January 7, 2021, New York – In response to yesterday’s events, the Center for Constitutional Rights put out the following statement:
The violent right-wing insurrection in Washington yesterday and all that led up to it and surrounded it was about one thing and one thing only — white supremacy. The armed white supremacist rioters smashing windows, ransacking offices, and carrying the Confederate flag into the Capitol because their candidates lost. The white supremacist police who put their politics, their allegiances, and their hypocrisy on full display. The white supremacist members of Congress who either stood by their attempts to overturn a democratic election or suddenly made shocked – shocked! – statements about the behavior of their supporters. And the white supremacist president, Donald Trump, who lied about the election he lost, lied some more, goaded his supporters to violence, and called them “very special” once the destruction was done.
We cannot risk another day of Trump in power. The vice president or Trump’s cabinet must invoke the 25th Amendment, or Congress must impeach him and immediately remove him from the White House because he is not fit for office, poses a danger to our country, and is capable of creating even more desperate chaos in his remaining days in office.
Trump has been inciting racial violence and emboldening white supremacists for his entire career, from calling for the death penalty for the Black teenagers wrongly convicted in the Central Park jogger case, to challenging President Obama’s birth certificate, to invoking Mexican “rapists” when he announced his candidacy, to almost every policy he has enacted and action he has taken as president, right up to directly inducing yesterday’s violence by instructing his supporters to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and head to Congress in a show of “strength,” and telling them “we love you” after they had done his violent bidding and taken over the Capitol building.
We will be told in the coming days and weeks that this isn’t what our country is about, but that is exactly what our country has always been about. The United States is a country whose founding, history, and ongoing domestic and foreign policies are based in white supremacy. And nowhere has that been more true than in police complicity and collaboration.
Compare police and other law enforcement’s disparate racial treatment of peaceful Movement for Black Lives Matter protesters this summer – rubber bullets, tear gas – with their treatment of armed white thugs storming the Capitol yesterday – opening the gates, letting people who had smashed windows and broken doors enter with guns and bombs, leaving patrols unmanned, all of which was caught on video. Nor is it only the BLM protesters who have been treated so differently: see the healthcare protests where Capitol police arrested disabled people, pulling some from wheelchairs, and the DACA protests of May 2018, where they arrested dozens of activists sitting on the floor in their representatives' offices. Capitol police killed a Black woman, Miriam Carey, for making a u-turn at a checkpoint.
Those in power fail to take seriously explicit threats of white supremacist violence and reserve their brutal methods for Black, Brown, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ protesters and their allies. Which is not to say that police should turn those methods on white supremacists. The videos and selfies of police collaborating with the rioters yesterday to facilitate white nationalist violence should reinvigorate discussions on defunding and demilitarizing police forces and remind us that they are not in the business of keeping us safe and never have been. From the beginning, the function of law enforcement in this country was to enforce slavery and return people who had escaped to those enslaving them. There is a long history of police allowing, encouraging, and even participating in white supremacist mob violence, including violent coups to overthrow a democratically elected government (see Wilmington, NC 1898).
The decades of police murders and violence against Black, Brown, disabled, gender-non-conforming, and Native people have been committed with impunity, condoned by the state. This has served to fundamentally empower white supremacists and encourage the atmosphere where white people think it is their place to take it upon themselves to violently 'correct' a situation where they see a power shift – or an election – that doesn't benefit them.
THE TERRORIST LABEL
Some will wish to call yesterday’s marauding Trump supporters terrorists, but we should beware embracing that label. Though it is worth noting the hypocrisy in how Muslim and Black dissent, disruption, and political action are automatically – and without the careful parsing of wording that we're seeing now – designated as "terrorism," the same criticisms apply here as they do there: the term serves only to stoke fear and justify inflating budgets and sharpening tools of repression (watchlists, antiterrorism legislation, taskforce budgets) that we have historically seen ultimately and vehemently deployed against Black and Brown people. Those tools will always be turned against our communities.
BLACK PROGRESS, WHITE BACKLASH
President-elect Joe Biden said this was a "small group of extremists"; many said “this is not who we are,” “these are bad apples,” and “Americans can do anything when we come together.” This embrace of U.S. exceptionalism is dangerous because it is just that – exceptionalism – and a failure to reckon with centuries of white supremacist repression and exploitation. Commentators throughout the day talked about how what we were seeing is something we would expect in Venezuela or Colombia or Bolivia, but not here. Meanwhile, Trump has fueled and enabled crackdowns and attacks on dissenters, human rights advocates, journalists, and vulnerable communities across the globe, and the United States has a long legacy of unlawfully destabilizing nations in the Global South through violent means like coup attempts. Exceptionalism permits endless interventions abroad, including into foreign elections, and allows us to tell gauzy, triumphalist stories about U.S. history, highlighting Lincoln, the Civil Rights movement, and the election of President Obama, while omitting the reflexive, virulent white supremacist responses every time, from popular and police violence to redoubled efforts at voter disenfranchisement. The soothing bromides about bad apples blind us to the existence of this history and these forces, when it is past time for us to confront them openly.
This week is a microcosm of that history — successful Black and allied mobilization for freedom and power, followed by white supremacist violence inspired by a demagogue who benefits politically and financially from fomenting and leveraging the country's deep racism, followed by elites looking away, turning the page, and trying to return to business as usual. While the world rushes to a better tomorrow, communities of color are left with the harm of what happened today. Yesterday’s events should make clear that we need to go deeper, to acknowledge we are not exceptional, to fix democracy, and dismantle white supremacy.
The day began with the joy and excitement of the election of the first Black senator from Georgia, a Confederate state, following mass organizing led by Black women and an unprecedented turnout of Black voters despite extensive efforts to keep them from voting. It ended with images of Black Capitol staff having to clean up the damage done by the white supremacists, as the violent racists all lounged – unmasked – over beers in their hotel bars. The Movement for Black Lives said it clearly: when we build power, expect resistance. Even as white supremacists and their enablers cling desperately to the status quo, change is coming.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.