Having lived and protested in the streets of D.C., I was shocked to see the U.S. Capitol breached by insurrectionists denying the outcome of last year’s presidential election.
As an activist, I’ve gotten scrutiny visiting the Capitol just for wearing politicized attire. So it was truly remarkable to watch as a predominantly white mob, encouraged by the former president, stormed the Capitol building on January 6 with seemingly little resistance.
It was impossible not to imagine that had the mob been black or brown, they would have been brutally counterattacked and then prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
When nonviolent racial justice protestors gathered on the National Mall last summer, they were met by heavily armed police officers in full camouflage. And yet police appear to have literally opened the gates for the white mob.
This should have never happened. But it did. The Capitol Building can, in fact, be breached if you are white — and have a little help.
There is something wrong with all of this. While the majority of police that day fought to protect our democracy — one officer, sadly, lost his life — there were still a few too many who did little to nothing.
The rioters planned their attack openly on social media and far-right websites for weeks. The FBI warned the Capitol police days in advance that the Capitol could be attacked. Even requests to the Pentagon from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for additional National Guard troops ahead of the rally were denied.
Yet police that day were told to prepare for only a “normal” protest, leaving them vulnerable and easily overwhelmed.
More disturbingly, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Black member of Congress, reported that the panic buttons in her office had been ripped out before the attack. These and other complaints highlighted concerns from lawmakers that members of the Capitol police could not be trusted to protect them.
Then there are the revelations that many off-duty police officers from around the country, including from Philadelphia, where I now live, attended the rally.
Yes, they have a right to free speech. And perhaps not all who attended the rally stormed the Capitol. But knowing that police attended a rally replete with white supremacist banners and Confederate battle flags only diminishes public trust that the police are supposed to rely on.
It’s no wonder that some activists are reviving calls to defund the police.
“Tell me again,” activist Bree Newsome tweeted during the attack, “why we can’t defund the police and military when they’ve shown us today that they don’t intend to use any of their expensive gear to protect the Capitol from a domestic invasion?”
I believe it’s time to more seriously consider the possibility.
There is plenty of research that shows how defunding police departments nationwide would allow for more social services (health care, education, housing, etc.) that center people and communities. Even the ACLU points out that less policing would actually make us safer.
For me, as a Black American, that point is key. After witnessing this month’s events, I more firmly distrust the police.
I remembered when Miriam Carey, a Black woman suffering a mental health emergency, was shot and killed by Capitol police after making a U-turn by the White House. Where was their restraint, then?
Yet hundreds or thousands of rioters were able to enter the U.S. Capitol chanting “this is our house,” compromising the safety and security of lawmakers and the American people. Many have still not been brought to justice.
How are Black Americans supposed to support this system of policing? As James Baldwin said, “We can disagree and still love each other — unless our disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
After this national disgrace, we must examine if the institution built to “protect” the people truly protects the interests of all people — and if not, reallocate its funds accordingly.