Advocates say white privilege was on full display during Capitol Hill violence

"If they were people of colour what do you think would have happened?" Many are calling out the treatment of mostly white Trump protesters who stormed the Capitol Wednesday, saying if they were people of colour, things would have turned out very differently. Ashley Burr has more.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Why was the chaos at the U.S. Capitol building allowed to spiral out of control, while Black Lives Matter protesters were attacked and arrested throughout the summer?

There are a lot of questions surrounding the actions of Capitol Hill police in particular, with U.S. lawmakers now vowing to investigate the force whose members were seen taking selfies with a violent mob of Trump’s supporters.

By Thursday morning it was known four people died; one was shot by police and the other three suffered medical emergencies. One man died after he apparently struck himself with a taser.

Only 52 people are known to have been arrested, compared to 88 who were detained after Black Lives Matter protests in June.

Mike Rogers, a former Congressman and FBI agent, tells CNN it’s clear law enforcement was not prepared for this but it’s not clear why.

“Which is a little bit surprising,” he adds, “because in every big gathering down in D.C. they tend to get prepared so I do think there’s a lot of questions they are gonna’ have to answer for.”

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“There were clearly violent acts to breach the Capitol. There should have been a much different, more certain response,” says Rogers.

The crowd of Trump supporters was mostly white and had an explicit mission to interfere in the election at the behest of their president, who had promised to march alongside them before quietly heading back to the White House instead.

As the insurgents made their way through the front doors and broke windows to gain access to the House chambers, it became clear their privilege was on display, says June Francis with Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley Society.

“When you compare that to what happened with the absolute violence against BLM protesters, it couldn’t be clearer,” she says about systemic racism in policing.

“If you think about it, unarmed Black people, just going about their regular lives are routinely subject to violence. They may have a cellphone in their hands and the police think it’s a weapon,” she says.

Black Lives Matter protesters faced organized police violence in cities across America last summer after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed when a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly 10 minutes, triggering a human rights movement.

“Now we have, in full view, people carrying weapons on federal buildings, and yes, it would have been a completely different situation [if they were Black] … I have shuddered because the violence that would have been unleashed on them would have been something that I don’t even want to think,” Francis explains.

After the breach on Wednesday, lawmakers huddled under their desks, donning gas masks before the Capitol building was evacuated. Now, many of them are vowing to investigate the actions or inactions of Capitol Hill Police, saying it’s clear something went very wrong.

Activists in the U.S. and in Canada are calling for outrage and pointing to the events of June, 2, 2020, when rows and rows of National Guard members stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial while human rights protesters demonstrated peacefully for several days.

On Wednesday, the National Guard was not called in until several hours after the mob penetrated the building.

Rogers points out the crowd faced very few Capitol Hill police overall and while some officers deployed pepper spray, others seemed overwhelmed and unorganized throughout the insurrection, failing to show any force that would have stopped the crowd.

Reports from U.S. media suggest Trump made the call to have civic police manage the “March to Save America” ahead of the event. He also refused to call in the National Guard on Wednesday, with reports suggesting White House officials were forced to intervened before the president relented.

Jennifer Phillips with Democrats Abroad – Vancouver says police would have likely killed and arrested many more people if they’d been people of colour marching for social justice.

“We saw many armed, mostly white people who illegally trespassed and broke into the Capitol wielding guns,” she says.

“They were then allowed to walk off the Hill, disperse freely and the police just frankly would not have ever responded in this way for a BLM protest and we’ve seen that. The proof is in the pudding right? We saw it cross 2020 and America just has to wake up to this in outrage.”

Francis says it couldn’t be more clear and if anyone still needs to see more evidence before believing in the racial bias in American policing, “I don’t know what to tell them.”

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