US Law Enforcement Is a Tale of Two Colours

The last time the US Capitol was overrun was in 1814, when British troops took the building. At the time, slavery was still legal and the discrepancy in the treatment of Black and white people was official US government policy.

As a Black person from the repressive state of Cameroon in the heart of Africa watching the scenes unfold on January 6 in Washington, it appeared as though I was experiencing an alternate reality.

For a brief moment, I thought I was watching scenes from a Nollywood movie or images from the protests in Ivory Coast’s largest city, Abijan, and the ousting of former President Laurent Gbagbo, or from the overthrow of Burkina Faso’s former president, Blaise Compaore. The list goes on. The only issue with the optics was that the people in front of the Capitol were white and many of the law enforcement officers running away from them were Black.

Dragging democratic values through the mud

I was, however, not alone. As I scanned through social media, the shock of many Africans both in the US and on the continent was palpable. No one dared believe this was possible in a country that prides itself as being the bastion of democratic values and arbiter of what is fair and right across the globe.

I had been shocked at the way the US elections unfolded, but this time I was not merely seeing a country where the president had dragged all the principles of liberal democracy through the mud. I was actually watching him on TV, inciting protesters to take action that he promised to be a part of. Surely that is criminal! But I will leave that to the legal experts.

The issue for me was that it took over two hours for the National Guard to be called in after all the lawmakers, including Trump supporters, had been scuttled away to safety and a woman had already been killed. The restraint demonstrated by US law enforcement officials would have been commendable and something to ask African leaders to learn from, but for one thing – I have not yet forgotten how the Black Lives Matter protests unfolded last June.

An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of US President Donald Trump gather in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington, US, January 6, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Leah Millis

When Black protesters flooded the streets of Washington demanding the right to live, the images at the Lincoln Memorial or Trump’s photo-op holding up the Bible evoked the Jim Crow era, a time when Black people were treated as a dangerous species, or animals to prey on. But this was the 21st century, in which the stark contrast between Black and white life in modern-day America reared its ugly head.

Shameful day in US history

The events of January 6 will go down in history as the day that the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, which gave Black men full citizenship and promised them equal protection under the law, was exposed as one of the biggest shams that ever existed. The illusion of equal protection was shattered as I realised that had it been Black people storming the Capitol or Black men chasing a White law enforcement officer, Washington could very well have been a bloodbath. But for the White rioters it was a day to take over Capitol Hill and show the world that in Trump’s America, White is right.

With less than two weeks before the end of the Trump era, I can only hope that a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris Administration will prove that what we have witnessed in the last four years has simply been a black hole exposing the false infallibility of whiteness.

Featured image: Members of the Oath Keepers are seen among supporters of US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol before they stormed the building. Photo: Reuters/Jim Bourg