Nida Allam recalls hearing the backs of protesters when they were dragged away from the Senate view chamber by law enforcement officers during the heated Brett Kavanaugh hearing in 2018 for confirmation by the Senate. Some activists – mostly women – have been “knocked to the ground by male police officers two to three times their size,” said Allam, a Muslim and newly elected county commissioner in Durham, NC
Six activists, who protested peacefully in the U.S. Capitol for various reasons, report to TIME that they saw a strong, but not surprising, inequality in the law enforcement response and the reluctant response to the pro-Trump mob that was spreading the Seat of raved national legislature on Wednesday.
“It was white supremacy in action: that they stormed the Capitol to stop a constitutional process, because they wanted to change things, because they knew nothing would happen to them … their white protected them,” says Anita Cameron , a veteran black disability rights activist who has been arrested dozens of times for protesting in the U.S. Capitol. Cameron even took part in the 1990 Capitol Crawl, in which more than 1,000 people marched from the White House to the Capitol building to urge Congress to pass the Disability Act. Once at the Capitol, a few dozen crawled up the Capitol steps without wheelchairs, crutches, or other walking aids. She said she was one of more than 100 members of the ADAPT network for the rights of people with disabilities who were arrested afterwards.
She says if this week’s riot was staged by blacks “The streets would be full of blood ”and they wouldn’t even have made it to the Capitol.
The events on Wednesday took a closer look at the question of who can feel safe on the Capitol grounds. For some, the attack on the Capitol has reinforced the notion that blacks are viewed by law enforcement as more of a threat than whites. Across the country, protests against Black Lives Matter were frequent and publicly met with violent reactions, which included tear gas, pellet guns and officers with heavy equipment. It was a different story when white Trump supporters came to the U.S. Capitol the day lawmakers met to ratify the election of the electoral college and Democrats took control of the Senate after the seats of the Senate in Georgia had changed.
The US Capitol Police came under fire for the catastrophic break-in and did not take the threat posed by white supremacy seriously. Your boss Steven Sund has announced that he will step down after the riots on Wednesday. They did not respond to a request for comment from TIME.
Many in the pro-Trump crowd appeared to walk free after wreaking havoc at the Capitol. In one video, an officer appeared to be holding a door open for those leaving. When Cameron protests, she says she and those around them are often arrested before they leave the premises. She says she was arrested probably more than 100 times while protesting in the Capitol. At the time of this writing, the US Capitol Police have announced that more than 80 people were arrested in connection with the riot on Wednesday.
Allam also didn’t feel welcome when she was at the Capitol for the Kavanaugh Hearings in 2018. At the time, an officer approached Allam’s husband and said, “If you look at me again, you threaten a law enforcement officer,” and he would throw both of them out, she says. After complaining to another officer, they were told, “I understand where he’s from because I was in the army and you look really intimidating because you look like the people we fought against in the Middle East. ”
During the same visit, Allam wore a sweatshirt that said Bernie Sanders in Arabic. The Capitol staff asked her to go into a closet and turn the sweatshirt over. Then they said she couldn’t wear it because it was controversial.
Allam says events on Wednesday asked what Republicans consider “the right way to protest”.
“Conservatives and the right wing have always said that the BLM movement, the women’s march and other organizations are not protesting properly. Do you think this is the right way to go? ” She says.
Stephanie Woodward, attorney and co-founder of Disability EmpowHer Network, also wants to know the answer to that question. In 2017, Woodward stepped out of her wheelchair as part of a “die-in” in the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, protesting significant cuts to Medicaid and its impact on the rights of people with disabilities. The Capitol Police initially put her back in her wheelchair and Woodward said she could have been pushed out of the building. Instead, about half a dozen officers lifted her out of her wheelchair and left her on the sidewalk in front of the building, “where they knew they couldn’t move because they took her wheelchair away,” she says.
