At the protest, attendees chanted and held signs. They were standing on the sidewalks, not antagonizing the police, when hundreds of protesters were pepper-sprayed, pushed down, shoved into cop cars or shot with rubber bullets, he said.
A fellow activist called an Uber for Horn, who “remained blind for the rest of the day” and went to bed because he couldn’t see anything. “You hear stories and have family that have run-ins with law enforcement, but it’s another thing when you have personal experience,” Horn said. “Even if that cop’s gone, you’re always going to remember that.”
Their fight was the “bare minimum Black Lives Matter,” Horn said. “And the fact that that gets challenged, that we get beaten … and then seeing people … get grace, get escorts, get selfies and don’t get the back end of a police stick for a protest or for a mask mandate shows that there are two different Americas.”
“I’m just asking for police to give us grace,” he added, “the same way they do with Trump supporters.”
If witnessing the insurrection took a toll on your mental health, there are ways you can try to manage alone and with others.
Why the insurrection was triggering for some people of color
What might also be disturbing and stressful for people of color to hear are statements that equate the Capitol insurrection to protests for racial justice. The fundamental differences lie within the motivations of the movements.
One movement “is to protect our rights and to push for democracy,” said Helen Neville, a professor of educational psychology and African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “The other is to dismantle democracy.”
The boldness of those who stormed the Capitol with weapons and lived likely would have been a “death sentence” for Black and brown people, Williams said, and that may have happened on the front steps, not inside the building. “It really reinforces what we as a Black community have known all along, that rather than being respected and valued members of our society, we’re mostly hated and feared.”
The potential impact of witnessing the imagery of the noose and gallows, Confederate flags and anti-Semitic garb on the mental health of people of color is not yet measurable, Williams said. She and her colleagues, however, have seen how shaken, emotional and depressed many of their clients are from observing those historical symbols of hate and violence.
“The images are painful because they’re intended to be painful. They’re symbols of hate,” Neville said. “They can have a visceral effect on people, whether it makes them feel physically ill as they look at it” or whether that adds to their trauma.
Some people cope by ignoring events or numbing their emotions while others become fearful. As Inauguration Day and threats of riots draw closer, Williams worries for her children’s safety. “A lot of us feel worried like, what if this doesn’t settle down?” she said. “You hear rumors about other protests that are planned (and) being organized regionally. Does this mean that law enforcement is going to take such a lax approach when people like this act out? It’s scary.”
What both ignites these fears and potentially had underlain the inadequate police response at the Capitol was “a combination of White-skin privilege and ideological coherence,” meaning that some police shared the beliefs of the insurgents, said Sundiata Cha-Jua, an associate professor in the department of history and in African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“Now they’re unleashed,” said Luis Zayas, the dean of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin. “If they could do that to a fortified place like the Capitol, what it would be for a small community. You could be subject to being attacked by a much larger group that’s unruly and even the police could not control them.”
How to cope
“A cultural way of coping could be to talk to an older community member … to hear stories about how they have dealt with racial oppression and discrimination,” Neville said. “People have lived through Jim Crow in the South. Hearing those stories about resilience and about resistance can also be helpful.”
Stay informed as you need to but limit your news exposure if it becomes too much to handle, Williams said. When you are checking in, read clear analyses from credible sources, Neville said, so that “we are not buying in to analyses that blame us.”
Also try to set aside time to engage in spiritual comfort or relaxing activities as temporary distractions, which can be healthy if balanced with social awareness. Horn, the community activist, puts his phone on do not disturb while he exercises for at least an hour daily. When he’s feeling exhausted or defeated, he talks with his family and is honest about his struggles.
Educating yourself on your heritage and the trailblazers in your history can help you heal from any internalized White supremacy you may be dealing with, Neville said.
Also, create safe spaces with others. “What we’ve seen in the past is that communities like this will create their own means of communication, where the safe places are, where to walk, where not to walk,” Zayas said. That could be via phone, text or Facebook group.
Emblems of hope
When President-elect Joe Biden was projected the winner of the 2020 US presidential election, some people of color celebrated, finding hope in the fact that there is a new, more diverse administration coming at the end of another challenging few years for racial justice.
At the same time, there are caveats. “Realistically, our country has been controlled by White men since its inception,” Williams said. “So, although yes, Trump’s reign has been traumatic, Joe Biden’s not a savior. And I think that we will be setting ourselves up for disappointment if we think that he’s going to fix everything that’s broken, because our country has been broken for maybe 300 years.
“Yes, we celebrate the end of the Trump trauma, but keep in mind we still have a lot of work to do.”
“Then people can feel like they’re taking the bad things that have happened and are using that energy for good,” Williams said. “That’s really important that people can make meaning from their pain.”
CNN’s Nicquel Terry Ellis contributed to this story.