The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol demonstrated what many have long known and what the FBI recently declared: that domestic white supremacists are this country’s most serious terrorism threat. Until we fully root out this pernicious menace, the threat continues, and the striving enshrined in the U.S. Constitution for “a more perfect union” falls woefully short.
The deadly attack echoed all too loudly the wide-scale municipal white supremacist riots and insurrections, among them in Wilmington and our own Chapel Hill, that brought Reconstruction to its knees and continued unabated in its Jim Crow wake. Police force origins date to the 1700s, when patrol groups were created to track down runaway slaves, and we all witnessed the durability of this us-against-them paradigm January 6 as the insurrectionists encountered little resistance and assumed, even demanded as their right, that those Capitol police present would be on their side—a stark contrast in every respect to the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests last year against police violence.
These divergent events illuminate the importance of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP’s Six-Point Agenda for Transforming Law Enforcement: use of force; transparency and data collection; hiring and retention; investment in communities; removing police from schools; and reimagining justice. The stain of implicit bias starts early in life and spreads pervasively. Steps are but short from the schools—where incarceration-like punishment is meted out disproportionally to students of color—to the streets and courts—where we have seen the January 6 insurrectionists released on low bail while people of color held on minor charges, often unable to pay disproportionally high bail amounts, can languish pre-trial in jail sometimes for years.
The revelations in video, federal investigations initiated, and charges made in the days since of violence committed further confirm the necessity that our leaders hold both participants and abettors accountable to the same standard they would if the rioters were people of color. Far more force was brought to bear against the earlier and—with few exceptions—entirely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, and there is mounting evidence, and surely much to be uncovered, of government complicity at the highest levels in the January 6 events. The perpetrators of this complicity must be held accountable, and now that the U.S. House has voted—for an infamously historic second time—to impeach the president, we urge N.C. Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to be among those voting for conviction and barring Trump from every holding any public office again when the Senate holds a trial.
All three N.C. U.S. attorneys have said they would investigate those who traveled from North Carolina to Washington with “the intent to commit federal crimes” and we expect those people to be held accountable, to be prosecuted as promised, for their actions. The distinction between lawful constitutionally protected protest and criminal and possibly seditious insurrection couldn’t be starker. We also expect and insist on investigations of any N.C. public officials or officers of the law who may have participated or been complicit in the attack. Police departments around the country are now investigating officers who went to the nation’s capital to participate, and a U.S. Army psychological operations captain who, having formally resigned, led a group of 100 North Carolinians, is under investigation. We expect that the Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC police departments and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department will ensure that no officers were participants, and if they were, that those officers will be removed from their positions.
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” William Faulkner wrote, and then-candidate Barack Obama paraphrased in his 2008 speech “A More Perfect Union.” The ugly underpinning of the persistent imperfections Barack Obama then cited were on frighteningly full display January 6 in the violent insurrection at and inside the U.S. Capitol. That such a mob armed with the malicious intent to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, disenfranchise millions of voters, and effectively establish an autocracy came so close to success must be a wake-up call for both law enforcement reform—to ensure equal, appropriately calibrated, and monitored treatment of all people, and full accountability for all participants, from the highest reaches of government to all 100 N.C. counties.