Sean Yoes

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
syoes@afro.com

During an interview in 1961, the Harlem prophet James Baldwin was asked what it was like to be Black in America. He said:

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage, almost all of the time–and in one’s work. And part of the rage is this: It isn’t only what is happening to you. But it’s what’s happening all around you and all of the time in the face of the most extraordinary and criminal indifference, indifference of most White people in this country, and their ignorance.”

Sixty years later, Baldwin’s words have never had more dreadful resonance.

This week during a Senate hearing on the Capitol Riot on Jan. 6, we witnessed the grace and dignity of Captain Carneysha Mendoza of the U.S. Capitol Police, as she testified what it was like to be a Black woman fighting for her life for hours to defend the Capitol against thousands of raging, many armed, mostly White terrorists.

“I have served as a CDU (Civil Disturbance Unit) field force commander for multiple events including the Nov. 14 “Million Maga March. In my career I’ve been activated to work demonstrations with various controversial groups and I’ve been called some of the worse names so many times I’m pretty numb to it now,” Capt. Mendoza said to the group of all-White senators. Then she specifically described what it was like to be engulfed within the hellish landscape that was the U.S. Capitol while it was under attack by violent White insurrectionists and the immediate aftermath.

“I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day. I witnessed officers being knocked to the ground and hit with various objects that were thrown by rioters. The night of Jan. 7 into the very early morning hours of my birthday Jan. 8 , I spent at the hospital comforting the family of our fallen officer and met with the Medical Examiner’s office, prior to working with fellow officers to facilitate a motorcade

After listening to courageous Capt. Mendoza’s harrowing account we (and she) was subject to a tragic comedy of errors, White privilege, audacity, hypocrisy and rank stupidity.

We witnessed the other security officials (all men), Mendoza’s colleagues pointing fingers, placing blame, shrugging shoulders and covering their own backsides.

We heard absurd conspiracy theories about the nature and “actual” identities of the Capitol rioters spewed by the Senator from Wisconsin Ron Johnson, a man dumb as a box of rocks.

Capt. Mendoza was forced to suffer what must have been the maddening indignity of listening to the glib voices and watching the smirking faces of Sen. Ted “Cancun” Cruz of Texas, and the “Proud Boy” Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri pretend to be concerned about their colleagues and the men and women of law enforcement.  When in reality they both share blame for the murderous events of Jan. 6.

Let’s be real about it.

As we watched the surreal events of January 6 unfold, thousands of mostly White men storming the U.S. Capitol, breaking windows, breaking down doors, battering police officers, there was one thing top of mind for most Black people: if they had been Black they, law enforcement would have killed us all. At least they would have tried. If they didn’t kill us, they most assuredly would have locked us up and/or beat us down.

We wouldn’t have made it up the damn steps.

And the one responsible for all of it sits in Florida, free, for now.

He’s not only the worst president in American history, he’s arguably the worst American in American history. I challenge anyone to name another person who has wrought as much destruction in this country, ever.

That same White man presided over the deaths of nearly 500,000 Americans, a disproportionate number of them people of color. Several studies have indicated hundreds of thousands probably died needlessly due primarily to the staggering incompetence and indifference of the man who currently sits in the Florida sun.

Indeed, Baldwin’s American prophecy looms more ominous each day.

Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Senior Reporter and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor