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‘I’m not surprised’: Black protesters, clergy decry double standard in Capitol riot


Tiffany Cusaac-Smith Adria R. Walker Peter D. Kramer Geoffrey Wilson Jeff Neiburg   | USA TODAY NETWORK
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Reenah Golden remembers people taking shelter in a church after hours of marching and protesting the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man suffocated while being restrained by Rochester police officers last year.

That night, officers followed protesters to the church, barraging the holy site with pepper balls

Months later, Golden said the chemical dispersants and other tactics come to mind when she saw law enforcement’s response to President Donald Trump supporters marauding the U.S. Capitol, one of American democracy’s most hollowed spaces.

Egged on by Trump, the mob broke through police lines at the Capitol. Rioters were then seen waving flags in the building, sitting in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and storming the floor of the Senate.

Black activists say their largely peaceful marches following the death of Prude and George Floyd this summer were quickly met with police in riot gear and chemical dispersants, while law enforcement was lethargic in halting largely white marauders from storming the Capitol.

They say that racism is at the root of the disparate reaction from police officials.

The night the Prude protesters sought refuge in the Rochester church last September, Golden remained outside the church. She recalls police firing tear gas at her car while she sought to drive away with protesters for whom she was seeking medical attention.

“At the Capitol, I see just the opposite,” Golden said. “I see care, attention, thoughtfulness in the approach. Regard for human life to an extent — I saw a lot of that watching the footage and that definitely was deeply painful to watch.”

She added: “We didn’t get that same regard, that same care even though we were fighting for injustice.”

'White privilege' seen in riot's aftermath

Seeing law enforcement’s slow response, Black protesters and leaders saw race as the determining factor in the difference between the police response on America’s streets this summer and what they saw on Wednesday.

Mahkieb Booker, 50, has long been active on the social justice scene in Wilmington, the largest city in Delaware. He can be found at almost every protest for Black rights, whether there are six people there or 600.

During a small early September protest that attempted to travel down one of Wilmington’s main streets, Booker was among about a dozen protestors — who were calling for the firing of an officer they said abuses the community — who were denied the ability to walk on a public sidewalk. An hour-long standoff with the city’s police department included a brief scuffle that resulted in the arrest of two people, including a teenage boy.

Booker saw the various images Wednesday — police officers appearing to allow rioters to break the line, an officer escorting a white woman down the steps while holding her hand — and said it was another example of white privilege.

“You didn’t have a cop holding Sandra Bland’s hand,” Booker said. He pointed to the Breonna Taylor incident in Louisville and how officers let her lay wounded for several minutes before they tended to her, too late to make a difference.

'I should not be as shocked as I was'

Some decried the riots Wednesday as an instance of white supremacy on display.

“It just baffled me that it seemed that the Capitol Police were so underprepared and also just seeing how far they were able to get into the building, how much they were able to do,” said the Rev. Weldon McWilliams IV of Rockland County.

“They were not only able to march to the Capitol building but to get through the barricade, to the steps, and then to be able to scale and climb the building and then to actually get into the building. All this happened without any type of reaction from law enforcement. That to me just seemed astonishing.”

Upon reflection, McWilliams said, “It hit me that I should not be as shocked as I was.”

Yonkers native Dennis Richmond Jr. was "not surprised" by authorities' response to Trump supporters storming the building.

“I wasn't surprised to see non-people of color doing something, and not getting the same ramifications as if Black and brown people were doing it,” he said.

If Black people had even protested in that area, Richmond asserted, there would have been a bigger police presence. “The authorities would have been more active,” he added. “You know, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a lot of selfie-taking with the Black protesters.”

Lawmakers push for Trump's removal

A video posted to social media showed people in police jackets removing barriers outside of the Capitol building and allowing protesters to go inside, USA TODAY reported. Other videos showed at least one apparent officer taking selfies with people who stormed the Capitol. 

USA TODAY has not been able to independently verify the identities of the people in these images.

Several videos shared to social media Wednesday afternoon showed officials slowly escorting people out of the building. One officer in riot gear could be seen helping a white woman in a Trump hat down the Capitol steps, holding her hand, according to a CNN livestream.

The condemnation of the protesters and Trump was swift. On Thursday, soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and many other Democrats took it a step further by saying Trump should be removed from office under the 25th Amendment.

Royal Parker, CEO of Until We're All Free, a New York nonprofit supporting intersectional justice, said there was no place for the violence seen at the Capitol on Wednesday and that Trump should be impeached immediately.

However, Parker, 31, of Pleasant Valley in the Hudson Valley, also felt there was a discrepancy between how law enforcement responded Wednesday when compared to police responses to Black Lives Matter protests across the country last year.

"If this were Black Lives Matter, the tanks would be in the streets," Parker said.

A matter of 'otherness'?

President-elect Joe Biden said that Black protesters were treated differently than rioters challenging the results of the election. 

"Nobody can tell me that if it was a group of Black Lives Matter protesters that they wouldn't have been treated differently than the thugs who stormed the Capitol," Biden said. "We all know that is true. And it is unacceptable – totally unacceptable."

The Rev. Edward Hunt, pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Wappingers Falls,  chalked up the different response to last summer's Black Lives Matter protests and Wednesday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol as a matter of “otherness.”

Wednesday’s rioters looked like the police, he said; Black Lives Matter protesters did not.

"The police officer was looking at his brother, looking at his cousin, looking at his brother-in-law. And (thought) 'I can't hurt him because I'm going to suffer,'" said Hunt

The riots in Washington on Wednesday resulted in more than 60 arrests and at least five deaths, including one woman who was shot and killed inside the Capitol by the building's police force.

By comparison, protests sparked by Floyd's death led to more than 100 arrests over the course of three days in Minneapolis, USA TODAY reported. In subsequent days, cities across the country arrested dozens of people in a single night, with Los Angeles arresting more than 500 in one day.

Booker, the Delaware activist, watched the events unfold Wednesday and saw what he called a “double standard.”

He used the term “Aluta,” which derives from the Portuguese phrase, “A luta continua,” which translates in English to “the struggle continues.”

As many politicians used the phrase “this isn’t us” over the last 24 hours, Booker disagreed.

“It’s nothing new,” Booker said. “This is America.”

More: Who voted against certification? Why these GOP lawmakers did even after Capitol riot

More: Schumer calls for Trump's removal: 'This president should not hold office one day longer'

USA TODAY contributed to this report.