Being a Black Woman Feels Illegal
By Shereá Denise
“Guarantee you, if that was a Black Lives Matter protest in D.C., there would already be people shackled, arrested or dead. Shackled, arrested en masse, or dead.” -Joy Reid
I have been avoiding writing about the Capitol riot. After all, the men and women who orchestrated and carried out the insurrection were operating with a sense of privilege that I have become all too familiar with and that I have written about more than once. It is the type of privilege that allows you to encourage that bodily harm be done to peaceful protesters, but to excuse the acts of a lynch mob because of the color of their skin and their defense that they were following the instructions of their incompetent leader. I fully expected and continue to expect that the rioters will not truly be held accountable for their actions. Our government has already proven that the former President will not be either.
When Black Women Address White Privilege
For those who continue to say that white privilege does not exist, I have a series of questions: How do you storm a government building and leave without being arrested or shot? How do you openly threaten government figures and post pictures of yourself with stolen government property without immediate repercussions? Explain to me how silent protesters are animals, thugs, and looters who should be shot, but people who were literally defecating on walls and killing people in and around government buildings are patriots.
The privilege is obvious. We all know what this privilege is rooted in as well. You only have to look at the people who protested police brutality and the people who rioted at the Capitol to know what one difference changed the outcome of those events. Joy Reid summarized it well when she said, “The reason they could easily and casually — with their cameras on — film themselves throwing things through the walls of our Capitol, our property, going inside the Capitol, sitting in Speaker Pelosi’s office, casually taking pictures of themselves, have that played on Fox News... They know that they are not in jeopardy, [b]ecause the cops are taking selfies with them, walking them down the steps to make sure they’re not hurt, taking care with their bodies — not like they treated Freddie Gray’s body.” She also said, “White Americans aren’t afraid of the cops. White Americans are never afraid of the cops, even when they’re committing insurrection. Even when they’re engaged in attempting to occupy our Capitol to steal the votes of people who look like me, because, in their minds, 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. Because we don’t get to pick the president, they get to pick the president. They own the president. They own the White House. They own this country. And so when you think you own it, you own the place, you ain’t afraid of the police. The police are you, and the police reflect back to that. ‘We’re with you. You’re good. We’re not gonna hurt you, cause you’re not them.’”
The wild part? People are outraged with Joy Reid for speaking candidly about what we all watched. And what did we watch? The thousands of arrests that did not happen and the fact that it seemed that some law enforcement officials were assisting the rioters in their efforts to take over the Capitol to stop the confirmation of President Joe Biden’s election. She called the temper tantrum what it was and people were BIG MAD - not because of the behavior of the white rioters - but because a Black woman dared address their actions.
How long will we continue to act as if Black people generally and Black women specifically are not supposed to express their truth? How are we in 2021 acting like Black women having an opinion is necessarily a problem? As if Black women having a drop of audacity is more of an issue than thousands breaking into a building attempting to do serious bodily harm to the country’s Vice President and members of Congress.
As an aside, I must note that I find it interesting to hear white journalists and news anchors stumbling over their words and trying to preserve their allegiance to white people while simultaneously covering the horrendous actions of these people who look like them. They will play clips of what Joy Reid said rather than making their own statements, using a Black woman as their shield rather than having the gumption to call the Capitol riot exactly what it was.
When Black Women Encounter the Police
Joy Reid’s words coupled with my own thoughts about the presence of white privilege in this debacle led me to further consider how law enforcement’s treatment of Black folks differs from how they treat white people.
I know that I am not the only person who thought of Miriam Carey in the aftermath of the Capitol riots. “On October 3[, 2013], [Miriam] Carey approached a White House checkpoint and was approached by Secret Service officers. She made a three-point turn, striking an officer who was trying to move a barricade into her path, before driving away, according to an affidavit filed in support of a search warrant. Police said the car sped down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol, where security vehicles stopped it at Garfield Circle. Carey put the car in reverse, hit a police car and drove away as officers fired at her.” An autopsy report revealed that Miriam Carey “was struck by five bullets from behind.”
In the hours after the shooting “it was revealed the suspect was an unarmed dental hygienist from Connecticut with a 1-year-old in the backseat.”
As law enforcement searched Miriam Carey’s home, they learned that she had diagnoses of schizophrenia and other mental disorders. Albeit unnecessary, this information was made public the day following Miriam Carey’s death.
It is interesting that, as it pertained to Miriam Carey, journalists and news anchors seemed to have all of the right words to advocate for Capitol police while offering little grace to the family that lost a sister and a mother. CNN’s Mike Brooks said, “You don’t know if she has a bomb… You don’t know if it’s a terrorist attack. The officers just don’t know.” He also “dismissed suggestions that police could have defused the situation simply by shooting out the car’s tires. “If you are using deadly force, you are there to try to incapacitate the driver of that car – of that weapon,” he said. “If they did shoot the tires out, the car can keep moving.””
While people were discussing the white woman who was shot in the neck while trying to forcibly enter a government building, my thoughts could not escape the illegal turn that led to Miriam Carey’s death in front of her child. I thought about how quickly people threw around the First Amendment and the fact that the rioter who was killed was also a veteran as if these things made her life more valuable and excused the threatening behavior that led to her death.
Miriam Carey’s sister, Valarie Carey, said: “[T]he restraint shown by Capitol police on Wednesday was a stark contrast to how the same police agency treated her sister… To see the disparity in the treatment of individuals ... who have no respect for our nation's Capitol, vandalizing and actually committing assaults and they get to walk away unharmed and not even arrested. It's hurtful." Similarly to Joy Reid, Valarie Carey noted that “the Capitol riots demonstrate that many white people don't live with the same fear of police violence as Black people.”
In an article for CNN, Nicquel Terry Ellis, compared the Capitol riots to the Black Lives Matter protests, noting that “during Black Lives Matter protests last summer police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators calling for racial justice and made thousands of arrests. Washington police said they made 80 arrests related to Capitol riots and the majority were for violating the mayor's 6:00PM curfew. Images of police letting rioters through the Capitol gates, escorting them down the Capitol building steps and taking selfies with them have sparked outrage among Black people.”
Still Your Target, Even When Being A Shield
And, in the aftermath of a riot that cost many people their lives, we see people outraged about three things: the second impeachment of y’all’s former President, the statements made by Joy Reid, and (drumroll please) the Black Lives Matter Movement being nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. It appears that the mere existence of statements like Black Lives Matter is enough to be treated as a threat by white folks… as if the statement is not being used to address the threats and actions taken by white people/law enforcement that consistently and continuously cost Black people our lives. As a reminder, “[t]he Black Lives Matter movement was co-founded in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in response to the acquittal… of the man who shot Trayvon Martin.” It was established to protect people whose skin color was grounds enough for them to be dubbed suspicious and violent. It was established to ensure accountability and protection for those in society who are often left dying in the street while their murderers are put on administrative leave. BLM was not created as a way to overthrow democratic processes or with the intent to vandalize government buildings as a show of force by a tantruming white man who lost an election.
...but how dare these Black women be nominated for an award that they deserved seven and a half years ago because it threatens certain people’s feelings of superiority.
The privilege. The gall. The caucasity of it all.