By Nisa Islam Muhammad and J.A. Salaam
WASHINGTON—The mask of American “civility” has been yanked off, exposing to the country and the globe a raw, ugly, upsetting, disturbing, divided reality. Madness and mayhem gripped the world’s greatest superpower as the continued unraveling of the United States left chaos and confusion it its wake.
President Donald Trump’s shock troops, representing many of the 74 million who voted for him, terrorized the country by storming the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overthrow the government Jan. 6. Pro-Trump forces also struck at state capitols around the country.
Shock followed the insurrection in the nation’s capital amid declarations of “this is not who we are,” and “this is un-American.” But Black analysts said the street violence, weapons and Molotov cocktails found, battles with police, disrespect of authority and taking what is desired by force was the essence of what America truly is.
“What we saw was just a continuation of who America is,” said Nkechi Taifi, attorney and author of “Black Power, Black Lawyer: My Audacious Quest for Justice.” “It just really astounds me when I keep hearing in the media and the news that this is something new or this is something different or this is not America. This is exactly America. This is what they did to us in Rosewood, Fla. This is what they did to us in Elaine, Arkansas. This is what they did to us in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is what they did to us in Wilmington, N.C.,” she said.
“This is just a continuation. Entire communities, hometowns of Black people were totally and completely devastated. Members of Congress had to shelter in place and hide under benches but not long ago when my mommy was a baby, families were told to get out of town by sundown. They ran to the swamps. They had to leave all their houses, and their possessions. Their family members had to hide in the swamps. This is America,” said Ms. Taifi.
America was reeling and abuzz with talk following the assault on the U.S. Capitol building that resulted in five deaths at Final Call press time. The latest reported victim was U.S. Capitol police officer Howard Liebengood, 51, died by suicide Jan. 9. Prior to his passing, the death of U.S. Capitol police officer Brian D. Sicknick was announced. It was reported in various media outlets that the officer was struck with a fire extinguisher and later died.
“At approximately 9:30 p.m. this evening (January 7, 2021), United States Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick passed away due to injuries sustained while on-duty,” U.S. Capitol Police announced in a statement. “Officer Sicknick was responding to the riots on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol and was injured while physically engaging with protesters. He returned to his division office and collapsed. He was taken to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.”
Congressional Black Caucus chair Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) condemned “the riotous breach of the Capitol incited by Donald Trump.”
Mr. Trump lied about a stolen election and “incited that anger and inspired those supporters to march down Pennsylvania Avenue, attack police officers and break into the Capitol in what can only be described as a violent insurrection against the United States government,” the statement continued.
The failure of Capitol Police to stop the assault and their tenderhanded treatment of the invaders who wanted to stop Congress from ratifying the results of the 2020 presidential elections drew condemnation and firings.
The mob smashed windows, scaled walls, trashed offices, shut down congressional deliberations and even walked away with mail and other souvenirs between fights with police that left one woman described as an ardent Trump supporter dead from a gunshot allegedly from a Capitol Police officer. Three others died after “medical emergencies” related to the Capitol Hill assault.
Then came calls to impeach the president for a second time as his last days in office were in view. Democrats were pushing impeachment Jan. 11, but the likelihood of removing the president from office was almost impossible. He had nine days in power before the swearing-in of President-elect Joe Biden.
Removal of the president would require action by the GOP-controlled Senate. Some argued, however, that if Mr. Trump was impeached now, he could be tried in the Senate when the Democrats take it over. And, they said, it would be a blot on Mr. Trump’s record as the only president to be impeached, or charged with a major crime in office, twice and show such behavior was intolerable.
Calls for Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to constitutionally force Mr. Trump out by joining with a majority of the cabinet to say Mr. Trump was unfit to stay in office went nowhere.
Though Mr. Pence fell out with the president for refusal to try to derail congressional ratification of the 2020 election as he presided over the proceeding in a largely ceremonial way. But, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, Sergeant at Arms of the Senate Michael Stenger, and Paul Irving, the longtime Sergeant at Arms of the House, all resigned. In a Washington Post interview, former Chief Sund said his pleas for National Guard support fell on deaf ears as the House and Senate sergeants at arms didn’t act prior to the Capitol invasion. He said as their continued failures and the inaction by the Defense Dept. continued as the situation worsened. The Defense Dept. had to approve deployment of Guardsmen in the District of Columbia.
