Thistlethwaite: The day ‘Blue Lives’ didn’t matter
The attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, shattered many myths about this country, such as our international reputation for the peaceful transition of presidential power.
One myth that was definitely destroyed on that day is the claim by political conservatives that they support law enforcement. “Blue Lives Matter” became a popular slogan among them, a way to push back at the highly visible and credible movement of “Black Lives Matter” and claim support for law enforcement.
First, “Blue Lives Matter” is not a parallel to “Black Lives Matter” since there is actually no such thing as a “Blue” human being. “Blue” apparently means the most prevalent color of police uniforms, but it is now crystal clear that the color of the skin of the person wearing the uniform matters much more than the outside garb. And even more than that, a “Blue” life seems only to matter when it is being deployed to protect white supremacy.
Indeed, after the gut-wrenching testimony of the Capitol Police officers at the hearing of the January 6 Select Committee, the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” should forever be known for the politically manipulative lie that it is.
“Blue Lives” didn’t matter on January 6.
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“To my perpetual confusion, I saw the thin-blue flag — the symbol of support for law enforcement — more than once being carried by the terrorists as they ignore our commands and continued to assault us,” Officer Daniel Hodges said.
Officer Hodges, one of those who would be designated a “Blue” life, found his life threatened for performing his lawful policing job.
And yes, Officer Hodges testified those assaulting the Capitol building were terrorists, not tourists as Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) had claimed, apparently trying to minimize the behavior of the rioters by saying that was a “normal tourist visit.”
D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone pushed back strongly against that lie. “I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them, and too many in this room … are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or hell actually wasn’t that bad,” Fanone said, pounding his fist on the table. “The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”
Racial slurs abounded among the terrorists. Officer Harry Dunn testified that “a woman in a pink MAGA shirt” called him a “n—–.” “No one had ever, ever called me a n—– while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer,” Dunn said.
Officer Dunn is African American, Officer Hodges and Officer Fanone are white. They were all wearing law enforcement uniforms, but it seems “Blue” lives only matter when they commit to maintain and sustain white supremacy.
Yes, white supremacy. The prevalence of Confederate battle flags among the terrorists, the diagonal blue cross with white stars on a red background, showed that without a doubt. That flag became a symbol of white insurrection in the violent rejection of Black equality and political power after the Civil War, and that has continued in American history. But it took until Jan. 6, 2021 for a Confederate flag to be carried in the U.S. Capitol by a rioter.
The driving ideology behind the terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol is plainly white supremacy and the treatment of the Capitol police officers shows this without a doubt.
Officer Hodges testified: “Some of them would try to, try to recruit me … One of them came up to me and said, ‘Are you my brother?'” and he noted there were many white supremacist-linked organizations at the Capitol assault.
The “brotherhood of whiteness” has no place in law enforcement. Law enforcement officers are supposed to uphold the law and the laws of this country should be color-blind. Our laws are not color-blind, of course, given the racist history of this country, but our goal, as we pursue a multi-racial democracy, is to make them so and to administer them accordingly.
Yet, the threat is that increasingly, as the FBI has warned, white supremacist groups are seeking “affiliation” with law enforcement to further their aims of white dominance.
This is working as dozens of active or retired law enforcement or military personnel have been arrested in connection with the attack on the Capitol.
Many of us have decent, hard-working law enforcement officers among our family and friends. That kind of individual response does not get at the structural issues at stake in what is happening in our country right now.
Militant white supremacy is on the rise, and it is a threat to our democracy.
Can there be any more visible sign that is true than terrorists attacking the U.S. Capitol carrying Confederate battle flags and trying to overturn a legitimate election?
All I can do right now is to breathe a prayer of thanks for those Capitol police officers who suffered such violence and even died to protect our democracy.
What we all have to do is make sure it never happens again.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.