It was disheartening to read about the destruction of Breonna Taylor’s bust that was installed in Latham Square plaza near Oakland City Hall a few days before the end of 2020. The bust was smashed in several places as though the vandals were reducing the value of a life lost to the effects of racism. And then, a few days later, in an attempt to erase the memory of Taylor altogether, the desecrated bust was stolen.
But memory is a funny thing. It outlasts the artifacts erected to commemorate it. The senseless killing of a beautiful woman at the prime of her life will always live in our consciousness, bust or no bust.
The vandalism achieved two unforeseen objectives. It shined a light on the artist Leo Carson and his symbolic sculpture, and unearthed the poignant images of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, about the same age as my daughters, shot to death while sleeping in her own apartment by police officers in Louisville, Ky., during a botched drug raid. None of the police officers involved with the raid were charged for Taylor’s killing, though all three officers have been relieved of their duties.
As it turned out, the desecration of Breonna Taylor’s sculpture was just the tip of the iceberg.
On Jan. 6, as Congress was preparing to certify Joe Biden as America’s next president and Kamala Harris as the next vice president, we witnessed the horrific scenes of an unmasked assault by armed thugs on the Capitol, egged on by a delusional president feeding them the absurdly false narrative of a stolen election.
“If I tried what these Trump thugs pulled today, my shirt would have looked like red lace, and I would already have a toe tag …” tweeted New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, a Black man.
The destruction and disappearance of Taylor’s sculpture was a statement of resentment against the Black Lives Matter movement. It was an act of racism and narcissism.
The men who destroyed and desecrated the Capitol were supposedly protesting the results of the presidential elections. These Trump supporters descended on the nation’s capital proclaiming their allegiance to white supremacy, wearing hooded clothing, carrying confederate flags and neo-Nazi paraphernalia. Pipe bombs were discovered in several locations and one photo showed a fully constructed noose hanging across from the U.S. Capitol. It was an act of terrorism, racism, narcissism and irrationalism.
The siege of the Capitol and the destruction of Taylor’s bust were demonstrations of animus. An intoxicated outrage performed at the instigations of a lying, scheming demagogue, his servile Republican yes-men, and right wing media who play the ratings game, disregarding truth and facts.
CNN commentator Abby Phillip remarked that “a few months ago in Washington, where we live and work, you couldn’t drive down the street without being stopped by National Guard vehicles, by law enforcement of every type and every stripe … every block of the city was in lockdown because of Black Lives Matter protesters. Now you have thousands of armed protesters, who happen to all be Trump supporters … Where is law enforcement?”
Law enforcement proved ill-equipped to manage the lawlessness on display on Jan. 6.
In the last four years, we have become less united and more combative. Deep-seated resentments have turned into a lava flow of animosity.
“This is not who we are as a nation,” was repeated by a number of elected officers, including President-elect Joe Biden. But all of them might be missing the point.
As a group of rioters chased a Black cop inside the carpeted halls of Congress, they could be heard shouting, “This is our America!” Indeed, it is.
But what exactly is this new America we live in? Where does equality for all figure in this brand new nation?
Part of the answer can be found in the American Values Survey, a yearly research on American attitudes, published by The Public Religion Research Institute. When comparing the reports of 2016 and 2020, it’s clear that American attitudes toward race relations have radically shifted, morphed and coalesced over the last four years of a distressing presidency.
In 2016, three out of 10 Republicans thought that racial inequality was a matter of critical concern. In 2020, that number reduced by almost half, plummeting to a mere 17 percent. In contrast, concern for racial equity issues rose steadily for Democrats, from 61 percent in 2016 to 68 percent in 2020.
The Trump presidency has divided us into a country of us and them.
For sure Breonna Taylor’s sculpture will be rebuilt. There has been a generous outpouring of support for the project. Carson’s Go Fund Me page asked for $5,000 for a bronze re-creation, and has topped $27,000 instead.
The doors and windows of the Capitol, broken by Trump’s thugs and rioters will be repaired and replaced in due course. Congress has also done its job by certifying the legitimacy of the November elections.
Now we the people need to reckon with our new American identity.
Jaya Padmanabhan is a guest columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan.