Op-ed: US Capitol riots, MLK Jr. Day remind us there are still two Americas

Race

By JASON CAMPBELL CHICAGO TRIBUNE |JAN 15, 2021

Unlike many other Black residents of Washington, D.C., I had the luxury of visiting the U.S. Capitol building as a child. I walked within the red ropes side by side with my mostly white middle-school classmates — wearing a long-sleeve button-down shirt and slacks — knowing that because I am Black I could find myself in trouble for something as simple as speaking too loudly.

As an adult, I watched Jan. 6 as that same Capitol — the seat of our democracy — was stormed by an angry, predominantly white pro-Trump mob determined to stop a joint session of Congress set to certify the presidential election results. They destroyed property, assaulted journalists and condemned anyone on their destructive path. Images and videos showed many police officers at best unprepared and at worst unwilling to stop the attack.

Why does society tolerate different expectations for Black men? How can anyone deny that there are two Americas? And yet, many do.

I read a quote from a fellow Black male physician on Twitter, “We’re not asking you to shoot them like you shoot us, we’re asking you to NOT shoot us like you don’t shoot them …”

Eight months ago, George Floyd was murdered under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Black Lives Matter supporters and others filled the streets in protest over the summer. Yet, since the murder of George Floyd, police in American cities continue to murder unarmed and nonviolent Black men. In contrast, how can one explain the docile handling of those insurrectionists at the Capitol except as the latest and starkest evidence of America’s oldest and most vile double standard. As Americans, we can no longer ignore the threat of white nationalism and white supremacy.

To understand this monumental occasion, we must retrace our steps in history. The federal government relied heavily on enslaved labor to ensure the nation’s new capital city could receive Congress when it moved to the District of Columbiafrom Philadelphia in 1800. Enslaved Black laborers — rented from their owners — were involved in almost every stage of the building’s construction. Now, as we’ve seen through the footage from Jan. 6, the Capitol employs Black men who wear police uniforms and maintenance uniforms. From building the Capitol to cleaning the debris left behind to protecting those inside, Black men continue to put the very nation that too often forgets about them on their shoulders.

As another Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches Monday, his words reverberate as loudly now as they ever have — “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Eugene Goodman — a Capitol Police officer — faced challenge and controversy directly when he put himself in harm’s way and utilized a measured response toward the mostly white assailants. His nonviolent actions likely prevented the mob from entering the Senate chambers. His actions likely saved lives. This is what we, as Black men, also deserve in our interactions with police officers.

The more important question, though, is how do we move forward now as a nation? We must focus not only on the people storming the Capitol but on the policies that have made two Americas possible. We must work to undo the laws and practices that enshrine inequality in this country.

For decades, our nation has confined its focus on Black history to the shortest month, February, as Black History Month. This past year has forced us to confront and acknowledge our nation’s Black history month after month — a discussion we all must keep up to move forward.

One thought on “Op-ed: US Capitol riots, MLK Jr. Day remind us there are still two Americas

  1. You are eloquent and socially aware as always . This disparity in the two Americas definitely needs to be an item high on the President’s agenda !! The time is now because we are at a critical point in our history when the Capitol is attacked and there appear to be lesser consequences for those involved in this brazen act . It was a defining point in more ways than one !

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