The siege of the Capitol revealed what most Black people already knew: Law enforcement is in league with Trumpism.
Elie Mystal / The Nation
WASHINGTON (January 13, 2021) — Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States on January 20 . . . . He will do it on an open-air platform erected just outside the Capitol in Washington, DC.
Of that, I’m sure. No matter how many threats Biden receives from Trump supporters and their enablers in Congress and the current administration, he will be inaugurated on that platform for everybody to see. It’s a statement, not just to white seditionists like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley but also to governments around the world that the United States is “strong” and cannot be intimidated by violence.
As far as Biden is concerned, he has to be inaugurated on that stage — the same stage Trump supporters clambered over on their way to assault the Capitol — no matter how manifestly unsafe the conditions of his inauguration may be.
Biden has to be there, but Kamala Harris does not. Nor does Nancy Pelosi. The principle of protecting the continuity of the government suggests that Harris and Pelosi, who are respectively the first and second in line to assume the presidency should something happen to Biden, must be shielded at all costs during Biden’s big day.
It pains me to say that. Harris, the first woman elected as vice president and the first Black person to hold the post, deserves to be up on that stage every bit as much as Biden.
She deserves all the pomp and circumstance of her own inauguration. The country, the part of it that isn’t an aggrieved white mob at least, deserves to see her and celebrate her power. Her triumph is the triumph of so many.
We deserve to enjoy it, to dance in it. And if somebody wanted to organize an ass-kicking drum line and a few “Skee-Wee” calls to spook the white folks, we’d deserve that too.
The problem is, even more than a celebration, we deserve Harris alive. And we deserve a government that can continue to function in the face of a white-supremacist attack. We don’t let the president and the vice president fly on the same plane lest bad weather decapitate our government. So why would we risk having both of them in the same place, at the same time, when the forces of white supremacy have promised to return to the Capitol they just tried to sack, in more numbers and with more guns, to finish the job?
I don’t think the MAGA crowd can overcome the United States paramilitary apparatus that is set to be deployed to defend our government. I don’t think law enforcement can be overpowered in a repeat of its January 6 failures — unless, that is, its members want to be overpowered.
We still haven’t wrestled with the fact that the people who stormed the Capitol clearly benefited from inside help—or at least from permissiveness from members of the Capitol Police. Ayanna Pressley reports that the panic buttons had been ripped out of her office. Women of color like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush all recount harrowing experiences. Jim Clyburn says the mob found his private, unmarked office — not the one with his name on the door. Nobody knows if people of color in Congress are safe from their own law enforcement.
Two officers have already been suspended for appearing to aid the insurrectionists on the day of the riots. More suspensions could be coming. But whether the department suspends two or 200 more officers, there is zero chance we will have rooted out all the Trump sympathizers within the Capitol Police by the time of the inauguration.
Nor will we have found all the violent white supremacists currently embedded in the National Guard. Or working for the Secret Service.
As it is, the Secret Service is investigating one of its own for posting a pro-Trump meme and praising the rioters who stormed the Capitol. The Washington Post reports that the meme shows Trump shaking hands with himself under the caption, “Here’s to the peaceful transition of power.” A Facebook post attributed to the agent reads: “Good morning patriots! Yesterday started out beautiful and, as usual, Antifa soured the mood and attacked police and an Air Force veteran was murdered….It’s OFFENSE time finally!!”
I do not believe that this agent is the only one. As we learn more about the rioters and insurrectionists, we’re seeing that, for the most part, they weren’t the aggrieved white economic underclass the mainstream media always portrays them to be. They were teachers, business owners, and firefighters. They were retired members of the military and elected Republican legislators. They were cops.
We know, at the very least, that many in law enforcement sympathize with Trump because their unions almost universally endorsed him. Most people reacted to the police union endorsement of Trump as mere politics, but Black people have been trying to tell the rest of you for years that the police are aligned with white supremacist forces in this country. They’re the same damn forces that change hats or hoods as needed but never change their underlying belief in white supremacy.
There are people in law enforcement who have been posting pro-Trump memes on social media and wearing MAGA hats and making “jokes” about the bad things they want to do to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Harris (all of whom will be at the inauguration) this entire time.
If we had fired them back at the beginning, we might not be in this situation now. But most white people never treat white supremacy as the national security threat that it is.
Instead, they allow these officers to keep their jobs and guns, even as they openly threaten elected officials — and, oh yeah, Black people. None of us are safe — not Black and brown people, not Muslims, Jews, immigrants, not even our most powerful politicians — because white people have allowed white supremacists to infect law enforcement at every level.
Biden is taking what precautions he can. Reports indicate that he is changing his Secret Service detail to bring on agents who served him while he was vice president. It’s a wise move, but how in the hell does that help Harris?
Who is watching Harris’s back? And what have they been posting on burner social media accounts for the past five years? Right now, the only people I truly trust to protect Harris are her husband, Doug Emhoff, and Karine Jean-Pierre, who has already put her body between Harris and a white man amped up on privilege.
Some of the people who participated in and incited the insurrection have already blended back in with the rest of society. That’s because they were allowed to just walk away— because the cops didn’t make mass arrests at the scene of the violence. (Contrast that with the mass arrests they always make at Black Lives Matter protests, even though those have never come within zip-tie distance of an elected government official). And so, we might never catch all of the law enforcement personnel who breached the Capitol. We certainly won’t catch all the law enforcement personnel who stayed outside but cheered them on.
The phrase is not “One bad apple may or may not participate in the violent overthrow of the government, and Black people should just suck it up because #notallcops.” The phrase is “One bad apple spoils the bunch.”
Law enforcement is spoiled. It is compromised. I do not question its capability to defend the government from armed attack by a rabble of white people — I question its commitment to do so.
And so, it is safer to separate the leaders of our government from each other on Inauguration Day in the hope that their protectors’ commitment is never really tested.
If we protected Black people from racist cops on the street, we wouldn’t have to worry about protecting presidents from their own Secret Service details. Maybe now, white people will get that. But I’m not willing to bet the continuity of the US government on it.
Elie Mystal is The Nation’s justice correspondent — covering the courts, the criminal justice system, and politics — and the force behind the magazine’s monthly column “Objection!” He is also an Alfred Knobler Fellow at the Type Media Center. He can be followed @ElieNYC.
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