When the calendar flipped to 2021 last week, we all wanted to turn the page and put the terrible year of 2020 behind us. On Wednesday, that delusion was shattered when a pathetic band of agitators and reactionaries broke through a flimsy line of U.S. Capitol police, bent on mayhem and destruction in the midst of the Congressional count of the presidential electoral votes. They were egged on by members of Congress, Pennsylvania state legislators, and the president himself, who spread disinformation about the reality of the 2020 election and tried to overturn the election by objecting to states’ electoral votes, including those from Pennsylvania.
It was one of the worst days in America in living memory.
Besides the horrific acts themselves, I found it particularly enraging and demoralizing to see Capitol police give a pass to Trump’s angry white mob, knowing full well that the response would be markedly different if Black and brown people had behaved the same way at the heart of America’s government. Some officers tried to hold back Trump’s insurrectionists, leading to injuries and the death of one officer, and I honor their service. But we’ve all seen the videos and photos of Capitol police moving gates for the mob, clearing the way for them to storm the building. One officer took a selfie with one of the agitators. Then Capitol police let the mob simply walk out the front door, even helping them down the damn steps.
With the images of the police response to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests fresh, I find myself newly enraged - but, sadly, not surprised - by law enforcement’s meek response.
It is all so exhausting. So much for a fresh start.
In reality, all of us knew that all of our challenges wouldn’t magically disappear on January 1. The once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic rages on, wreaking particular destruction in communities of color and carceral facilities, where the infection and death rates have been 3-5 times higher than the general population, as the promise of a vaccine remains months away for most of us. Extremist politicians and their acolytes continue to fuel wild and false conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. And, in Harrisburg, attacks on democracy are already being teed up by our state legislature, where a victorious state senator was denied his seat by the majority party and bills have been announced to end mail-in voting and even to empower the legislature to name its own presidential electors, replacing the winner of Pennsylvania’s popular vote.
Still, despite all of that, we carry forward. I wake up each day (or, at least most days) ready to take on the next challenge in part because of the people who surround me - the team at ACLU-PA, our partners at national ACLU and the affiliates around the country, and you, our supporters, who guarantee that we can continue this work.
What’s the alternative to staying in the fight? To quit? We can’t. America has shown its ugly underbelly, not just on Wednesday but for years. But we keep up the struggle because we have a vision of how America can be at its best.
Wednesday’s insurrection at the Capitol should be a turning point for America. Let’s make it the loud death wail of a dark era by continuing our work for justice, fairness, equity and accountability.
Yours in liberty,
Executive Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania