On CNN Wednesday, as a mob of Trump supporters stampeded through barricades and broke through windows and stormed the U.S. Capitol in a violent insurrection, commentator Van Jones voiced the thoughts crashing around in so many of our minds.
“I have heard people looking at small protests in Portland, Oregon, where people were tear-gassed, beaten, kidnapped, and they said, ‘No, no, no. Whatever you do to those protesters is OK because we have to have law and order. We have to have law and order,’” Jones said, even as the chyron below his head reported a woman in critical condition after being shot on Capitol grounds and an armed standoff in the House chamber. (The woman later died.)
Law and order?
“This is rebellion,” Jones continued. “It is treason. It is lawlessness. It is unacceptable.”
He continued: “I’m calling on all of my conservative friends, my Republican friends to say, ‘What would I do if Black Lives Matter dropped 30,000 Black people on the nation’s capital and laid siege to the seat of power in the middle of a joint session of Congress and broke in? What would I say if Black Lives Matter did that? If Muslims did it? If Muslims dropped 30,000 Muslims on the seat of government in the middle of a joint session of Congress and ran in there and there was blood on the floor and tear gas? What would we be saying?’
“If you believe that we are all one people,” Jones said, “you don’t like the hyphenations, you believe we’re all one country. If you believe in law and order, if you’re against traitors, if you are for patriotism, there needs to be a uniform denunciation from top to bottom of the Republican Party of what we’re seeing.”
Republicans did, in significant numbers, condemn the violence and the rioting. Eventually, hours after the chaos kicked off and his own vice president was evacuated from the Senate chamber, President Donald Trump released a video nudging his followers to disperse. “Go home,” he said. “We love you. You’re very special.”
Which was a far cry from his “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” tweet in May when protests erupted in Minneapolis over George Floyd’s death.
But apart from the condemnations, aside from the denunciations, a single question loomed large: How were armed insurgents allowed to breach the U.S. Capitol, forcing the evacuation of the United States Congress? How are we seeing photos of a man sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s desk, with access to the emails still on her screen? How did it get to that point? And would it have, had the group been made up of people of color?
I sincerely doubt it.
Who can forget that image from June 2, when the D.C. National Guard stood blocking the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during protests after Floyd’s death? Who can forget the peaceful demonstrators tear-gassed in the plaza between St. John’s Church and Lafayette Park this summer when Trump wanted a photo at the nearby Episcopal church? We’ve watched Confederate statues receive better protection than the U.S. Capitol building did on Wednesday.
It leaves a terrible taste in the mouth, and all sorts of lingering questions about who we designate a threat in this nation, how their skin color affects that designation and how both affect their ability to carry out dissent.
From where I sat, it looks like the same country that vilifies Black athletes for kneeling and tear-gasses peaceful demonstrators for protesting police violence, allowed a violent white mob to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power, a sacred ritual codified in the U.S. Constitution, and send its freely elected representatives into hiding.
That’s not a good look.
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.