Stephanie Woodward, who suffers from spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, is removed from a sit-in in the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as she and other disability rights advocates on June 22, 2017 on Capitol Hill against proposed funding limits for Medicaid protest.
Jacquelyn Martin – AP
It took Woodward about 20 minutes to get her wheelchair back. She says officials used it to roll other non-wheelchair protesters out of the building.
For Woodward, the different reaction between her experience and the one shown on Wednesday is “a really strong message”.
“If you’re a white-bodied person who incites violence, the Capitol Police are fine with you. If you are a peaceful protester trying to bring about positive change in our country, you will face violence, ”she says.
When Woodward saw footage of how law enforcement treated the pro-Trump mob, she thought, “Capitol Police never treated us like that. Why? Why do they get VIP passes when we get pulled out? ”
Health activist Ady Barkan had previously been arrested at the Capitol at least half a dozen times while protesting primarily against health care. Barkan said in a statement emailed to TIME that he and other activists were arrested for peaceful protests while “the rioters were allowed to run free (Wednesday)”.
“I was outraged that the Capitol Police allowed the breach,” Barkan said. “The police are never unprepared or overwhelmed by black protesters. But with days of resignation, they allowed these insurgents to search the Capitol and terrorize our elected officials. “
Some black activists are frustrated that the rampage of white pro-Trump mobs in the Capitol is highlighting the success of a coalition of multicultural, and especially black women-led, suffrage organizations in Georgia that helped the Democrats win. “It feels like this uprising and white supremacist moment overshadowed that, and I don’t think that’s fair,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice national collective in the South, adding that it is important to know that “the people win” even if their victories might “really upset some people”.
“The police come in droves for us all the time, even though we are absolutely non-violent,” says Cameron. “They drive us out of our wheelchairs – all sorts of things – they are often not very nice to us. No police officer has ever taken a selfie. You are not very friends with us. “
For many people of color, the decision to protest in the Capitol is not an easy one. Simpson has long protested reproductive justice, gender-based violence and other causes at the Capitol. On these occasions, she often wonders if this is the day she will go to jail or be injured. “Everyone who stepped on these grounds felt this feeling. The Capitol Police are very intimidating, ”says Simpson. “Any prosecution against a black person in this country is intimidating because you never know what will be on the other side of that interaction.” In preparation, she said she often made sure that she called family members, especially her mother, in case she was arrested or injured.
The U.S. Capitol Police arrest a protester, as Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies on the second day of his Senate Judicial Committee confirmation hearing as associate justice at the U.S. Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on September 5, 2018.
Andrew Caballero – AFP / Getty Images
“Whenever my people go to the Capitol – when we fight there and use our voices on social justice issues for our communities – we face incredible amounts of arrests, tear gas and anything that lets us know we are not welcome” said Simpson says. “We didn’t see that on our television screens yesterday. We saw people being helped down the stairs. We saw people take selfies, a very different greeting reaction. ”
Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson is an activist for the Black Lives Movement and co-executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, whose administrative offices were burned down in 2019, probably by white supremacists. Henderson attended several protests at the Capitol that demonstrated for everything from environmental issues in central Appalachia to Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Henderson, who is Black and lives in Tennessee, says she has never felt at home in the Capitol building. “Even if I wear a suit, my hair gives me away,” she says.
Henderson finds it hard to believe that law enforcement didn’t see this coming. She points to the warning signs: White supremacists who have come down to Charlottesville after a reparations package, black churches burning in Louisiana, and Trump himself is calling on his supporters to go to the Capitol among them.
History shows that there has always been a reaction from white supremacists when social justice movements – especially those led by blacks – win, she says, pointing out how the 1877 compromise halted reconstruction.
“Ultimately, I don’t feel discouraged. I’m pissed off. I feel triggered as a person who survived an attack by the white supremacists, ”says Henderson. “What sense does it make for a white supremacist with a gun to have more access to the Capitol than I do? It is only. It’s gorgeous, but to be real, it’s also very American. “
With reporting from Abigail Abrams
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