One of the images that really struck me on Wednesday evening was after the thugs had been removed from the Capitol and a there was a line of cops in riot gear keeping them out – standing shield to shield with the hooligans on the outside.
Several of them were walking the line, getting up in the cops’ faces. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, of course, but it was clear that they felt safe. They knew that they were protected by their whiteness. They knew, with complete confidence, that they would not have any immediate repercussions for their insolence and rudeness, and that these armed officers would not do anything to them.
Many Americans, looking at that moment, thought about how if they, with their dark skin, were to dare such insolence, they would be immediately beaten or killed for it. They would never, ever dare to do that, because it would be so foolish.
But what I remembered was an incident that, I am sure, I never told my Mom about. I doubt I ever told anyone other than the friends who were there with me at the time.
I was downtown Nairobi and someone said something rude to a policeman. Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe he laughed at a joke with a friend. Who knows. But within seconds the cop was beating him with his baton, and a crowd was gathering.
Being a stupid kid, I stayed and watched while the cop beat the man half to death, and then walked away.
It was absolutely terrifying. And, EVEN THEN, I knew that it could never happen to me, but that it could happen to ANY of the Kenyans around me.
This is why I am so deferential to cops. This is why it terrifies me when my son talks back and argues with cops.
EVERY black kid in America understands this from the time they can understand anything, and my kids will never truly understand it. And of course, as a parent, I am so so so glad that they will never understand it. But at the same time, it is profoundly unjust and disgusting and indecent that every black and brown kid knows this to be reality.
That’s the image that will stick with me from Wednesday night – that insolent spoiled privileged child, sneering in the face of authority, knowing that he was safe from consequences.