Mayor Muriel Bowser called the Capitol Police response “a failure,” extended a curfew in the city and asked that the National Guard, which had been deployed, be placed under her control. She was also critical of Defense Dept. inaction at critical moments.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was among those calling for an “investigation into Capitol Police response to insurrection.” Rep. Waters sent a letter to Representative Zoe Lofgren, chairwoman of the Committee on House Administration. She described January 6, 2020 “as one of the darkest days in the history of our nation.”
There was also anger as former Black officers in the Capitol Police complained that the force was fully mobilized when Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan and a few aides came to Capitol Hill, but almost nothing was done as a real threat to the Capitol was emerging and then present.
The eruption in Washington, D.C., came after a steady diet of Trump lies about election fraud, theft and conspiracy theories. His supporters, almost like wind-up toys, also descended upon state capitals, including Salem, Oregon; Austin, Texas; Sacramento; Olympia, Washington; Topeka, Kansas and Columbus, Ohio.
Ira Jones, a St. Louis-based community activist, complained about the double standard for policing Whites compared to Blacks. “President Trump, what happened to what you said, ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts?’ ” he asked.
“I guess this does not apply when it’s White people. Maybe those White people in Washington weren’t shot because they didn’t turn their backs or scream ‘don’t shoot’ or put their hands in the air as so many Black people did before they were killed,” he said.
St. Louis NAACP Chapter President Adolphus M. Pruitt said, “The most troubling aspects of the events that occurred at our nation’s capital center is the fact that in spite of all the chatter from groups that our intelligence operations have labeled as extremist and terrorist, law enforcement handled them with kid gloves. And even more frightening, what would the response be if these so-called patriots turned their anger and violence towards the Black community? As a race of people, we need to keep our eyes and ears open,” said Mr. Pruitt.
“This kind of behavior was not known about beyond small communities who were victims,” commented Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Frederick Lamar of Columbus, Ohio. “However, since President Donald Trump started sanctioning it, more has come out in the open. They have always been running around with their pickup trucks and flags. That spirit has always been there, but it’s just been covert.
“Donald Trump has called them out and has instigated them. Their behavior is now more out in the open. I was not surprised to see it happen but I’m glad to see it’s out in the open. You got a president that has incited people to go to the Capitol and attack our democracy.”
He added, “There’s a lot of people who didn’t believe this was going on. They didn’t think America was as bad as we said. The attack on the Capitol showed them something different. People who were against the Black Lives Matter and all those movements see that Blacks were treated differently than those right wingers.”
In Atlanta, Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had to be rushed out of the state’s capitol as Trumpsters surrounded the building and tried to enter. They wanted to hand deliver a list of complaints about the secretary’s refusal to overturn the November election. “We heard reports of threats and left immediately,” a spokeswoman told the media.
In Los Angeles, 25-year-old Berlinda Nibo said she was surrounded and attacked by a mob of Trump supporters as she walked down the street. Her hair was pulled out, she was pushed, maced and verbally assaulted as a crowed jeered on the sidelines, she said.
“It was like—we got our hands on a Black person, we’re going to make an example of her,” Ms. Nibo told the media. “It’s just sad that girls are no longer being protected nowadays, apparently. It’s worse because I’m a Black girl,” she said.
“This is a new take on an old thing,” Medea Benjamin, political activist and co-founder of Code Pink, told The Final Call. “I don’t think they’ve previously been egged on to do this kind of thing in the nation’s capital. They’ve done it in state capitals like Michigan before but never in Washington, D.C. It took Donald Trump urging them to come to D.C., urging them to march down to the Capitol for them to even have the idea that this was something they could do,” noted Ms. Benjamin.
“This is a breed that unfortunately has existed in our country for a long time and it’ll take a long time for it to go away. The question is will they be held accountable for what they did so that they’ll think twice before going into a government office or state office building to do this kind of thing again?” she asked. “When it comes to just the issue of racism, White supremacy, we obviously have a long way to go.”
Law enforcement failure or complicity?
President Trump received even more votes in 2020 than he received in his first election. This is why many believe the Capitol Police were complicit in allowing the terrorist attack to happen. There were also reports of different police officers joining the pro-Trump protest and investigations into whether they joined the assault on the Capitol.
