On June 1st, 2020, in the wake of the country’s outrage about the murder of Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Arbery, and George Floyd, I was arrested during at a Black Lives Matter protest for allegedly violating the Atlanta curfew ordinance. I was working as a Legal Observer with the National Lawyers Guild, and my charges were dropped after 7 months of prosecution. Over a 500 people were arrested over the summer for protesting Atlanta, the majority, 425 people, being arrested between May 29th and June 1st.
In the aftermath of the 1/6/21 storming of the US Capitol, everyone in America is asking, “why aren’t the police treating them like Black Lives Matter protestors?” (weirdness aside of asking why cops aren’t brutalizing people instead of asking why Black Lives Matter protestors aren’t met with the same lack of police brutality.) But the key is to look at the identity and ideology of the protestors.
The Department of Justice has reluctantly stated that white supremacist terrorism is the number 1 threat to national security, but has the DOJ prioritized fighting white supremacy? The DOJ remains focused on fighting “Islamic Extremists” as a top priority threat, regardless of the lack of imminent harm. The DOJ blows off prioritizing the threat of white nationalist violence by saying they investigate violence, not ideology. Yet, they surveil Black Lives Matter protestors that don’t instigate violence. They are investigating the ideology of Black Lives Matter protestors, because the ideology is fighting against the white supremacist violence of policing. We also cannot forget in the aftermath of 9/11 that Muslims or anyone read Muslim was subjected to extreme levels of government surveillance because of their faith and national origin. So, where is the distinction?
Black protestors are treated as enemies of the state and have been treated since slave rebellions. The history of the Black Radical Tradition will show you that telling white people and the white state to leave us alone resulted in harsh crackdowns from the government. The Civil Rights Movement has been historically watered down from the Black community fighting for their lives to be free from white violence and the right to self-determination to people singing kumbaya with white suburbanites. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI aligned the Civil Rights Movement with communists, causing them to investigate members of the movement, including Martin Luther King Jr. himself under the Racial Matters Program.
Black protestors are also treated as rabble-rousers, outsiders. Many speakers for cities or states or the country will often throw out “these protesters are not from *insert city*” to destroy the narrative. Black people are not allowed to be Americans with the freedom to travel and protest as they please; we must stay in our respective cities and not cross the invisible racial line that hinders our ability to travel. Governmental bodies will also use this as an excuse to bulk up security for planned protests and crackdown on demonstrations. In Atlanta, of the original 425 people arrested in 3 days, only 50 turned out to be from out of town. They attempted to determine residence based on driver’s licenses. The people they arrested me with had state IDs but were Georgia residents by either being students or not yet updating their IDs. But the narrative was created, and the harm was done; the local government needed to stop these “outsiders” from traveling to the city to destroy it. The National Guard was called in to treat anti-police brutality protestors like terrorists.
The first settlers stepped foot on this land and proclaimed that their escape from persecution in England came before the humanity of the indigenous people of this land, and in that created whiteness. The preservation of whiteness was a priority and central tenant of the foundation of this country. How can a white nationalist state treat the white nationalist Capitol rioters as an enemy? How can state leaders genuinely reckon with the violence they’ve created by lifting the United States of America as the Great White Hope?
White people can never be outsiders in the United States of America. They can never be the real enemy of the state they’ve created. Even as the Department of Justice recognizes white nationalists are committing the most domestic terrorist acts, there is still nothing being done to stomp out white nationalism. What is recognition without a follow-up? How is Nancy Pelosi saying the insurrectionists “have chosen their whiteness over democracy” helpful when America’s democracy and whiteness are co dependent? The theater following 1/6 is nothing more than a rouse unless America genuinely wants to reckon with the reality of what happened.
A full reckoning with the white supremacist violence in the United States will first require members of the government to recognize that this is a white supremacist state. Whiteness was conceived as an act of violence. That white nationalists are not a fringe group, and that the violence the state commits abroad reflects the violence here. This country must accept that whiteness was crafted to be violent, exclusionary and that this country was founded upon that violence and exclusion. It must get that groups like KKK were led and incited by some of the most influential businessmen in their communities and governments. They must also accept that the violence they proliferate abroad under the guise of democracy and freedom feeds into violence here. How can you use violence to achieve perverted goals and not expect that perversion to become homegrown? White men brandishing the flag and demanding the restoration of democracy is the most American thing I’ve ever seen.
Since we live in a white supremacist state where whiteness is power, even white and black liberal politicians use white supremacy to maintain control. Cities ran by black politicians are not free from acting with white supremacist intentions. In Atlanta, Black people are disproportionately criminalized for living in poverty, where the city is refusing to close a jail that was opened for no other reason than to jail the homeless population and small “quality of life” offenses. Empty statements about supporting Black lives or denouncing white supremacy will always be meaningless so long as the words don’t match the actions. Thanking Black voters in Georgia for saving the country means nothing when people fighting for Black lives in Georgia face prosecution for using their free speech, police violence, and the violence of poverty.
We must call on all politicians—including the progressive liberals—to not simply name white supremacy, but also name white supremacy as a pillar of this country. We recognize that cities calling on their police forces to tear gas, arrest, and shoot protestors are acts of white supremacy. Black and brown people living in disproportionate poverty, being subjected to mass incarceration and immigration detention, and suffering the tragedies of the pandemic at unreasonable amounts are all acts of white supremacy in this white nationalist state. The people who stormed the Capitol were only acting in preserving it.