I am a student Black Lives Matter activist. The Capitol insurrection didn’t surprise me.
Your disbelief is not enough. If “shocked,” “surprised,” or “blown away” are words that describe your reaction to white domestic terrorists not being held accountable, then this much is clear: Your privilege is showing.
I don’t share this sense of disbelief, but I do feel rage and disgust. On Jan. 6, when supporters of President Donald Trump violently stormed the U.S. Capitol, we saw law enforcement treat white terrorists with utter deference. By contrast, we’ve seen police beat, kill, and disrespect my people, Black people, for far, far less. Even for nonviolent protest.
I have always known this truth, but I saw it firsthand this summer.
I am a Detroit high school student, a community organizer, and the co-founder of Black Lives Matter In All Capacities, or BLMIAC. Our group strives to empower Black individuals through action, awareness, and education. My co-founder and classmate, Eva Oleita, and I have worked to further the fight for Black liberation through protest, healing events, community aid, and political education sessions.
Destroyed by the murder of so many Black individuals, I needed to stand up. As a Black girl, I knew my story and struggle were being erased, and I decided to center myself in my organizing work. That’s what led to our first protest — a Say Her Name action in downtown Detroit, where some 300 people demanded justice for Black womxn and girls erased from this movement: Priscilla Slater, Breonna Taylor, Aiyana Staney-Jones, and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, among them. We held signs and chanted “Say Her Name.”
Over the summer, when Black Lives Matter protesters, myself included, took to the streets — peaceful and unarmed — we were highly surveilled and met with riot gear. At our overnight occupation for a Michigan girl named Grace who was detained for not doing her online schoolwork, there was a constant police presence trying to push us away from the juvenile detention center where we had gathered. When protesting, I always had to be prepared to be arrested, tear-gassed, or worse. It never felt like police were there to protect us; it felt like they were there to object to our fight for our lives. During protests, I always write down the bail-out number and pass it around to participants in case of arrest.
Law enforcement doesn’t treat us with patience and care. We don’t have that privilege. When I organize for Black liberation, I am hyper-aware of dying at the hands of police. I have little doubt that had the thousands of white terrorists at the Capitol had instead been thousands of Black protesters, they would have been met with tear gas and shackles. There would have been more than a few dozen arrests, to be sure.
I am calling for something more than disbelief, more than shock or even horror. We cannot deny the flat-out injustices that have occurred. I support defunding the police and every other demand that Black Lives Matter Global Network has stated. On Jan. 6, Americans of all backgrounds were shown a truth that Black Americans have known forever: Law enforcement protects and upholds white supremacy. I believe defunding the police is a step toward righting various injustices. I would like to see much of the money now dedicated to policing go instead to education. Black students, especially, need resources and healing practices. We need more social workers and counselors, and more teachers, too. We need new antiracist curriculums that tell the stories of marginalized people beyond our oppression. It’s also time to invest in Black neighborhoods to ensure access to physical and mental health care, and to make sure there are safe spaces for our youth.
President Trump and those who revere him tried to take a historic day from Senator-Elect Rev. Raphael Warnock, Senator-Elect Jon Ossoff, and from Stacey Abrams and the all of the Black women political organizers who made these historic Georgia victories possible. On Jan. 6, I woke with joy and excitement about their wins and was energized by the strength, determination, and highly effective activism of Stacey Abrams. I was so inspired by her resilience and constant care for her community — win or lose. She gives me hope for the future of our democracy and guides me in my activism work.
My happiness cannot be stolen by complacency. As a nation, we must preserve Black joy and triumph. I call for people to push aside their disbelief. Our country must confront its racism and prioritize Black freedom in 2021.
Ama Russell is a youth activist and organizer. She is 17 and a senior at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. She strives to liberate her people and co-founded Black Lives Matter in All Capacities in June.