Mayor Muriel Bowser deserves her props for keeping the nation’s Capitol safe

OPINION: DC's de facto commander in chief has a monumental task, unlike anything the nation has seen since Lincoln’s first inauguration in 1861

Mayor Muriel Bowser, District officials, and federal partners hold a public safety briefing on preparations for the upcoming 59th Presidential Inauguration, on January 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O’Leary – Pool/Getty Images)

Let me be unequivocal out the gate: D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser saw the Capitol insurrection storm coming.

Days before the Jan. 6 certification of Electoral College votes in the 2020 presidential election, Mayor Bowser requested the assistance of the national guard out of concern for known pro-Trump demonstrations. The U.S. Department of Defense granted her request, however, placed tight restrictions that included not allowing guardsmen to be armed.

Read More: Trump calls DC mayor ‘incompetent’ in clash over George Floyd protests

It wasn’t until all hell broke loose on Jan. 6, 2021, that Bowser had to call in for back-up from my home state of Virginia and neighboring Maryland. The U.S. Capitol was under siege by Trump supporters and insurrectionists. The Capitol police had been overwhelmed, and overcome to the point that the angry mob worked its way into the hallways of the very cradle of our American democracy.

Congress Holds Joint Session To Ratify 2020 Presidential Election
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

But Mayor Bowser remained steadfast, focused and in command. She got the help she needed, first from the D.C. Metropolitan Police and then from the national guardsmen called up from around the region and nation as far as Puerto Rico to re-establish order and keep the peace through Inauguration day.

Fast forward to this historic week of Jan. 18, 2021, which opened with the official Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday, and caps off on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, with the inauguration of the nation’s first woman and first Black vice president in the person of Kamala Harris. The mayor of D.C., a strong Black woman of influence herself has an enormous task before her: she must keep the Capitol city safe and secure at a time of deep division, hatred, racism, and white domestic terrorism. 

Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo: Getty Images)

I am reminded of the viral video of the mayor where she responded to a ridiculous “security” question with silence and a look that only a Black woman can give you that communicates exactly what she is thinking. Imagine being this mayor, at this moment. She is the commander in chief of the nation’s Capitol city, but it is a city without power over its own destiny, or the ability to defend itself without federal approval. If the events of Jan. 6 do not make the case for D.C. statehood, nothing and no one ever will. 

But that’s not the point of this piece. The point is that Mayor Muriel Bowser has a monumental task, unlike anything the nation has seen since President Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration in 1861. At that time the nation was also deeply divided. Lincoln had won an election that threatened to split the union (as it did).

And mobs had been rioting for weeks according to a Washington Post article written in 2015 that talked about it being the most dangerous inauguration ever at the time. Lincoln was inaugurated, however, and the rest is history.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Read More: 12 National Guardsmen removed from inauguration over alt-right ties

For Mayor Bowser, this is a defining moment of her leadership. And I for one, do not think she has been given enough credit. 

2020 spotlighted the year of the rise of Black Democratic women. From our new Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris to Stacey Abrams in Georgia, to Mayor Bowser in D.C. and having “Black Lives Matter” painted on the streets of D.C. in honor of the late Civil Rights icon and Congressman John Lewis. These three Black women and many more literally saved the Republic from Trump and Trumpism. 

On Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in a 60 Minutes interview, Mayor Bowser outlined her plans to keep Wednesday’s inauguration secure: “I was also very heartened to see the Joint Chiefs of Staff issue a statement that the United States Army would be there to support the mission of a smooth transition of power.” 

She continued, “but it is necessary. And I’m glad that it happened. We, as Americans, have to stop thinking that we can take for granted that every American has pledged his allegiance to the Constitution. What we saw in plain view, were too many Americans who have pledged allegiance to Donald Trump,” said the mayor, referring to the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

When all is said and done, thankfully at this pivotal moment in history Black women have stood up, and called things out, and led us bravely through the storm. Yet done so under the immense stress of the national spotlight and through a media lens that is often unkind to us as leaders. We always seem to be called in to clean up America’s messes. 

Whether it was Sojourner Truth in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Conference calling out white women like Susan B. Anthony and others who were about to sell us out as Black women (re: the right to vote); or Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat that inspired the historic Montgomery Bus Boycotts of the mid-1950s. Black women have been standing up for freedom and equality since 1776.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is just the latest in a long line of Black female sheroes to do the heavy lifting of America’s racial past and do it with dignity, strength and grace.


Sophia Nelson is a contributing editor to thegrio.com.

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