The insurrection that took place last Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol was a symbol of racial retaliation and white supremacy. Law enforcement’s soft hand response to that insurrection stands in stark contrast to how it has responded to the movement for Black lives, where police violence and repression are the norm.
This should not be surprising. This is America.
In America, Black, Brown and Indigenous people are stopped, arrested, convicted and incarcerated at staggering rates compared to white people — and they are more likely to be harassed, shot, and killed by the police.
In America, Black, Brown and Indigenous people are more likely to lack housing, transportation, a living wage, quality education, comprehensive health care, healthy foods, clean air and water, and affordable credit, to name just a few things.
None of this is by accident.
From colonization and slavery, though modern racist and exploitative policies that include regressive taxation, redlining, and voter suppression, America has systematically exploited and denied the basic human rights of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. White supremacy is the foundation that America was built upon.
Many of the institutions in this country, including our law enforcement, were built to maintain this system of white supremacy. In fact, America’s first police force - a slave patrol - was established in Charleston, where white free people formed to maintain control over Black enslaved people living inside the city. Since that time, policing has continued its role as a tool to oppress Black communities, from enforcing convict leasing, Jim Crow, and the war on drugs, to violently repressing the movement for Black lives. At the same time, the world witnessed last week as law enforcement stepped aside as white supremacists and other extremists gathered and attempted a coup.
It was impossible to watch the police response in D.C. without comparing it to what has happened on the ground in South Carolina. Those in D.C. last week smashed their way into the Capitol and took selfies with the police, while people protesting for Black lives in South Carolina have been repeatedly met with overwhelming police intimidation and police violence. As we witnessed firsthand, on May 31 in Charleston numerous South Carolina law enforcement agencies engaged in mass police violence against people protesting against police violence. Our experience matches the national data, which shows that those protesting for Black lives and against police violence are substantially more likely to face police repression and violence than those advocating white supremacy and supporting the overthrow of our democratically elected government. This isn’t the result of a broken system — this system is working as it was designed.
Attempts to undermine the will of the people is also part of the American tradition. For example, as the promises of reconstruction were abandoned, South Carolina’s white power structure engaged in the systematic denial of voting rights to Black citizens in order to maintain its place at the top of the postbellum political and economic hierarchy. These efforts continue to this day, and those who seek the denial of voting rights to Black South Carolina citizens have been extremely successful. Black people comprise 64% of South Carolina’s disfranchised population, even though they comprise only 27% of the state’s voting age population. And, even those people who are able to register to vote face additional hurdles to the ballot, including extremely long lines and intimidation at the polls and the denial of mail in voting.
We must dismantle America’s racist and exploitative foundation and replace it with a foundation of justice and equity. Even as we work on creating a new system, we must also take affirmative steps, including reparations, to begin to repair the harms created through centuries of oppression — harms, as last week reminded us, that continue to this day.
We must finally build a society where We the People means everyone. To get there, we must finally recognize that what occurred in Washington, D.C. last week is indeed America.