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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Infamous history

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Infamous history

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Honoring Congressman John Lewis

The events that occurred last week in Washington will stay with me, and all Americans, for years to come. I was in the U.S Capitol complex the day that it was attacked by a violent mob of lawless rioters and armed vigilantes. Congress had convened to fulfill our constitutional duty to count and certify the Electoral College votes from the 2020 election sent to us by the states. It’s traditionally a largely ceremonial task that in previous years has often gone unnoticed. However, due to President Trump’s undemocratic crusade to challenge the legitimate election he lost and to disenfranchise millions of minority voters, this step in the process became a focal point for the dangerous movement that coalesced around his effort to overturn our Democracy.

Black people know these forces all too well. They are the same forces that have fought for centuries to keep us oppressed, deny our inalienable rights, and to destroy our opportunities. Since Joe Biden was elected, thanks largely to the strong turnout of Black voters, it makes sense that these enemies of Democracy would protest his election so fiercely – because it is proof of our electoral strength. They wanted to deny and undo what our hard work accomplished.

Let me be clear: The violence that occurred that day in the People’s House, as we proceeded to count the people’s votes, was domestic terrorism, armed insurrection, and anarchy. It was a blatant attempt to subvert the will of the voters and allow Donald Trump to stay in power as an unelected dictator. Black people saw this coming quicker than most. 

As a former law enforcement officer, many have asked me what I think of the police’s response. I believe that many rank and file Capitol Police officers did the best they could under the overwhelming circumstances. The image of a lone Black officer, holding off the violent mob outside the Senate chamber, will stay with me always. Unfortunately, Capitol Police leadership failed to prepare appropriately or adequately, and they ignored many of the warnings that violence would occur. Despite countless press and other reports warning of the threats to come, the National Guard was not called ahead of time, and some Capitol police officers who were on hand seemed to let the mayhem ensue. In some instances, it looked like they rolled the red carpet out for these insurrectionists.

Tragically, several people lost their lives in the violence that ensued, including police officers. I mourn the loss of life during this siege.

But I also have to ask: Why wasn’t appropriate force used to defend the Capitol against violent white domestic terrorists?  Why was too much force used against peaceful protesters last summer? Where was the care and consideration for those peacefully standing up for Black lives killed by police brutality? It is impossible to ignore the vastly disproportionate and unequal treatment of the two groups. How can we forget the terrible images of peaceful protesters tear gassed in front of the White House to make way for the photo op of President Trump awkwardly holding a Bible. This striking difference illustrates the inequity in policing that must be addressed and corrected.

It’s clear that, like law enforcement around the country, the Capitol Police must reevaluate the means by which they protect and serve. I have called for investigations into what went wrong, and how we can prevent it from ever happening again.

As I have said before, we need a full-scale reform of our criminal justice system, and I believe that we can make progress on that goal with a new president and a new Congress that is invested in this priority. Passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is more critical than ever. More accountability and better training is critical for federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

I will also use my role on the House Intelligence Committee to further investigate the presence and influence of white nationalist sympathizers in law enforcement organizations. We can never stamp out white supremacy until we stamp it out of the organizations and institutions that hold power.

I’m going to keep working on these goals and more in the new Congress and beyond. That starts with ensuring that we can close the book on the Trump era. The damage he has done to our country is truly as bad as we had feared – maybe worse.

However, America is not defined by Donald Trump. It is defined by its people, and our collective ideals. Last year, the American people voted in record numbers to reject the chaos, division, and hatred of the Trump presidency. Congress has a duty to respect that decision, and respect it we did. Once the rioters were removed and order was restored, my colleagues and I reconvened to continue counting the electoral votes. At 3:45 am that morning, we certified Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s win – a few hours off schedule, but no less affirmed. Please never doubt that our voices and our votes matter – always!

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