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On January 6th, MiChelle Carpenter stood crying as she washed her dishes. She had CNN playing and was watching the insurrection on the Capitol unfold. “I would sum up my reaction as flabbergasted and gobsmacked,” the dean of the class of ‘24 and math teacher wrote in an email the next day. “I didn’t think that anyone, much less hundreds or thousands of people, could even attempt to breach the Capitol without being shot and killed.” She continued, “Watching people scale the walls, break the windows and vandalize offices while the Capitol police stood by… all of the injustices and inequities that exist within our system of jurisprudence were personified before my eyes.”
Just before midday last Wednesday, President Trump informed his supporters that this was their last opportunity to take action and overturn the “fraudulent” election that was barring him from continuing to lead the country. “You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” he said to his followers, “You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
It was the day that members of Congress were slated to count the electoral votes and confirm Joe Biden’s victory. Just hours later, his supporters, carrying Confederate flags and brandishing guns, heeded his direction and assailed the Capitol. They threatened members of Congress who hid under their desks and had removed forms of identification to protect themselves from attack. Five people died, including an on-duty police officer. Called on to steer his supporters away from violence, Trump, in a two-pronged message, told his followers to “go home” but then added, “We love you. You’re very special.”
Many flocked to social media to highlight the blatant double standard that this event presented. When white supremacists attacked the greatest symbol of American democracy, they faced little resistance. Some videos showed officers helping the terrorists up and down the marble steps to ensure they weren’t hurt, taking selfies with them, or even accompanying them as they stormed the building.
By contrast, those who participated in the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests that occurred throughout this past summer were often met with walls of threatening police officers armed with weapons and tear gas. A clip of MSNBC anchor Joy Reid was going viral on Instagram where she remarked, “The reason…that these people were so unafraid of the cops…[is because] they know that they are not in jeopardy. White Americans are not afraid of the cops even when they’re committing insurrection…In their mind, they own this country, they own that Capitol, they own the cops, the cops work for them and people like me have no damn right to try to elect a president…When you think you own the place, you aren’t afraid of the police because the police are you.”
In agreement, Rose Azzu ‘22 wrote, “I think we all know how black people would have been treated if even one black person even threatened to go up a Capitol step.” Madison Kellier ‘22 echoed, “Had the people storming into the Capitol had been my skin color, they would’ve never even made it up the first step.”
It was an event likened many times by reporters and pedestrians to 9/11, inspiring comparable levels of fear and disbelief. “All I feel is shame to belong to a country that allows this to happen but does not see the value of the Black Lives Matter movement. All I feel is sadness and disgust,” said Mariema Tall ‘22.
Most disturbingly, in videos and photos of that day, nooses were seen carried menacingly by the terrorists. A noose attached to a wooden platform was set up by Trump loyalists on the West side of the US Capitol. In the picture, the loop of rope almost touches the spire of the Capitol building behind it; almost as though it was executing the notion of American democracy.
Determined to finish what they started, Members of Congress returned to the Capitol that same day to confirm that Joe Biden was, in fact, the next president of the United States. Today, some who were pictured raiding the Capitol have since faced consequences, and threats of the second round of impeachment proceedings loom.
Upon reflecting on that day, Ms. Carpenter mused, “Some people can breach the Capitol and live to tell the story. Others cannot sell loose cigarettes on the street without being choked to death by law enforcement. Each within full-view of the whole world and recorded for posterity. I feel vindicated and devastated, in equal measure.”