“This is certainly the first time that we’ve seen an event of this nature to have a White supremacist right wing mob directed by the sitting president of the United States storm the Capitol of the United States,” Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, told The Final Call.
“We see very plainly that the Capitol Police basically allowed this to happen. Their response was so different than the response of police agencies to racial justice protesters, to Black and Brown people, to the anti-war protesters. Their response to this is really defining what the situation is in the United States and what the situation is when they claim that they stand for quote unquote ‘law and order.’ ”
She added, “It’s quite obvious that a mob of that nature could not have breached the Capitol unless the police allowed it to happen. The police have thousands of personnel. They have all the mutual aid of every agency around here. They have all the weapons. They have all the barricades. They have all the riot gear. You could see they came out with very thin lines with police. They came out in soft uniforms. They didn’t use, you know, any of the capacities that are regularly used without hesitation against the racial justice protesters.
“None of that was used and there are also images that show the Capitol Police taking selfies with people who have just smashed in and stormed the Capitol. You can see images of the police calmly facilitating the opening of the gates and calmly allowing the mob to stream in. It’s obvious that there was collusion going on here.”
An estimated 8,000 Trumpsters invaded the Capitol while the U.S. Capitol police force has about 1,400 officers.
Khalid Naji-Allah was at the demonstration as a photojournalist. He listened to President Trump stoke the flames of sedition in a growing crowd of people from around the country. “I marched with the protestors down Constitution Avenue. I heard them talk about storming the Capitol. These people felt it was their last resort to take back their government. They were saying ‘That’s our building, that’s our house. We, the people.’ They felt empowered by the words of their president. The closer they got to the Capitol the more I realized that they might actually storm the Capitol,” said Mr. Naji-Allah.
“When we got to the Capitol, I was shocked that the Capitol Police were not dressed in riot gear. They spoke calmly to the people, told them to go another way which was ignored. It was really an amazing experience. I’ve covered many demonstrations and have never seen anything like the way these people were treated,” he added.
Radicalized political rhetoric
“The horrific assault yesterday on the Capitol was not a protest. This was a failed coup attempt deliberately designed to circumvent the will of the people with the goal of keeping in place the flawed leadership that was overwhelmingly defeated in the November elections. From the president of the United States downward, all involved—whether via their actions or their failure to act—must be held accountable,” said Demos President K. Sabeel Rahman. Demos is a think tank that powers the movement for a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy.
“We are facing a foe far bigger than this moment. This assault was not an isolated incident but rather an insurrection centuries in the making. From the forcible removal of Native Americans from their own land to the enslavement and torture of Black bodies, America has sanctioned White supremacy since its inception,” said Mr. Sabeel Rahman.
He added, “White supremacy has beaten back previous attempts at forging an inclusive, multiracial democracy, from the forcible creation of Jim Crow undoing the hard fought victories of the Civil War to the backlash against economic justice, gender justice, and racial justice movements of the 20th century.”
Days before the inauguration of 46th President -elect Joe Biden and the first Black, Southeast Asian and woman to be elected as vice president, Kamala Harris, America and the world witnessed an open display of the racial divide and toxic politics inside the United States.
St. Louis, Missouri’s first Black circuit attorney, Kimberly Gardner, watched as events unfolded. Attorney Gardner has experienced tremendous public ridicule from law enforcement for taking a stand against injustice and racism in her city.
She told The Final Call, “The events at our nation’s Capital took place due to disgraceful and racialized political rhetoric romanticized by President Trump and condoned by the Republican Party for years. This was an unfortunate display of our country’s racial divide. How the Capitol Police handled insurgents showed the world how our nation’s laws were unequally applied based on a person’s race and, or, political ideology,” she said.
“It’s difficult to witness elected officials distorting interpretation of the law in ways that incited a treasonous insurrection to prevent the constitutionally-mandated process for confirming the will of the people’s selection of Joe Biden as our nation’s next president,” she said.
“For this effort to be deviously encouraged by Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley with fist pumps and nonsense political rhetoric, it’s an embarrassment on the people he represents. This was a horrific display of misguided politics, racism, and privilege with no concern for the consequences to our nation or the safety of those who were injured and lost their lives.”
(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)