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Assault on the Capitol - This Cannot Stand

There are certain events that become burned in our memories for a lifetime.  These may be the untimely death of a loved one or a famous person for whom we felt a connection, or one that provides sudden confirmation of something that we hoped for or feared.  These are the "nothing will ever be the same" events. 

January 6, 2021 is already one of those days after which things will never be the same.  New facts will continue to come out, but this much is clear: the Capitol of the United States was attacked by those who were attempting to disrupt Congress from certifying votes of the Electoral College.  Federal legislators were forced to temporarily suspend their duties under threat of imminent physical harm, the home of our first branch of government was defaced, and people died.  While it is difficult to get into all of the causes, warning signs, and individuals who are responsible without getting into the politics of the moment, those facts seem clear.

A complete list of these unforgettable experiences is hard to pin down: be they public or private, tragic events inspire a range of reactions among those who are impacted – Pearl Harbor, JFK in Dallas, MLK in Memphis, Challenger, 9/11. In 2020, there were new additions to my personal list: the protests following the death of George Floyd and the last video visit with a close friend who was dying of COVID-19 in December. Two centuries ago, I imagine those who witnessed the caning of Sen. Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate in 1856 considered it to be one of those events, as it was the one of the most violent incidents in the history of the US Capitol. Unfortunately, we now have a new one to add.

Watching a person march a Confederate flag through the Capitol is one of the images from last week that will stick with me for years to come. The photo of him marching past a portrait of Charles Sumner near the entrance to the Senate with seeming impunity is already etched into my long-term memory. If you missed it in history class, Sumner was beaten severely by a Congressional proponent of slavery for giving a fierce anti-slavery speech decrying the "Crime against Kansas" a few days prior, a 100+ page speech in which which he named names and did not mince words. After recovering, he returned to full-time legislating a few years later and continued as a  proponent for the abolition of slavery and expansion of civil rights.  

When I see that photo, I think of Sumner and all those who have fought for civil rights over the centuries, and those who have fought and died for our country, the Constitution and the principles of our democracy.  I also think of those who used the battle flag as a symbol of resistance to civil rights in the 20th century.  The return of this symbol to the halls of the Capitol is a low point.  

As an American, I am angry that my democracy has been attacked. As a native Washingtonian, I am angry that my hometown was invaded by some who came to town with destruction on their minds.  As a Christian, I am saddened that some have cast the motivations behind the attack in "good" vs "evil" terms, with the attackers convinced they were the "good" in that equation. As an African American, I am frustrated to see the treatment of this group as opposed to those who were protesting for civil rights and social justice this summer.  The lack of sufficient security and the ease of entry into the Capitol is a stark difference from the vast numbers of National Guardsmen and armored vehicles that surrounded those protests in DC this past summer. The searing images of rioters inside the Capitol, lawmakers diving for cover, and more were rightfully shocking.  For many of us, this is an extension of a difficult year in 2020.

The Challenges of Recent Times

Many Americans have faced challenges in the past year, due to lost income, lost opportunities to socialize, the health consequences of COVID or other factors, and many of us have expressed a desire to put it all behind us.  

However, this time has also drawn attention to key disparities that have long existed in our communities, and the awareness of racial injustice may be at an all-time high. We could be on the verge of addressing issues that some in our community have been fighting for decades and centuries.

Just recently, I drove down US Route 1 in northern Virginia and noted that I no longer had to avoid using its former name which honored the president of a failed Confederacy - one which attempted to secede from this nation to protect state's rights to preserve slavery.  In 2020, that divisive battle flag was removed from NASCAR events, properties of the United States Marine Corps, and the state of Mississippi's flag.  On New Year's Day 2021, a presidential veto was overridden so that our military bases named after Confederate generals will soon be renamed.  In this way, 2020 was a year of overall progress on moving past these symbols of limiting freedom - hopefully, that trend continues.

History Impacts Us Today

America is a complex web and there are many reactions to any major event. While some recent developments have left me optimistic, seeing the Capitol infiltrated by angry citizens in an attempt to reshape an election is a stark reminder that many of our fellow Americans may feel disenfranchised and seek to address that using violent means.  Unfortunately, this attack is reminiscent of some of the extrajudicial actions taken at times in our past, and the threats to hang public officials are a reminder to that federal anti-lynching legislation has still not been able to pass through Congress after a century of advocation.  Angry mobs are no way to govern a country or distribute justice. 

We can come together and move forward, but we must address these differences and hold those accountable who caused these harms upon our nation.  Attempting to use fear, intimidation and/or violence to force action by elected officials is as un-American as it gets. We cannot let this stand.  

Once those who perpetrated and facilitated this act are brought to justice, we can have a real discussion of the issues behind this disconnect, and then we can begin to heal.

All posts represent the opinions of Dr. Rodney Harrell, and not those of any other individual or organization.


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