The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion This is the America that Black people know

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) speaks about the electoral college vote in the Senate on Jan. 6, hours after a pro-Trump mob broke into the U.S. Capitol and disrupted proceedings. (Handout/Getty Images)

Cori Bush, a Democrat, represents Missouri’s 1st Congressional District in the House.

My skin burned for 22 hours after I was pepper-sprayed. The memory of that burn stung with a new kind of pain on Wednesday as I, now a newly sworn-in member of Congress, watched in horror and disbelief as an insurrectionist mob overran the Capitol.

Back in July, we had been protesting at the police station in Florissant, Mo., where a police officer had recently run over a Black man with his car. The police had been beating protesters for weeks. They tear-gassed us to the point of suffocation for painting “Black Lives Matter” on a road, arrested us for putting our fists in the air and beat those who they’d taken into custody.

That night was no different from any other night. The officers rushed out of the station in riot gear, slapping their batons against their shields, holding shotguns loaded with rubber bullets and chanting commands. They chased us into the middle of the street, forcing us to backpedal blindly in the dark. The police were pushing with such force that people began falling to the ground all around me, finding themselves swarmed by officers who began hitting them with batons. I reached in to try to pull a woman away to safety.

They sprayed us with mace. It wasn’t your average mace, either. I used every trick in the book to try to make the pain stop — milk, water, dish detergent. But my skin did not stop burning for 22 hours.

On Wednesday, as I sat in the House gallery listening to my colleagues debate the certification of the electoral college votes, something prompted me to get up and leave. I left the chamber and quickly went to check on what was happening outside. The doors were locked, but as I stood on the second floor of the Capitol and looked out through windows in the doors, I could see Trump flags and Confederate flags gradually moving closer. I froze in disbelief. The next minute, my staffer was rushing me back to my office.

Supporters of President Trump crossed barricades and began marching toward the back of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Video: The Washington Post)

Once I was in my office and we secured the door, I felt a different kind of burn — this time inside. Watching on TV, we saw white supremacists stroll past Capitol Police, untouched and unscathed. Just minutes after we had locked our door, the mob entered the House Rotunda. The rioters broke windows, sat in the House speaker’s office and invaded the Senate floor.

There was no way to avoid the comparison or to duck the obvious answer: Would this have happened if the rioters were there to fight for Black lives rather than white supremacy? We’ve been tear-gassed for much less, beaten for much less and shot at for much less. We’ve been assaulted by law enforcement for much less.

But it’s clear to me that top law enforcement leaders on Capitol Hill had little interest in preventing this attempted insurrection. Videos have emerged of police taking selfies with protesters, walking them down the stairs and even opening gates for them. The front line of officers were not in riot gear, they were not wearing gas masks, they were not holding guns loaded with rubber bullets. And, above all else, there were no police dogs.

We faced police dogs when we fought for justice for Mike Brown in Ferguson in 2014. There were police dogs at protests for Black lives this year, from the East Coast to the West. The president himself tweeted in May that the “most vicious dogs” awaited protesters standing up for Black lives at the White House.

But there were no police dogs awaiting the white supremacists who gathered outside the Capitol. It was no coincidence that this tool of racial control was absent Wednesday, as rioters carried the flag of the slave-catcher’s Confederacy — and its modern manifestation, the Trump flag — through the House Rotunda.

Many have said that what transpired on Wednesday was not America. They are wrong. This is the America that Black people know. To declare that this is not America is to deny the reality that Republican members of the U.S. House and Senate incited this coup by treasonously working to overturn the results of the presidential election. It’s to deny the fact that one of my senators, Josh Hawley, went out of his way to salute the white supremacists before their attempted coup. It’s to deny that he appropriated the sign of Black power, the raised fist, into a white-supremacist salute — a fist he has never raised at a march for Black lives because he has never shown up to one. It’s to deny that what my Republican colleagues call “fraud” actually refers to the valid votes of Black, brown and Indigenous voters across this country who, in the midst of a pandemic that disproportionately kills us, overcame voter suppression in all of its forms to deliver an election victory for Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris.

This is America, and it will continue to be America, until white supremacy is dismantled. Justice starts at removing each and every representative who incited this insurrection. I’ve unveiled my first piece of legislation that would do just that. We cannot denounce white supremacy and allow its endorsers to continue serving in our government.

The U.S. is more politically polarized than ever. The Post’s Kate Woodsome asks experts what drives political sectarianism — and what we can do about it. (Video: The Washington Post)

Read more:

Michele L. Norris: Believe what you saw. With all this country’s white grievance, it was inevitable.

George F. Will: Trump, Hawley and Cruz will each wear the scarlet ‘S’ of a seditionist

Tammy Joyner: Don’t celebrate blue Georgia yet. The ‘old’ Georgia stubbornly endures.

The Post’s View: Trump caused the assault on the Capitol. He must be removed.

Colbert I. King: Trump’s pledge of an orderly transition is as worthless as he is

The Jan. 6 insurrection

Congressional hearings: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held a series of high-profile hearings to share its findings with the U.S. public. What was likely to be the panel’s final public hearing has been postponed because of Hurricane Ian. Here’s a guide to the biggest hearing moments so far.

Will there be charges? The committee could make criminal referrals of former president Donald Trump over his role in the attack, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in an interview.

What we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6: New details emerged when Hutchinson testified before the committee and shared what she saw and heard on Jan. 6.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6.