinding of injustices, and no more broken promises.
The treaties with Native Americans must be honored, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs must be reconfigured to become a true advocate for indigenous rights, administered by Native people for Native people, instead of it continuing to be the paternalistic overseer system that has exploited its authority and robbed Native Americans of resources for decades.
America must now prove to its citizens and to the world that the assault on the nation’s Capitol and the U.S. Senate by white supremacy insurrectionists was an aberration.
America is currently damaged; democracy has been assaulted, not to mention locked in an abusive relationship with Trump four years.
It is true that we as a country do have the potential to be better than the actions of the white insurrectionists. But we are not there yet — not even close.
A bright future of recovery for America will require a national will, intentionality, the power of deeds — not words — and a commitment to individual, political, and national accountability.
I hope to see such a change in my lifetime.
It’s been too long in coming.
©2021 Irma McClaurin
A version of this article was previously published 1/18/2021 in Medium (https://irmamcclaurin.medium.com/a-damaged-america-can-we-recover-as-a-nation-c69374b6a034 ). Reprinted with author’s permission.
Irma McClaurin, PhD/MFA (http://irmamcclaurin.com/) is the Culture and Education Editor for Insight News and was named “Best in the Nation Columnist” by the Black Press of America in 2015. She is also an award-winning poet, activist anthropologist, and has held the previous leadership positions: president of Shaw University, Program Officer at the Ford Foundation, and former University of Minnesota Associate VP and founding executive director of UROC. She is the founder of the “Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive” at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and will release in February a collection of her columns: JUSTSPEAK: Reflections on Race, Culture, and Politics in America. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org / https://twitter.com/mcclaurintweets.